Jonathan Pie, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 3 March 2017

Jonathan Pie Live

Jonathan Pie is like social malachite – gritty and abrasive, yet somehow healing.

Devised by actor Tom Walker, Pie is an angry, frustrated journalist who refuses to dish out a story in a safe and politically correct way. The truth is never safe for television.

Part of the reason is that it’s often our fault. Rich people protecting the rich? Fuck the lot of us! We put them there!

Many of us are still numb to the question that still hangs amid a post-Brexit, Trump-inaugurated world – what the hell happened?

Pie’s leveller is self-righteous, but no less valid. We happened. It’s a collective failure of press, politicians and voters, but each get their moment of scrutiny.

It’s a character borne out of, and fed by, an interesting (if distasteful) political watershed. He holds up a mirror and shows us – Dorian Gray style – the gruesome error of our ways.

Social satire

Watching these rants in action, you sit feeling proud one moment and shameful the next.

Ironic, perhaps, that a character who rose to fame through social media should blast the melodrama it causes and how over-sensitised we have allowed ourselves to become. Being offended by meaningless things, he muses – what does that achieve?

But the crux of the character is something very real. Trying to drive a little well-reasoned common sense into a load of engaged, smart, but ultimately politicised and self-righteous people who don’t handle difference of opinion particularly well is enough to drive anyone insane. And that’s the life of Pie.

It’s more social satire than political satire. It’s almost played straight – just stating stuff. Ad hominem attacks on David Cameron and pigs, and then chastising those very sorts of attacks.

Boy, it’s entertaining. But entertaining is how lessons are learnt.

“If you make it illegal to say racist things, that doesn’t stop racism – it just hides it. I don’t want my racists to be hidden!” Probably my favourite snippet.

A panopticon of our age

I overheard someone complaining on the Tube platform afterwards about the confrontational approach. “He’s telling us, essentially, that we’re wrong. The thing is, though…” and so the preamble continued.

Have they just missed the point, I wondered? Or have I? Firstly, it’s a character – one steeped in Walker’s excellent observational powers, no doubt – but a character nonetheless.

Secondly, agreeing or disagreeing with him is not really the point, I don’t think. It’s about dismantling the way we think, understanding the flaws in it, and seeing whether or not we’re prepared to fix it.

The best description of Pie I can conjure is a panopticon of the social media age.

The character is a storm – brewed by right-wing sentiment and sweeping over our Facebook feeds and YouTube playlists. We’re watching him, while he sees through all of us.

It’s a unique and brave appeal, which uses politics but doesn’t entirely depend on it. He’s a leftie, but not a political point-scorer, which makes what he says the more noticeable. He’ll call out lefties on their behaviour. He’ll mock the Guardian.

He’s like an ‘escaped’ scientologist – telling the secrets from inside the camp, and not caring that the inmates are his target audience.

Pie gives the impression of being so disenfranchised that everyone is fair game. And when you take stock of the global political environment, that angry but clear rhetoric cuts through hazy disbelief and tells us how we contributed to the culture that brought our circumstances upon ourselves.

The show ends with Pie flashing a v-sign and booting a box of pyrotechnics off the stage. It’s like a return to the Ben Elton infused satire of the 80s, with a heightened fuse.

Ultimately, we pay to go and be told some quite severe home truths, and that is strangely and surreally entertaining.

2 thoughts on “Jonathan Pie, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 3 March 2017

  1. I watched a Pie rant on YouTube a few months ago about laying the blame of Trump’s election on the left. I thought he made a clever argument, not realizing that it was satire. In a way, I find it disappointing that some of the points he raised may have been disingenuous. I guess that’s the sign of a talented actor!

    1. He makes great arguments. I wouldn’t be disappointed – I think a lot of the material is very much his own voice. It’s the packaging of the angry journalist at war with his producer that’s the satirical element. And maybe the guise of a reporter offers the artistic licence to be slightly blue and hysterical.

      I think speaking truth to power is a strong trend, but it has to be entertaining because, as he said on that evening, we (Brits, one assumes) don’t handle differences of opinion particularly well. The only way you get people onside is by being comedic and slightly crazy. Unfortunately, the world has prominent political figures who also survive on that basis.

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