It was a warm sunny day in Plymouth when Tony Bell caught up with Paddy Gervers – one half of the comedy duo that is known as Jonny and The Baptists. What followed was a very serious conversation about comedy and political satire. Their show “Eat The Poor” is very funny, and if it helps encourage lots of young people into polling booths on June 8th then I wonder who will be laughing?
Lets start with Jonny & The Baptists – for people who have never heard of them, how would you describe the show “Eat The Poor”?
Jonny & I are a sort of musical comedy satirical double act. Generally we collate a lot of information while travelling around the country and think how can we try possibly make this funny. “The Poor” is a show about inequality, the wealth gap and about living in a country that is very divided. We are trying to find some humour and maybe some hope in that.
One third of us live below the poverty line, homelessness doubled in the last year – I remember us finding those statistics and going: “oh, you would have thought that was a bigger deal”!
We went around the country trying to see what people thought about that and what we could do perhaps work towards a more united United Kingdom especially in the wake of so many elections, referendums and large issues that have cracked us in two. Eat The Poor” is hopefully a bit of an antidote to that; you will be able to learn some stuff and laugh about some things, meet some people who think differently from you and leave with either some ideas about what you can do to help or at least with a smile on your face.
This is a fifty one date tour, not a short tour by anyone’s standards. You are well into it by now, fed up with travelling, but apart from all that nasty stuff how have the shows been received?
The reactions have been delightful actually. Its interesting, the benefit of doing such a long tour is that we get to go sort of everywhere. We are not just hitting metropolitan hubs and big labour, liberal elite capitals. We have spread the tour out across a complete balance of places who all vote very differently. As a result of course you are going to have very different reactions to a show like this that tries to discuss politics. The show is trying to find common ground, things that we cal all agree on instead of argue about. To our delight that has been normally been rather successful because if you can laugh about something I think you can engage with it on a more gentle level, you can engage with it with less aggression and a bit more of an open mind.
I am not going to lie – there have been one or two hairy moments on the tour but I think when you are going to try a present a political argument there will be people who feel that their side hasn’t been tackled correctly or something like that. At the end of every show we bring a table out onto the stage and ask if anyone would like to chat with us or check any of our facts and figures you are welcome to come and talk to us. That has actually been a real learning curve for us, it has enormously helped with developing the show.
So had I seen your first show and then went to see your fifty first I wouldn’t be seeing the same show – would that be fair to say?
I think that is fair actually. I don’t know if any of your readers have tried to write a topical political show over the course of 2016 and 2017 but it really does give as much as it takes away. The show has gone through a huge number of re-writes. We started writing this show in January of 2016 – we’ve had the referendum, then David Cameron steps down – we had about fifteen minutes in the show where Jonny played David Cameron – we then had to write about Teresa May, then Trump came into power… and now they’ve called a snap election!
Has the nature of political comedy changed do you think?
I think political comedy is a great way to raise awareness. From a starting point that was what it was very good at, and still remains to be. We have a very right wing media in this country as I think we all know. As a teenager trying to learn about politics I stumbled about in the dark, especially before I was old enough to vote. It was all very hard to work out. I discovered Mark Thomas, the first truly political comic that I got into, it was fantastic because it suddenly opened up all these political issues to me in a way that I could access using humour and the arts. I perhaps wasn’t so good at sifting through newspapers and working out truth from hearsay.
The job of a satirist has changed. There used be a lot of poking fun at big issues. What used happen was that you would take an issue and try and come up with a ridiculous solution to it, one that will make people laugh and think about that issue. But now, because ridiculous things keep happening – as they have over the last three or four years – suddenly offering ridiculous solutions wasn’t happening anymore – because they were happening for real!
It that attracting bigger audiences?
Our audience numbers have gone up over the last two years, but that is the nature of touring if it is a half decent show. But I think more and more people are becoming interested in political comedy now after a dearth of it. It has become very difficult to avoid politics, we are now is a position where it is kind of impossible to be the person who isn’t really interested in politics. We are seeing different types of people coming to see our show. Obviously we reach out to people that we think might make a difference – students, people who may be voting for the first time perhaps. But we preview our shows in right-wing areas, places where we would have a primarily older, right-wing audience. It was our managers idea originally and it has been fantastic because, no matter what the reactions are, the show has to be funny. If you can make someone who is politically ideologically the opposite to you, if you can make them laugh, you know its a good joke!
The show is not about saying isn’t this terrible, aren’t we all f***ed, or there is no hope! It is meant to be a positive show that opens discussion and at the end says that the hope comes from personal actions in the face of a government that is looking in the opposite direction.
Getting young people to vote and to engage in politics for a generation that are constantly being told that they are lazy and that they are not working hard enough and not finding jobs and that they are not going to amount to anything. To make it OK we are saying it will be OK if you come and make it OK.
You can catch Jonny & The Baptists and their show “Eat The Poor” at The New Wolsey on Sunday 21st May – whatever your politics Jonny & The Baptists think it is worth talking about.
Book tickets here: https://www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/shows/jonnyandthebaptists/