Jonathan Pie is bringing his particular brand of cutting journalistic rage to De Montfort Hall, where he will be taking on the machinations behind the news – but what about the man behind the Pie?
If you’ve used any form of social media in the last year and a half, you have undoubtedly come across Jonathan Pie. Perhaps you haven’t seen the name, or perhaps you haven’t seen the video from its original source, but if you’ve ever seen a video with cry-laugh emojis spanning the top and bottom with a title along the lines of “News reporter LOSES IT” then you’ve met Jonathan Pie. A perpetually-exasperated man whose professionalism in delivering the news is only overruled by his frustration at the ridiculousness of the world in which we currently live, Jonathan Pie is coming to Leicester to try out his new political TV roadshow.
“I don’t even really consider myself a comedian at all, I’m just getting used to that.”
The thing is, of course, that Jonathan Pie isn’t a real person – he’s the comic creation of Tom Walker, who has found himself suddenly thrust into the spotlight with a focus he never intended to chase. “I don’t really consider myself a character comedian,” he says. “I don’t even really consider myself a comedian at all, I’m just getting used to that. I’m an actor, that’s always been my ultimate aim – I just did a couple of YouTube videos because I hadn’t worked for a while!”
The beauty of Jonathan Pie as a character is that, to use a slightly tired phrase, he says what we’re all thinking. Many of us have sat at home watching the news and wondered how the anchors deliver it with a straight face, and Pie drops that façade at every opportunity. He was never intended to be a regular character, until his first viral hit. After that, Walker was approached by Russia Today (RT) to do a regular slot on their channel.
“RT invited me on the news show to talk about it. They asked if they could use my material and they offered me a bit of money every week to do it. The proviso that I gave them was that they didn’t get to see a script or have any editorial control – if they weren’t happy with it, it just didn’t run. It turned out to be a controversial move,” he says, acknowledging the controversies that have sprung up around Russian media since then, “but without them I wouldn’t have been able to do Jonathan Pie. It wouldn’t wash at all now but at the time it was just a small channel that nobody in the UK watched where I got to see how the news was genuinely put together.”
The main difficulty with the character, Walker tells me, is that for his last tour he had to throw out a third of the show purely because of the news. “When Andrew Doyle and I wrote the last show, Cameron and Corbyn had just won and nobody had given Trump a thought for years. By the end of the run Cameron had gone and Trump was President. This time around I still want to talk about what’s happening, but something that’s a little bit more futureproof. This is about fake news, social media, the way that the internet affects how real news is disseminated.”
Character comedians can sometimes feel trapped by a single character, but Walker is glad of his creation. “I think that acting can throw you one big bone in your life and Pie is mine.” What’s the dream? “Charlie Brooker isn’t doing a Screenwipe this year because he’s too busy. Well, I’m not too busy!”
Jonathan Pie is at De Montfort Hall on February 24th.