Tag Archives: Greta Thunberg

Andrew Doyle on Titania McGrath’s new book, satire and annoying people

Andrew talked to me via Skype

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?

“I thought they were in on the joke…”

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

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics, satire

Comedy clubber Martin Besserman on Greta Thunberg, drugs, dead animals…

Martin Besserman runs the long-established Monkey Business Comedy Club in London. He has decided to give profits from four of his shows to a charity…


MARTIN: Everyone knows about the bush fires in Australia – it’s been a bit deflected by other news stories like Donald Trump and the potentiality of World War III, but…

JOHN: Yes, I mean, the smoke from Australia has reached down to New Zealand – That’s about 1,500 miles away!

MARTIN: I have a sister who lives in Australia, so I hear about it first hand. It’s an absolute catastrophe. The fires are burning out of control. Many animals are seriously injured, burnt. Not just kangaroos and koala bears: all the other wildlife and birds too. It’s on such a huge level it’s going to be very challenging to recover from that. With global warming, there could be this issue every single year now.

“Young people can sometimes be more perceptive”

I think it’s the responsibility of every individual to try whatever they can to help defenceless animals. Greta Thunberg is absolutely right; I think she’s an incredible young lady. Some very articulate, persuasive people have tried to trivialise her arguments – to bully her and suggest that she should be a ‘happy’ girl. But this is all fake because she’s a thinker. I think young people can sometimes be more perceptive getting it right, whereas many of the older generation have got their comforts and a lot of their behaviour is selfish.

As she points out, economic growth is not sustainable. There should be another system where we are not competing with each other.

JOHN: Why is economic growth not sustainable?

MARTIN: Because of the result of continuing to dry up our resources. We are seeing it now with, for example, the meat industry. It’s not sustainable because all those animals create so much pollution in addition to the cruelty aspect. There’s the issue of the animals being injected with antibiotics in the industrial meat industry now. That’s the reason why people are becoming immune to antibiotics and getting very sick.

JOHN: That doesn’t affect economic being sustainable or not though, does it?

MARTIN: Well, a limited amount of economic growth is healthy. But the way it’s going on, obviously, is not. We are seeing catastrophes all over the world. Floods and fires. We can’t continue like this. We rely, for example on Bangladeshi workers but, inevitably, Bangladesh might not operate with the way things are going. It’s a flat country and they have many natural disasters.

The rain in Bangladesh stays mainly where it falls…

JOHN: Well, Bangladesh is a terrible place to have a country. You look at it on a map and it’s basically a delta. When I landed at Dacca Airport, I thought the whole area had been hit by terrible floods – all the fields were flooded and there was water lapping the edge of the runway – but I was told this was normal!

Surely you can’t stop economic growth?

The Chinese are never going to sign up for that.

MARTIN: Well, yes, the Chinese don’t care and Australia, in fact, is one of the largest polluters in the world.

JOHN: All that matters is how China and India develop.

MARTIN: But unless we actually stop to digest what’s going on and consider having less ‘stuff’ in our life – less stuff connected with capitalism and things we don’t really need, especially plastics – we will suffer in the end and we are already seeing it. These are the very early stages of what could be a world catastrophe and it will be a lot more expensive to put it right in the future than to put things right now.

JOHN: But try telling that to the poor in China and India.

MARTIN: That’s obviously very, very hard, especially when you’ve got somebody like Trump in power. Because nobody really rules the world, do they? But, coming back to the issues in Australia…

“The New Year’s Eve fireworks display was costing £3 million”

I’m a huge animal lover, as you know. I was furious when I heard the New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Sydney was costing £3 million – for 30 minutes of excitement and fun!

I personally think all fireworks should be banned all over the world. A lot of animals are very frightened of the noise and really do suffer. It’s very selfish. Man just does not care. It’s something I could never condone. £3 million could have been used to fight the fires or assist more animals.

JOHN: But, in reality, it wouldn’t have been, would it?

MARTIN: Well, you can never tell if money is going to go to the right cause. It does require a bit of research. That’s why, before making this decision to donate 100% of these Monkey Business gigs’ profits, I looked into reputable organisations and several people, including my sister, recommended Wires, an animal help organisation in Australia who are going round rescuing and treating animals. They’re very active, reputable and totally dedicated.

JOHN: Which are the shows that are raising money?

MARTIN: Last Saturday’s, tomorrow’s (Thursday) which is a new act night, Friday which is a cabaret night and Saturday which has big names. 100% of all profits will go to Wires.

JOHN: Surely suffering people should get precedence over animals?

Martin Besserman was down the market

MARTIN: I don’t buy that argument. I’m disillusioned with people.

JOHN: Human beings have been a great disappointment to me.

MARTIN: There are nice people. But there are many not-nice people. With animals… Some people say: “Well, animals eat other animals”. But they only do it for survival and that does not include all animals. The reality is that animals have benefitted Man in many many ways. Dogs and cats are now taken to hospitals to be with people who are terminally ill. Dogs help the blind; they can sniff out cancers; I think we underestimate their value. They give life some meaning and it’s important we don’t only think of ourselves.

JOHN: So you would donate to an animal charity, but you would not give money to cancer research for humans…?

MARTIN: No, no. Definitely not. Some cancer research involves torturing animals. I could never condone that.

JOHN: But if you don’t try out the cures on animals, then you might release drugs that might damage human beings.

MARTIN: I don’t buy that argument at all. There are many good alternatives. Why not use volunteers from prisons if they are prepared to volunteer for shorter sentences?

JOHN: Thalidomide happened because it wasn’t tested enough.

Martin Besserman – armed with good food

MARTIN: It might also have happened because it WAS tested and we are quite different from a mouse. So I don’t buy that argument. And the vast majority of drugs are not very effective. There is a huge debate, for example, about statins. I’m of the opinion they are not good for people, having done my research. Many people have muscular problems as a result of taking them.

All of this is to keep the pharmaceutical companies happy and rich as opposed to treating people comprehensibly.

JOHN: I’m always a bit unsettled we are said to be so close to rats.

MARTIN: We are definitely closer to pigs. Apparently, we have the same digestive system.

JOHN: Pigs have a bad rep. Apparently they are very intelligent and, left to their own devices, are very clean.

MARTIN: Yeah.

JOHN: The trouble is they taste so good. I have no moral defence about eating meat. You are a vegetarian?

Greggs’ now has meatless steaks

MARTIN: A vegetarian – almost vegan. In the UK, people are increasingly deserting meat-eating.

JOHN: When I was a kid, if you went past a butcher’s shop, they would have half an opened, gutted-out pig hanging up. That would cause offence now.

MARTIN: I remember years ago, when I worked in the market, there were dead rabbits hanging in the window and it really did upset the children.

JOHN: When did you stop eating meat? Was there a Road to Damascus, if that’s the right phrase?

MARTIN: I just realised it was not morally defensible.

JOHN: So you went vegetarian for moral not health reasons?

MARTIN: Yes, though the health benefits are…

JOHN: I had a friend who went into Canton free market in China in the 1980s. She went in a meat eater and came out a vegetarian. She said it was the owls that did it. The pussy cats too. But the owls in cages staring at her with their big eyes, waiting to be killed.

MARTIN: Yes, I think anyone thinking about giving up meat should certainly visit a slaughter yard.

JOHN: I have no moral defence at all. So what WAS your turning point?

MARTIN: I just worked it out. I thought about it.

JOHN: I’m sure, in 20 or 50 years time, the idea of eating meat or even seeing dead animal meat displayed in shops will seem stomach-churning.

Pret a Manger introduced a vegan croissant

MARTIN: Some people say we will be embarrassed that we ever engaged in meat-eating. Whether that will happen in China or not, I don’t know. But certainly in Europe I think we are becoming more and more concerned.

JOHN: In the 1960s, vegetarians were seen as freaks. And more recently – maybe the early 2000s – vegetarians were seen as OK but vegans were seen as freaks. And now vegans are becoming mainstream.

MARTIN: Absolutely. The world is changing and it has to change.

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Filed under Australia, Charity, climate change, global warming, vegan, vegetarian