Jonathan Pie in lockdown: Tom Walker talks about creating comedy in the pandemic
Jonathan Pie is coming to terms with life in lockdown after his Fake News Tour was postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The perpetually irritated reporter, the comedy creation of actor Tom Walker, has rescheduled his show dates for much later in the year, with his Hastings’ White Rock Theatre date now booked in for Wednesday, November 4.
But Pie fans will be happy to know that, in the meantime, the opinionated newsman won’t remain silent.
He’s already uploaded two Lockdown episodes to YouTube in which he gets to grips with confusing working-from-home technology and tries to make his messy spare bedroom look more like a studio.
Speaking to the Hastings Observer, Tom says he’s stuck at home, like the fictional Pie and many other real people.
“I’ve already mildly descended into madness,” he says. “I’ve been doing it about seven or eight days and it’s like ‘ok, yeah, this is for the long haul now, isn’t it?’”
Of course, Tom completely understands the importance of social distancing at the moment before people can emerge into a post-coronavirus world. But he’s decided to make the most of it creatively.
“I’m quite looking forward to doing something a bit more broad and a bit more about the lock-down experience,” Tom says, explaining that Pie won’t just be shouting about the Tories or Trump.
“I’m sort of exaggerating it, because he’s on his own with no one to talk to, so it’s going to be really interesting I think. I’m just writing one at the moment about the experience of working remotely and how different that is. And how office politics are kind of changed. You’re doing conference calls and you’re seeing your colleagues in their pyjamas. You’re looking at their domestic life and the domestic and professional lives are clashing a bit.”
“I’m hoping it will be a bit more broadly comic than politically satirical, but we shall see how it ends up. I’m really pleased with the first two and I’m sure I’ll be releasing one every two or three days.”
And how is Pie, so proud of being a roving reporter, going to cope?
“I think we are all going to be finding out a lot about ourselves,” says Tom. “We’re going to be finding out a lot about ourselves and whoever it is you live with, our partners or flatmates or brothers and sisters and parents. Everything’s going to be exaggerated a bit. I dunno, maybe he’ll take to it. He’s a bit of a misanthrope really, Pie. And it’s kind of a misanthrope’s dream this, having to stay away from people. But already we’re seeing that he’s relying a little bit too much on the vodka...”
So what’s going to change with the Fake News Tour when this is all over?
“Well, the original tour was very much about how we ended up with Brexit,” Tom explains, “I was about to rewrite for the 2020 leg and it was going to be a lot more about how we ended up with Boris rather than Brexit, because Brexit’s way down the headlines now. And now coronavirus...I mean, we will emerge in a few months time in a different world and therefore it’s going to be quite an extensive rewrite I imagine. Suddenly the Conservative government has sort of embraced socialism and they’re throwing money at people, and rightly so. It’s a game changer, massively.”
“Things are moving so fast at the moment that I’m not going to even look at that script for a couple of months, but I’m sure the world will be a different place.”
The Fake News tour won’t just be about the coronavirus though. There are plenty of meaty topics for Pie to talk about when it comes to media and politics, especially the impact of Twitter and Facebook on society.
“Social Media is where most of us read our news now,” Tom explains. “And Twitter as a platform is a place where most news organisations break the news, like Boris has just been found positive for coronavirus. Everyone broke that on Twitter before they broke it anywhere else. So it’s a platform for people to break the news but it’s also a platform for people to spout their opinions. This means that news and fact and opinion are given the same weight in this day and age, especially on social media.”
“The news these days is not just about presenting the fact, it’s about presenting the facts and now let’s go and see what people think about that fact. Well an opinion shouldn’t be given the same weight as facts you know? So the media has changed in that respect and it’s far more difficult to differentiate fact from fiction and fact from hyperbole and opinion.”
“Trump actually comes off quite lightly in it,” Tom continues. “Trump calls any news that he doesn’t like ‘fake news’ and dismisses it, but we all do that! We all only really read the news that we agree with and anything else we just kind of go ‘ah, fake news! BBC bias!’ So we’re all just as guilty as he is. He just happens to be the president of the United States.”
The character of Jonathan Pie may have a distinctly British feel, but thanks to the internet his rants have found an international audience, with each of his YouTube videos racking up hundreds of thousands of views. The climate crisis, austerity, cancel culture – Pie takes on a variety of subjects, ranting into the camera with an appealing mix of anger, humour and energy.
“The one that kind of hurled me into the international spotlight was a couple of days after Trump was elected,” Tom says. “I did a piece where I just threw the book at Hilary for being a dreadful candidate and that got viewed millions and millions of times across the globe.”
“That was a massive moment for me. But I’ve done a couple of things recently that I’m really proud of. I did a bit more of a long form piece on my Facebook page called Hard Brexit, which was a little short film that I was really proud of. Before that I did a short film called Net Zero, which was all about trying to get carbon neutral and all that sort of thing.”
Fans can also find his 2018 live show, Back To The Studio, and his mockumentary, Jonathan Pie’s American Pie, on the BBC iPlayer.
Those who are only familiar with the comedian’s internet output will be pleased to know that the live show is still unmistakably Jonathan Pie, just in a much longer, unedited form with a lot more exasperated pacing.
“I write it like a play and I try to perform it like a play,” says Tom. “But of course I have to appreciate that the audience is there to watch comedy and essentially character comedian stand-up comedy, so it’s sort of this bizarre combination of the two, which works really well and is really interesting. But oddly enough I think I’m more and more, or at least I hope I am more and more, being thought of as a live performer as well as an internet person. I’m happy for that because I cut my teeth as an actor and I have a lot of theatre experience.”
“I much prefer writing the live shows,” he continues. “It’s a piece of work, you know, rather than a lot of my weekly three-minute rants to the camera. That’s kind of disposable, up-to-date content but two months later it’s suddenly irrelevant because I’m talking about Amber Rudd who is no longer in government and you’re like ‘who cares anymore?’ Whereas the live shows are a lot more a piece of honed work, without being too pretentious about it.”
On the downside though, isn’t it exhausting to march around the stage shouting like that?
“It is weird and you sort of get used to it,” says Tom. “I can’t eat too early in the day and I can’t eat too late. If I eat too late, like two hours before I go onstage, I’m running around the stage and I get indigestion and end up burping all over the place, and sometimes I eat too early and about half an hour before the end of the show you just go ‘I am exhausted!’ So you’ve got to eat correctly.”
“You’ve got to become really lazy in the day,” he adds. “Wake up when you wake up, try and do nothing and then it’s like you start your working day about six in the evening when you sort of do a warm up and do a sound-check and everything because you’ve just got to put a day’s energy into that hour-and-a-half that you’re onstage. Then you walk offstage and you’re buzzing for a couple of hours and you sleep well.”
“It’s a real shame that the tour had to get cancelled,” admits Tom as our conversation moves back to the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis. “But it had to get cancelled and I totally understand that, and hopefully rescheduling it to October will work and we’ll be out the other end of it. So I’m kind of alright and it will actually, oddly, be the first time in five years since Jonathan Pie started that I have got time to take a breath.”
“The lock-down diary thing is going to be a different way of working and a different type of satire,” he says. “It’s a bit weird but it will be a time for me to reflect on where Pie is and where I can take him in the long-term.”
To find out more about Jonathan Pie visit his official website.
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