Tag Archives: right wing

Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore – but still has views

Joe Wells is a political comedian. He has written for Have I Got News For You and performed as support act to Frankie Boyle and Alexei Sayle.

Joe Wells faces a bit of a career crisis…

His previous Edinburgh Fringe shows were Night of The Living Tories (2014), 10 Things I Hate About UKIP (2016) and I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative (2017).

But this August his show is entitled: Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore!

So that’s a bit of a career crisis.

Between the ages of 8 and 15, he suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He overcame it with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. When he was 15, he started writing about his experiences of OCD.

These writings went on to form the basis of his first book Touch and Go Joe.


JOHN: So… you have been doing previews of your new show before it hits Edinburgh…

JOE: Yes. In some of my previews, I’ve felt a bit self-conscious because, in part of the show, I am really quite earnest and I worry that is going to be a bit weird for the preview audiences. Though I know, in Edinburgh, they are going to be open to that. There is so much different stuff at the Edinburgh Fringe and people go there with such an open mind.

JOHN: Your show says what it’s about in the title: Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to Do Political Comedy Anymore! Anything else?

JOE: One of the things I would like the show to be is a sort of defence of Comedy because, from all sides, it feels like it’s trendy to slag off Comedy. From the Left, people are saying Comedy is bullying and horrible. From the Right, they say Comedy has become too PC and comedians are just saying what people want to hear. 

I don’t think either of those things is true.

Comedy is great because it puts viewpoints in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear those viewpoints. That is what the Left should be striving for: getting people to hear from voices they don’t often hear.

But the Left has become quite insular: Let’s just talk amongst ourselves.

JOHN: Maybe Comedy audiences tend to be Left-leaning.

JOE: I want there to be Right Wing people in my audience so I can put forward my ideas of how I want the world to be. Why wouldn’t I want that?

French National Assembly: the original Left and Right Wingers

JOHN: There is this idea that defining politics as Left or Right is wrong. It’s just an accident of history – the way they sat in the French National Assembly. Thinking about Left and Right is misleading – it’s not a straight line: it’s a circle. If you take Left and Right to their extreme extremes, they both end up in the same place. A more sensible division might be Authoritarian and Libertarian.

JOE: But then, again, that becomes full circle. I want us to have a Welfare State; I want us to have… things which some people would see as Authoritarian. I think… yeah… I dunno. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The thing is comedians do not really know what they are talking about. I think that’s partly why I don’t want to do political stuff any more. I mean, I’m not a political theorist.

JOHN: But you do want to put your views out there, like all comedians… And all comedians are misfits. Different. If they were more like everyone else, then they wouldn’t be interesting to listen to. It’s because they can come up with a bizarre, unexpected angle – a different viewpoint on something. Michael McIntyre is arguably the most successful stand-up in Britain at the moment. And he is telling ordinary people about things they see every day – nothing new – but they haven’t seen those things from his viewpoint before.

JOE: I think he’s great, though I’m not queueing up to buy tickets. His routine about the bus stop is just a powerfully-written routine. Yes, to some extent, you have to be on the outside looking in.

JOHN: In a sense, if you do not have a character defect, maybe you cannot be a good comedian.

Joe Wells manages to fit into a bath…

JOE: I can’t think of many comedians who really properly ‘fit in’.

But, outside of comedy, I do know loads of people who I think do fit it. They know where they belong in things. Even though there are comedians who take their kids to school and lead a ‘normal’ life, they’re still a little bit… not so normal.

JOHN: Why did doing specifically political comedy attract you?

JOE: I talk about it in the show… I was an angry young man and a lot of that anger came from stuff that was not to do with politics. But at 18 or 19 I would go on protests – and shouting and being a political comedian and rallying against things was incredibly cathartic.

I am still a big Leftie and there’s still lots of injustices and things I want to change, but I’ve realised that the reason I fitted so neatly into being an angry political comedian was because I got to feel OK about being angry.

When we talk about mental health, people say: It’s OK to feel sad; it’s OK to feel this or that. But you rarely hear people say: It’s OK to feel really angry about things which aren’t anyone’s fault. I can feel angry about things that happened in the past and there’s rarely an individual I can blame for stuff that’s happened in the past. But I can still feel that anger. And it’s valid. It’s OK to feel really angry.

I have felt angry a lot of my life.

JOHN: Because…?

JOE: Well the show has a ‘reveal’ – about whether or not I am autistic. I was assessed for autism in February this year. The reveal is whether they said I am… or not.

“Why don’t these kids at school want to be my friends?” (Photograph by Ed Moore)

I did have those traits and I was different. I could not make friends and I didn’t fit in. I thought: Why can’t I fit in here at school? I feel I’m nice and I feel I’m a kind person. So why don’t these kids at school want to be my friends?

I think that informed a lot of my life growing up. I don’t have many male friends. Most of my good friends are women. I would go to parties and see all the men would talk together. They’ve got some jigsaw pieces where they fit together and it works. There was something that was not working with me.

I have always had a real chip on my shoulder about football. I hated football fans.

But then I realised what it is is that my dad used to take me to football and it was so noisy. I hated all that shouting and noise. I found it overwhelming and horrible and I felt angry with the people making that noise. And, in my head, I created a story about that – Football fans are horrible!

But now I know lots of people who are into football and that’s fine… It’s not football fans I hate – It’s that noise. But I felt the anger and had to come up with a reason for why I felt that anger.

People need a narrative around why they feel a certain way and, if there’s no narrative…

One of the things I talk about in the show is that, in Comedy, everyone has their say.

“They are different – you can’t compare a fish and a cat…” (Photograph by Hannah Reding via UnSplash)

There are problems with diversity in Comedy – of course there are – but, moreso than in any other industry or art form, there are people from COMPLETELY different backgrounds, COMPLETELY different world views, seeing things in COMPLETELY different ways.

I would argue that Comedy is more neurodiverse than any other…

JOHN: Neurodiverse? What does that mean?

JOE: People think differently. There’s a book NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. The basic idea is we have bio-diversity and different animals all play their role. You need all those animals. They are different – you can’t compare a fish and a cat – but they all co-exist and are necessary. Same with cultural diversity.

And we also have neuro-diversity. Some people are more on the autistic side; others are good at social things and are very good at connecting to people emotionally; it’s all part of diversity.

The old way of looking at things is that there is this ‘good way’ of being and thinking, but actually the best way is for everyone to think and view things differently.

A lot of comics think about things differently and come at things from different angles and that’s part of how you write comedy – looking at things in a different way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Psychology

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.

ANDREW: Yes.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, satire