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 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.
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.
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.
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: 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?
(… CONTINUED HERE …)