Tag Archives: Andrew Doyle

Jonathan Pie, Spiked magazine and why the Guardian and Daily Mail are similar

Andrew Doyle co-writes the satirical Jonathan Pie character with actor Tom Walker. In yesterday’s blogAndrew talked about free speech.

I had not originally intended to ask him about that.

Now read on…

Andrew Doyle ponders existential question

JOHN: What I was originally going to ask you, before you started on free speech was What are you?

ANDREW: That is an existential question.

JOHN: Well, you write theatre performance, Jonathan Pie, musicals, run comedy nights, do stand-up comedy, write radio plays. What are you?

ANDREW: I suppose I am a writer, comedian and I write political articles for Spiked and I do literary research.

JOHN: Spiked is thought-of as being right wing, isn’t it?

ANDREW: Yeah. By people who don’t read it. But its origins are Marxist. It used to be called Living Marxism until the ITN libel case in 2000. Then it lost all its money and rebranded as Spiked. (It had been launched in 1988 as the journal of the British Revolutionary Communist Party until re-branded as Living Marxism in 1992.)

JOHN: Doesn’t this go with my idea that politics is a circle not a line? Extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing eventually meet in the same place.

ANDREW: I get this a lot. Comedians hate Spiked and people who self-identify as Left hate Spiked. I say “self-identify” because I don’t believe they ARE Left. Unless you care about class consciousness and the redistribution of wealth, you are not left-wing.

JOHN: And you care about them.


JOHN: So you ARE left-wing.

Spiked – “believes in Brexit and sustaining the Brexit vote”

ANDREW: Of course. Everything I write is left-wing. Everything. Spiked is pro-freedom of speech, no ifs and buts as an indivisible liberty; pro democracy; believes in Brexit and sustaining the Brexit vote, because the European Union is essentially undemocratic and pro-corporate. Spiked is pro-migration with no such thing as borders; it does not believe in any form of borders whatsoever. It is anti-Trump, anti-New Labour, anti the Tories. It is anti-racism; anti the alt-right; anti men’s rights activists. It is pro-freedom, pro individual liberty, sceptical about climate change.

JOHN: Sceptical about climate change?

ANDREW: Yes. I am not. But, with Spiked, I agree with more than I disagree.

JOHN: The one thing you did not mention there about Spiked views was the current Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party.

ANDREW: It is very anti-Corbynistas. Hugely. Hugely.

JOHN: It seems very anti everything. What is it pro?

ANDREW: It is pro-freedom, pro-liberty, pro-democracy, pro the human race.

JOHN: Who else is supporting liberty that Spiked likes?

ANDREW: Well, there are so few people doing that.

JOHN: Is it pro any other organisations?

ANDREW: You mean party political affiliations? I don’t think it is pro any of them. There is not a political party it supports, which is sort of where I am at the moment.

JOHN: But, as a Marxist…

ANDREW: I never said I was a Marxist. I don’t think of myself as a Marxist.

JOHN: So what are you?

Living Marxism in its heyday…

ANDREW: I would say I am… I dunno… a Socialist? Somewhere between Socialism and Social Liberalism. Do you really want an answer?

JOHN: Yes.

ANDREW: I dunno. I think that’s where I am. I don’t trust any ideology. Why should you just choose  an ideology and stick to every point that ideology represents? Why can’t you say This element of Socialism is good and This element of Conservatism is good? Ultimately, I oppose identity politics in whatever form it takes.

JOHN: What is identity politics?

ANDREW: That the way you perceive people is through their particular demographic or group. Seeing people collectively rather than as individuals.

JOHN: Isn’t that inevitable? There’s a man over there in a T-shirt and another one is wearing a tie. I am going to have immediate pre-conceptions about them.

ANDREW: You are talking about prejudice. I am talking about self-identification. What I resist is that, just because I am in a particular demographic, then I should identify myself with that demographic. Everyone is an individual.

JOHN: So you think certain things are wrong. Why are you not into active politics? You are very, very bright, very thought-filled, very fluent.

ANDREW: You are very kind. No. I don’t want to be a politician.

JOHN: But all these people you disagree with are in control of the world and you think they are making wrong decisions.

ANDREW: I would rather just complain about it on the fringes. Every time you write any polemical piece, you are trying to effect some kind of change or, at least, trying to persuade people of the validity of your point of view. That is a valuable exercise, but I am not naive enough to think I have any type of clout.

JOHN: Is being a writer more influential than being a politician?

ANDREW: Maybe. I would not want to be a politician because, for a start, you have to adhere to the Whip and you sort of surrender your integrity to an extent. You have to compromise to get anything done and I am not a compromiser. I am not suggesting compromise is a bad thing, just that I am not very good at it.

JOHN: You studied English at Aberystwyth University. Why Aberystwyth?

Aberystwyth University – accidentally alphabetically lucky

ANDREW: Because it was first alphabetically in the list. I went to a shitty comprehensive school where we didn’t really have any guidance about where to go. Had Aberdeen University been there, I would have applied there. It wasn’t in the list.

So I went to Aberystwyth and, after that, I wanted to do a Masters in Renaissance Literature but they didn’t do one, so I went to York and then I wanted to do a doctorate in Renaissance Poetry and work with manuscripts so then I went to Oxford University and I became a part-time lecturer at Oxford, teaching the Shakespeare module to undergraduates. At that point, I was going to be an academic.

JOHN: Why the specific interest in manuscripts?

ANDREW: Because I was very interested in early modern literature – Renaissance. I developed a particular interest in a poet called Richard Barnfield. My thesis was on Richard Barnfield, Shakespeare and Philip Sydney. Shakespeare and Richard Barnfield are the only two poets of that era in England who wrote love sonnets from one man to another.

JOHN: Are you just interested in Elizabethans?

ANDREW: I’ve written introductions of republished versions of a novelist called Forrest Reid, who died in 1947. I’m writing a biography of him. Up until the 1970s, it would have been accepted he was the best novelist to emerge from Northern Ireland but, because of the fickle nature of literary trends, he was forgotten. They are a very specific type of novel. He was a pagan; he worshipped spirit gods; he was an animist. All of his novels are set in Belfast, but infused with this sense of another world lurking beneath the surface, centred on male adolescence.

JOHN: Why are you not still lecturing?

ANDREW: It’s quite lonely.

JOHN: I saw one of the Jonathan Pie live stage shows at the Apollo Hammersmith and the first third or more of it took pot-shots at what I thought was the easy target of the Conservative government, but then you turned it on the audience.

“…Pie’s targets are his fanbase’s beliefs…”

ANDREW: That’s why we have to have the first third in that way. So many of Pie’s targets are his fanbase’s beliefs. The fanbase is predominantly the liberal Left – Guardian readers – so, in order to have a show that essentially attacks the fundamental principles that they represent, you need to get them on-side. It’s a strategy. The first third of the show is exactly what you would expect.

JOHN: Is that the ultimate idea? To attack the liberal Left?

ANDREW: No. It’s not as confrontational as that. As with all satire, it is exposing the excesses and deflating the pretensions of those in control.

JOHN: Equal offence to everyone?

ANDREW: The character does not just scatter-shot attack everyone. The character believes certain things.

JOHN: What IS the character? A left winger who hates the Right but has doubts about the Left?

ANDREW: Yes. Basically he is an old school Bennite Leftie who is pro-Corbyn, Socialist, hates the Right, hates the Tories, hates what they are doing to the NHS, but also thinks the Left need to do a whole lot better in order to beat them… and that the Left keep losing because of their own shortcomings. And that’s where the frustration comes.

JOHN: Sometimes the phrase ‘Guardian readers’ is used as a put-down.

 ANDREW: Well, the Guardian and Daily Mail are very similar.

JOHN: Really?

ANDREW: They are both explicitly partisan and misrepresentative; they push an agenda relentlessly; and they are not to be trusted.

JOHN: Is Jonathan Pie risking his fanbase – the liberal Left – by attacking them?

Jonathan Pie’s 2017 book Off The Record

ANDREW: Sometimes. And sometimes you get your ideological opponents supporting what you say, which is a bit weird. But I think we have retained the sensible people who can stand having fun being poked at them. The people who think.

JOHN: So where do you go with the character?

ANDREW: That’s up to Tom. I just go along with it.

JOHN: Do you feel overshadowed by the fame of Jonathan Pie? No-one knows who you are.

ANDREW: No-one knows who I am, but that doesn’t matter, does it? I’m not hungry for fame.

JOHN: Not doing anything new?

ANDREW: I am working on a couple of musicals at the moment. One is about Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon in World War II for airmen who were surviving their terrible burns and had to reconstruct them.

JOHN: The Guinea Pigs. And the other musical?

“…but it’s really a coming-of-age story…”

ANDREW: Paperboy. It was recently staged at the Lyric, Belfast, based on Tony Macaulay’s memoir of being a paperboy on the Shankill Road at the height of The Troubles. But it’s really a coming-of-age story. Another musical I wrote is an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s book Soul Music. He specifically asked us to do that book. Youth Music Theatre UK put it on in Kingston with 40 kids – but it has not yet got a producer to take it forward.

The last Jonathan Pie live stage show has just been released to download.

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Jonathan Pie co-writer says: “A lot of comics are not in favour of free speech”

Jonathan Pie is a fictional UK TV news reporter, played by Tom Walker, in satirical political videos posted online and in stage shows. The scripts are written by Tom Walker and Andrew Doyle.

Andrew Doyle on his return from Scotland

Andrew Doyle and I met in London just after he had come back from Scotland, where he had filmed a half hour TV documentary about a man who had been prosecuted and found guilty of training a pug dog to give a Nazi salute. The man – calling himself ‘Count Dankula’  – then posted a video of the dog on YouTube; he said he had done it as a joke for his girlfriend. 

Probably all my blogs should come with the warning that I do not necessarily agree with all the interviewee’s opinions. And, equally, I do not necessarily disagree with all of them.

Make of that what you will.

Just saying…

JOHN: Why the interest in the pug dog?

ANDREW: Because it is such a landmark case in terms of free speech. Lots of people have been found guilty of telling jokes in this country, but we don’t hear about them very often: they’re mostly just unemployed teenagers on Facebook. It’s the first case of its kind that has got widespread attention and it has caused a real division within the comedy community, which I think is fascinating.

JOHN: And that division is?

ANDREW: Well, when I wrote a Jonathan Pie video about it with Tom Walker, we fully expected comedians to be up in arms about the case. There were a few who were annoyed about it – Shappi Khorsandi, Ricky Gervais, David Baddiel – but most comedians were silent about it and quite a few sided with the court’s decision. It was the opposite reaction to what I would have expected.

It has really illuminated the fact that actually a lot of comics are not in favour of free speech at all. And that fascinates me.

JOHN: Any particular type of comedian? Left wing or right wing?

ANDREW: Well, virtually all comedians are left wing.

JOHN: But the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ wing are just a quirk of French history, aren’t they? If you take both to extremes, they end up in the same place. It’s a circle not a straight line.

ANDREW: Well, most comedians are middle class Blairites who call themselves ‘left wing’ but they don’t really know what ‘left wing’ means. I think because they identify as left wing and because the Left is often so hostile to free speech and has not done a very good job defending it, you now see people like Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins defending free speech and that makes the Left even more suspicious of free speech. It’s a really dangerous situation.

The Left needs to reclaim free speech – I am passionate about that, although I have been called a misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi.

A misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi??

JOHN: But you are gay. Why are you allegedly a homophobe?

ANDREW: Some of the jokes I make, apparently.

JOHN: So the Left are not very good on free speech?

ANDREW: No. They used to be. If you go back to the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s, they understood that free speech was at the heart of any…

JOHN: So you’re saying the New Left and the Blairites were OK but the Corbynistas are a bit Fascistic?

ANDREW: I wouldn’t go so far as to say Fascistic. And I don’t think the Blairites were particularly strong on free speech. There have been increasing attempts at press regulations and Hate Speech laws are now enshrined in our way of life. That is not a free speech position.

JOHN: But it’s not opinion, only incitement to violence, that is criminal.

ANDREW: No. The 2003 Communications Act deems that anything you send online that could be ‘grossly offensive’ is a criminal offence.

JOHN: Virtually anything Jerry Sadowitz says is offensive to someone.

ANDREW: Yes. That’s his schtick. If some of that were to go online, then theoretically he could be arrested.

JOHN: Do you think PC has gone too far?

ANDREW: I don’t use the term PC. I associate political correctness with a different thing. To me it is a good thing. It is about a general, shared, agreed discourse that we have in public, in work, where we basically agree to be polite to each other and agree not to say certain things. It’s a social contract.

Andrew writes regular articles for Spiked magazine

Obviously I am not in favour of enforcing any type of speech law but, say, if you agree to work in an office, part of that is an obligation not to use the word “faggot”. That’s not a free speech issue. You can say it elsewhere but not in the office you have chosen to work in. I don’t think the idea of society encouraging people to be polite is a bad thing – and that is all I see political correctness as being.

What is happening now is not political correctness. It is a transformed, perverted version of political correctness, creeping into authoritarianism.

JOHN: You seem to be saying you are not in favour of any restriction of speech laws.

ANDREW: That’s right. I am not.

JOHN: But someone should not be allowed to say: “I think you should go out and kill all black people…”

ANDREW: Yes, that is a terrible thing to say.

JOHN: Surely saying that should be illegal?


JOHN: Is it not an encouragement to commit a crime?

ANDREW: No, because whoever commits the crime should be held responsible for the crime. I am really uncomfortable with the idea of diminishing the responsibility of someone who breaks the law.

JOHN: But, by that logic, Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust because other people did the killing.

ANDREW: He explicitly ordered and orchestrated it so, yes, he is responsible. He was not trying to persuade the SS to do it for him, he was ordering the SS to do it. They are responsible too – the people who did it – but he is too, because that is part of a military chain of command. That is not the same as someone standing at Speaker’s Corner shouting out that gay people should be castrated.

Just because he shouts that out, does not mean that people are going to go out and castrate gay people and, if they did, they would be responsible. It is not the same thing.

JOHN: But, if someone goes out and does something criminal as the result of hearing a speech, that speech was incitement to commit a crime, isn’t it? Which is illegal.

Andrew’s stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017

ANDREW: Yes, but the problem I have with this is that, on balance, I do not think it is safe to allow the state to have the power to criminalise speech – even if that means some really horrible people are going to try to persuade people to do horrible things. On balance, I think that is deeply unpleasant but it is not as frightening to me as the state having the right to lock people up for what they say and what they think.

We cannot trust the state. We know that now. They have convicted in a court of law a man for making a joke video about a pug dog giving a Nazi salute. And they call that Hate Speech. We cannot trust them to distinguish between a joke and some psychopath in a park shouting and inciting murder.

JOHN: The pug dog video case was in Scotland. Would it have been illegal in England?

ANDREW: Yes, The Communications Act applies to all of the UK.

JOHN: This is all a bit serious.

ANDREW: Do you want to talk about something flippant?


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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics, satire