Andrew Doyle co-writes the satirical Jonathan Pie character with actor Tom Walker. In yesterday’s blog, Andrew talked about free speech.
I had not originally intended to ask him about that.
Now read on…
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.
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?
ANDREW: I would say I am… I dunno… a Socialist? Somewhere between Socialism and Social Liberalism. Do you really want an answer?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.