Andrew Doyle is an interesting and controversial writer/performer.
He’s a stand-up comic in his own right. He co-wrote the Jonathan Pie character for three years. He currently writes political columns for Spiked internet magazine et al. And he writes and Tweets as the character Titania McGrath.
Until the coronavirus struck down live comedy, he also co-ran monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in London’s East End. They were billed as “The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy”.
For the last three nights, Comedy Unleashed has returned to the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. They were restricted under COVID rules to only having one-third of the venue’s capacity audience, so they ran a show on two consecutive nights. Both shows sold out well in advance – within a day of tickets being on sale – and they added a third night.
But I really wanted to talk to him about his recent Titania McGrath work: a faux children’s publication My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism.
I had seen the non-existent Titania McGrath (played by actress Alice Marshall) perform at Comedy Unleashed last year. A live tour was planned for March this year but, because of COVID, it has now been postponed until next March. Coronavirus allowing.
This is the first of a two-part blog…
JOHN: So My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism says its target audience is six month old to six-year-old females… They are going to have trouble reading it.
ANDREW: It points out in the opening chapter that Titania doesn’t believe in talking down to children. So she will use words like “intersectional” because she thinks here is an innate wisdom in childhood, which is why she’s such a great fan of Greta Thunberg. She says that, when she was a baby, her first words were: “Seize the means of production”. She believes babies have this innate politicised wisdom.
Of course, what it means is that kids can’t read the book. Although a copy was sent to a friend of mine recently and her husband assumed, from the design of the book, that it was for their 4-year-old daughter and gave it to her. She was delighted.
But then her mother had to explain to her that it wasn’t for her and, of course, it’s full of swearing, so… It’s marketed to look like a children’s book. It has all the accoutrements of children’s literature. But I hope in a way kids don’t get hold of it.
JOHN: Might bookshops put it on the wrong shelves?
ANDREW: A couple of weeks ago, an American bookstore posted a display of all their favourite books about diversity and inclusion and Titania McGrath’s first book Woke: A Guide to Social Justice was there, next to Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo and all the rest of them. At first, I thought they were in on the joke. But no. When they found out it was a satirical book, they took the Tweet down and presumably the display down and also took the book off their website so you can’t even buy it from that bookstore any more. They were obviously very angry about it
JOHN: One of the drawbacks of very sophisticated satire is that people may actually take it for real.
ANDREW: Even today, some people think Titania is real. There are all sorts of people out there who haven’t heard of her, which is great: the joke can keep going. I like getting into arguments as her with people who don’t know.
JOHN: You like getting into arguments generally?
ANDREW: Actually, I don’t, because I’m a very non-confrontational person. It’s something I avoid as much as possible in my life. But, through Titania, I’m not getting into an argument. I’m enacting a character. So that’s fine.
JOHN: Does that mean Jonathan Pie and Titania McGrath are ways to be aggressive and argumentative without putting yourself personally under pressure?
ANDREW: I suppose you’re really asking does that explain my attraction to the satirical genre? But I don’t think it does. I don’t think I’m looking for an outlet to be confrontational. It’s just a corollary of satire; you can’t avoid it.
When you’re writing satire you are exposing what you perceive to be the follies of Society and, by doing so, you’re bound to make enemies – particularly because you tend to be having a go at people with some sort of cultural or political power.
I don’t think satire can exist without offending people. Unfortunately, it’s a by-product of what I do, but that does not equate to having a confrontational personality. I go out of my way to avoid conflict in real life.
JOHN: Your work isn’t a way of getting something out of your system?
ANDREW: Probably my stand-up does that more. Because you get to embody a version of yourself that doesn’t exist. Often I can exaggerate my worst features. My onstage persona is a lot more waspish and – yes – more confrontational. Maybe – possibly – that’s me enacting the type of person I wish I could be.
JOHN: How does Alice Marshall cope with this? She must get hassle for saying things as Titania McGrath that she didn’t write and maybe doesn’t believe.
ANDREW: I spoke to Alice about this a couple of days ago and what was interesting was that she told me she did NOT get any hassle. I get a lot of abuse online but I think she doesn’t because people recognise she’s an actor.
JOHN: Is what Titania says going to change anybody’s opinions?
ANDREW: It depends what you mean. I had one woman who claimed I had effectively de-radicalised her. That kind of thing is very gratifying.
Satire does believe it can make a difference, otherwise you wouldn’t do it. But does it make a difference or just annoy people more? That has always been a conflict in my head.
When I get emails from people thanking me for standing up to this current creeping authoritarianism, that’s really gratifying and a good way to offset the anger that Titania generates.
JOHN: If you can’t change people’s minds, would you be just as happy simply annoying people?
ANDREW: No. I DO try to change people’s minds. That’s why I write political articles and articles about culture. I’m not doing that just to get it off my chest. More than anything, I’m interested in discussion and persuading people of my view – and also refining my own view.
By putting my argument out there in the most persuasive way I can, people will come back at me with counter-arguments that either refine what I believe or make me realise where I’ve gone wrong. And that is a really positive thing.
… CONTINUED HERE …