You may have seen one or more videos that purport to show a political correspondent losing it while they’re doing a live broadcast. That’s Jonathan Pie. And now, in the same way that YouTube cats spawn merchandise and media deals, Jonathan Pie brings his potty-mouthed pundit to the stage. And I’m left puzzled.
It starts with Pie scoring easy points with his audience by doing some Tory baiting. No challenge there, and I agree with what he’s saying more or less, but it has the feel of an angry teacher ranting at the latest education cuts in a school staffroom. The anger might be real enough, and justified, but it’s in a setting where there’s going to be no disagreement – and good live comedy thrives on tension.
Given a TV show to develop such a character, or a play in a theatre setting, maybe we’d get to see Pie brought to life in the context of his relationships. And there’s a weird attempt to do something like that, with the show given a framing device that the audience are at a live Children In Need event supposed to be hosted by John Barrowman that Pie has stepped in to present instead.
Pie is solo, though there’s some interaction with an unseen TV producer, and what we see is a mix of Pie doing his light entertainment thing apparently on live TV, and Pie in between his scheduled updates, thinking aloud. And that’s half the problem – I’ve never before had to spend so long explaining the conceit of a comedian’s performance. Which, if it were a riot of hilarity, would be fine. And it’s not.
I suspect part of Pie’s intent is to get across the fact that we have contradictory opinions and incoherent thinking about politics. Which is true enough. So he’ll rant a while, then draw attention to the personal attack he’s making on some or other witless Tory, before noting that such ad hominem attacks distract from real matters of substance, then confess an addiction to making such personal assaults. It’s a reasonably self-aware approach in that sense, but he lacks the incisiveness of someone like Stewart Lee to take the analysis further and do something with it, and there’s no sense of risk or self-exposure that a Johnny Vegas would revel in because it’s all filtered through a media-savvy persona.
It’s possible I could be thinking about all this too much. When you’re not laughing much at a comedy show, you tend to do that. So maybe I should also pass on my companion’s accurate observation that “it’s fun to see someone so angry that they lose control of their body”. She’s right.
Jonathan Pie was at Nottingham Playhouse 10 February 2017.