Jonathan Pie is the most exciting satirical creation since Alan Partridge. Legendary satirist Roy Bremner says so.
Struggling, skint actor Tom Walker accidentally discovered a recipe for global success two-and-a half-years ago, when he launched the fictional TV news reporter Jonathan Pie, who regularly loses it on camera in angry outtakes and rants about politics and indeed, the media.
Editor Simon Redley charts Pie’s hilarious trajectory, when he chats to Tom about life before, during and after Pie!
Ring ring, ring ring. “Hello”.
Me: “Can you put me through to Tim, please?” Voice on the other end. “No. He doesn’t exist!”
Me: “Yes he bloody does; in my mind he does. I can picture him; his clothes, his body language, the way he talks and thinks, and even his gait! Where he lives and what his wife and kids look like”.
Am I losing the plot or does that mean actor Tom Walker, aka ranting TV news reporter Jonathan Pie is bloody good at his job/art? Both maybe…
Tim being the voice in his ear; the fictional news producer back in the studio gallery, who challenges Pie’s views and his caustic, no-holds-barred opinions on politics, politicians, the media and the dumbing down of new coverage, via his ear piece.
All this caught on camera between takes of his to-camera pieces for that day’s TV news broadcasts. We never see Tim, and we don’t hear him either. But I am pretty sure that Tim is real, to the circa one million viewers a week on Facebook who watch Tom’s three-minute video clips, where he turns into the foul mouthed, spleen-venting Mr Pie.
“I made him up. It’s the voice in his head, that’s who Tim is”, says Tom. Speaking to Tom, or is it actually Jonathan, I am reminded of listening to the radio when I was a kid and conjuring up mental images of the various characters one could not seen but could hear and who I felt I knew.
Like “The Clitheroe Kid”, “The Navy Lark”, Tony Hancock’s “Hancock’s Half Hour” and others. Just like reading my favourite books; such as Richmal Crompton’s “Just William” series or Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden”, and visualising the characters’ faces and personalities.
That’s the skill of actor Tom Walker, who barely scratched a living as a jobbing actor and spent a lot of years “resting”, picking up low paid day jobs and part time work to put food on the table. He had this character Pie in his head the whole time. Tom played Camilla’s son Tom Parker-Bowles in the 2002 TV biopic about Prince William. He has also appeared in the UK TV drama series “Heartbeat” (92) and the TV comedy “Rhona’s Pantry” in 2007.
He graduated from Uni and a drama degree course in 2000 and was so outraged when he felt the media unfairly went for Jeremy Corbyn when he was elected as Labour leader, with “blatant fucking lies”, his alter ego Jonathan Pie was born.
But when he was a gnat’s goolie away from not being able to pay the rent and ending up on the street, back in the days where he constantly worried about how much money he had in his pocket and his bank account.
Often making the choice of which meal to miss; lunch or dinner, Tom decided to bring this outrageous Pie character to life. He posted some short clips on-line of this fictional British TV news reporter caught on camera losing his shit off air, and putting the political world add the media, to rights.
Spitting venom towards The Tories, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt and boiling his piss about Brexit and Trump. As regards the latter; here is a staggering statistic that puts into perspective just what Tom Walker has achieved, and how big a monster he has created, since launching Pie on the public in September 2015.
After he filmed and posted his thoughts on the election of POTUS Donald Trump in 2016, just after he won the US election and only three weeks after Walker began the Pie videos, around 150 million views have been clocked up on Facebook of that one clip alone.
Think about that for a minute…. 150 MILLION views. Which means, that one video clip is the most viewed piece on Donald Trump winning office, on the planet. And do not forget; it is not real. Pie is a fictional character. But the scripts and words out of Pie’s mouth are pretty much spot on politically and he says what billions around the world are thinking. But with many “fucks” and “shits” thrown in for good measure.
Tom was soon approached by several media companies, including RT UK, the Russian government-funded television network, which offered him complete creative control. He worked with RT for several months producing the Pie videos, before leaving in July 2016, just prior to his appearance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August of that year.
And now, this character who was spawned via social media, has been transferred to the stage and two tours around the country, filling and major venues that some big rock and pop acts do not even get to play. Tom on stage alone for the entire set.
Two sold out nights at Hammersmith Apollo
His latest 33-date UK tour, “Back To The Studio” is getting rave reviews and will soon be seen in Australian venues. Pie is an undisputed star around the world.Two sold out nights at the Hammersmith Apollo included on this tour, which kicked off in February and runs through until April, before heading down under.
Tom admits his previous tour was “an experiment” to see if Pie could be successfully transferred from those short video clips, to an hour or more on stage that would hold the attention and sell tickets. It did, and some…………
Since December 2015, Tom writes Pie with stand-up comedian and writer Andrew Doyle, who is doing some of the warm ups on this current tour too. The pair first penned a live Pie show for the intimate Leicester Square studio theatre in London and it was a big success. So, on it went to the Edinburgh Festival and sold out.
“It just kept going, kept going and ended up at the Palladium and the Edinburgh Festival, and it was never supposed to happen. This incredible ride…..But I have to say, it was really stressful, it was never ending. It was about a year off and on, on that tour. This time round, I am writing a show for Hammersmith Apollo and so I know where I am going, and I know it is going to be that big.
“I’ve got to say, I’m loving it. It’s all just sort of happened and I’ve been on this roller coaster, and I’ve just been clinging on for dear life, seeing what happens. This particular project is honestly really the first real project where I think, I am in control of this, I’m writing what I want to write”.
It is satire, it is politically sharp as a tack, and it is bloody funny; so say the critics and the punters who are packing the venues night after night. But Tom doesn’t believe he is a comedian.
“I’m an actor first and foremost. I don’t consider myself a stand-up comedian or a comedian really. A comic actor perhaps. I see it as a one man play really. Because I am playing these bigger venues, comedy venues, there are these set pieces that are very stand-uppy.
London Palladium – a surreal evening…
“Stand-up in style, but there is a beginning, a middle and an end. His life is different when he leaves the stage, as to when he walks on the stage. It’s a moment that we witness in his career, where he starts off with the best intentions, as I think he generally does, but things don’t go his way this particular evening, shall we say”.
Tom is excited to be getting to perform at The famous Hammersmith Apollo, but he vividly recalls the moment he set foot on the Palladium stage for soundcheck, and then went into his dressing room, on the first tour.
“I had never seen a dressing room like it, and I looked up at a poster and realised a week later, Bob Dylan would have been in that same dressing room. I thought, OK, I get it, this is good!
“It was a surreal evening, a very special evening. My parents, who are separated, where there. My Mum in the Royal box and my Dad in another box, the other side. I thought, this is more for them; they’ve had 25 years of worrying about me and worrying about my career or lack thereof.
“This was a moment where you can say; whatever happens now, I just played the Palladium, didn’t I? That’s never going to go away, and I am at the stage where I can relax a little bit. If it ends tomorrow, I’ve surpassed what I could possibly have imagined by putting a You Tube video up. That’s all I did; a You Tube video for two or three weeks and the third week, it went bonkers.
“Doors opened for me that weekend when that went viral, and I thought, you are very, very lucky in this career, in this profession, if you are thrown a bone. I recognised it immediately for what it was; this is an opportunity and I’m not gonna squander it.
“So I have worked very, very hard to try and keep this going. I hope I’m not flogging a dead horse, I don’t appear to be, because people are enjoying it and buying tickets. I recognised it, as a once in a lifetime opportunity and if it ended tomorrow, I’d miss Pie, I’d miss him. But I’d go, ‘well, you got to play the Palladium though didn’t you, and Hammersmith Apollo. That’s just crazy, that’s just ridiculous”, laughs Tom.
So, what of his previous life as an actor, and the long periods of unemployment. Did he feel like calling it a day and getting a proper job?“Peers of mine think getting a proper job is giving up. But I have had awful day jobs, terrible, terrible day jobs….The worst job I ever had was in a call centre, for large companies who wanted to outsource their HR department. Let me explain.
“What that basically was; you didn’t call in sick to your line manager; you called in to this call centre and then we let the company know. I had to get up at five o’clock every morning, go to a call centre and listen to people talk about their diarrhoea. Please! That’s basically what I had to do.
“That was one of the final straws, where I thought; I can’t do this anymore. I am a relatively intelligent, fairly rounded guy. I can see 40 coming over the horizon, and I am sat in a call centre listening to people talk about their shit. Something’s gotta give.
“But what was interesting is; I’d been out of work for a long time, as an actor. Which is kind of what your 20s are for; to scramble around and make mistakes, and struggle sometimes. But in your mid to late 30s, it should have passed. The minute I decided I needed to wind this down now and find another career – which would have been I guess taking a fucking teaching degree or something and end up killing myself…The minute I started to think in those terms; that this is finite and this has to end, is the minute you let go of it and therefore the jeopardy has gone, so the danger has gone.
“So, you think; why not go and stand on College Green opposite The Houses of Parliament, write a character and shout at the camera. I’ve got nothing to lose now. And when you’ve got nothing to lose, take a few more risks.
Told you – I knew this was gonna happen!
“So why not make a video about Jeremy Corbyn, if that’s what pissed you off this week. This character had been in my head for years and I’d never done anything with it. Why not? It came at the right time; I believe if this large opportunity had fallen in my lap 10 to 15 years ago, I think I’d have gone, ‘Yep, told you. Told you. I knew this was gonna happen.
“You know; that youthful bravado that the world owes me a living. When this happened to me, I knew the world did not owe me a living, but I knew this was an opportunity, so maybe I had to go through that almost 20 years of struggle of rarely working.
“It’s a horrible thing to know what you want to do and not be able to do it”. (I think that applies to most of the human race, doesn’t it?) “This is no disrespect to road sweepers, but I would often say; I wish it was my ambition to be a road sweeper, because it was achievable. Whereas my ambition to be a successful actor is very, very difficult. But I managed to stick with it, and a modicum of success has befallen me; and I am extraordinarily grateful for it”.
So, with two sold out tours, a book (“Jonathan Pie Off The Record”) and a self-produced DVD of a show filmed at Shepherds Bush Empire under his belt, has he splashed out on any expensive treats? “I am not loaded but, I was talking to somebody the other day and I said; I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have to worry about the rent, which is the first time that has happened in my adult life.
“A lot of people are about six weeks away from being homeless, and that’s pretty much where I was. Now I’m not saying I was living on the street; my Dad lives in Taunton, so I suppose I could live in his spare room, it wouldn’t be pretty but…
…a choice between shall I skip lunch or dinner…
“It was a choice between shall I skip lunch or dinner…. I’m not suggesting that’s hard done by, a lot of people live like that, but it’s tough. The thing I notice is, it’s a joy, which I’ve never been able to do in my adult life; to go to dinner with your friends, take your Mum to dinner and say, I’ll get this.
“Not in a flash way, but to be able to go, I’ll get it, I’ll get this round. It’s so liberating to be able to do that. I took my friend for his 40th to Claridge’s for dinner and when I got the bill, I regretted it immediately.
“But I did have the money to do that and it was the most expensive meal I’ve ever bought, and I am hoping will ever buy. But it was a pleasure to do it and you go, now that is a real honour to be able to do things for people.
“The most pleasure I get from having a bank balance that isn’t 20 quid away from overdraft is to be able to treat people. Christmas shopping is no longer an absolute dread, because if you see it, you know it’s a little bit extravagant, but it’s perfect, and you can buy it.
“It makes me realise that the politics that I have – I sound like a fucking champagne socialist right now – I do understand why it is not right to think that people on benefits are scroungers. It’s a horrible, horrible situation to be in, genuinely.
“Yes, there are some people who go, ‘oh sod it’, but they are few and far between. Most people want to earn a living, most people want the money in their wallet to have been earned.I don’t believe there is a culture of scrounging. Being poor is fucking difficult. One of the most difficult things, because it dictates your life.
“For 10 years of my life, the idea of how much money have I got in my bank or my wallet; that thought had to come into my head 10 times a day. Can I afford this? I do not forget how hard it is not to have that money, which means I am not flash.This could end tomorrow, and then whatever I have earned from these tours has got to last me for the rest of my life. Which means I am definitely not a rich man, that’s for sure”.
Jonathan Pie is the most exciting satirical creation since Partridge. Says legendary impressionist and satirist Rory Bremner. “That is the most overused quote in the history of quotes, because I just adore that quote. I met Rory in Edinburgh last year and we did a little radio thing together, and I was going, ‘oh my God, that’s Rory Bremner’, and we shook hands and he was very polite and had no idea who I was at all.
“I did a little skit on this radio thing, and it went down like a shit sandwich really. A very Radio 4 audience and it barely got a giggle. But when it was aired, they put some canned laughter on. Rory walked up to me afterwards with this very perplexed look on his face and asked, who are you? I haven’t heard satire like that for years…But remember, this was Pie Radio 4 and not full pelt at all. I said, well please come and see my show if you can. He made this real effort, because his show started 20 minutes after mine, so he really shouldn’t have been able to come and see it.
“But he made this effort to come, came up to me afterwards and he was sort of dumb struck. You know when you meet someone, and they are genuinely blown away by it. Thank God someone is doing that old school, angry, ranty, anti-Tory stuff that we haven’t really seen since the Thatcher years’.
…satire Royalty giving me a comoliment
“I kept in contact with him a few times, can’t remember where the quote came from, but I said please Rory, let me use that. He said, ‘My pleasure, my pleasure’. It’s that satire Royalty giving me a compliment, which is very, very nice.
“But it compares me to Alan Partridge, and Alan Partridge has been in my life ever since I can remember. I discovered him on radio when I was about 14. I have grown up with that man and without a doubt, to me personally, Partridge is my favourite comedy character of all time.
“He definitely informs Pie. I have to be very, very careful not to put a Patridge-ism in. I am not always successful, there is occasionally a bit of Partridge. When I was at drama school, all of my friends were big Partridge fans like me and we spent about three years talking like that: (Tom does AP impression)…and it’s become part of my rhythm in the way I am sarcastic, is the way Partridge is sarcastic. I am very careful to not let him infect Pie too much, which is very, very difficult because most of the time I talk like Partridge anyway”.
Fans spotting Pie in the street when he is filming his weekly clips, often yell out “we love you Pie”, which screws up the perfect one-take. “When someone disrupts the filming in the street, the difference between me and Pie is indistinguishable. It is really high pressure and one-take, and I have screamed at people in the street when people have fucked it up in the last 10 seconds and you go, ‘you bastard’.
“Most people who would recognise me are fans, because you don’t really happen on Pie. He’s on your Facebook feed and you either ignore him or you like him. Sometimes you’ll be doing a take and it’ll be “Pie, love you Pie” and it’s really annoying that they are being nice”. I say shut the fuck up and that’s me saying it, not Pie…”
But heckle him during the live stage show and that’s a very different matter and could de-rail the whole thing. “You get calls ‘we love you’, in the middle of a show, and you go, ‘uggghhhh’, because it pulls you out of character, it really does.
“The lucky thing is, I say, shut the fuck up and that’s me saying it, not Pie. But it is sort of within his character. I find it very odd; I think people think they’re helping, and they’re not. It’s a wonderful thing to do, to walk on stage and deliver what is essentially a 70-minute monologue. In Pie, it’s quick fire machine gun. The last show, the last 20 minutes was machine gun fire without respite. It takes such focus and humiliation, and someone just shouting out something, it can trip you up like that, and you don’t know where you are.
“It is always meant lovingly, but they have no idea how disruptive it can be to a performer. Not a lot you can do about it, especially comedy shows, because a lot of times they’ve had four or five pints beforehand”.
Many real-life media people ask Tom if he was ever a journalist. “I take it as a huge compliment. I must be making him believable. They get it, they appreciate it, they see themselves in it. The fact they kind of believe it, means I must be doing something right, because that’s the job of an actor to make you think they are real”.
What about the politicians he lambasts? “I’m sure most politicians are big enough and thick skinned enough to take a bit of a kicking, and the Tories are the people who get it in the neck from a party-political point of view. I don’t think they get offended.
“What the new show is about really; I think we live in an age where if someone disagrees with you, that’s offensive, and it isn’t. It’s just a different matter of opinion. It’s very much what the show’s about. For example Andrew is, let’s put it this way; he’s a bit of a Euro sceptic, so I think we can work out which way he went in the referendum. I went differently. What that does, is turns Pie into a reluctant Remainer, so that Pie can understand both sides. I can understand why people voted both ways.
“Here’s a good example; I did a round-up of the year’s news and thought let’s round up Brexit. I did a joke about leavers and I did a joke about remain. So, slagging everyone off, basically. The comments underneath were either: Pie bloody Remoaning, Pie bloody Remoaner. Then the other comments were, I think Pie voted leave, how disgusting.
“It proves the point that people cannot take a different point of view. I think people need to start doing that. What really amazed me about the referendum results was not the result. We were surprised. I think everyone was surprised, no matter how you voted, most were surprised with that result.
If you voted differently to me, you are a racist.
“What I found most surprising and most shocking was the vitriol I saw on Facebook, from like-minded people who voted the way I did, to remain. I voted fairly reluctantly, but to remain. My Facebook feed was full of people going, if you voted differently to me, de-friend me now. If you voted differently to me, you are a racist. I found that abhorrent and it has really informed Pie and it’s made me make Pie much more about debate.
“It’s a real problem with the Left I think, that they shut down debate by using words like mansplaining; saying you are being rude to me because I am a woman. i. e. you’re a bigot. No, no, no. I’m just being rude to you. Don’t assume bigotry. That’s the theme of this show: you have to be able to listen to opinions that you fundamentally disagree with, and not assume that someone is a bigot.
“The other massive theme of the show is just because someone uses the wrong word to describe say, a person of colour or a gay person, a word that would have been OK 10 years ago, that doesn’t make them a bigot. It just means they haven’t quite caught up with the fashionable language….
“We are far too quick, in the age of social media, to assume bigotry and prejudice where there is none, and it’s very dangerous I think”.
Yeah, Tom (or Pie) are bang on with that. There doesn’t seem to be a polite “Let’s agree to disagree” truce any more. It doesn’t exist. “In a way, that is the theme of the show. You can’t hope to persuade someone to vote the way you want them to, unless you hear what they think.
“If for example, immigration is the top of their priorities, listen to what they want, listen to what they have to say, and then if you disagree with them, persuade them that immigration doesn’t matter.Also have an open mind and think that even if you’re pretty sure that what they are gonna say, you are going to disagree with them, approach the conversation going, I am willing to be persuaded.
“I am willing to persuade, but I am also willing to be persuaded. Persuade me, that leaving the EU is the best thing to do, and you might. If you are genuinely willing to be persuaded, you are much more likely to be able to persuade”.
Guess what? We just might end up getting a Pie TV show one day. “Televison is very risk averse and I think, they think I am Jonathan Pie. Things are bubbling away, and I am hoping all these little meetings I’ve had; they’ll come and see the tour and see he can work for more than three minutes, and let’s see what happens.
“Pie’s not going to be around for ever, so, I genuinely hope so and I think the world is right for a bit more of a punchy satire on TV. I think it’s a little bit weak arse at the moment, but we’ll see. I hope so”. Pie the Movie? “You never bloody know. Well, if they don’t let me on the TV, maybe I’ll get to the silver screen instead”.
Does he have other characters ready to go, when Pie is retired? “No, I don’t consider myself a comedian or a character comedian. I consider myself an actor, so I think if and when this would wind down, I would go back to my acting agent and ask, got any auditions? Nothing has sprung to mind”.
I have a better idea. Pie running for office as an MP in an election. “He would be a leftie Trump; said what he thought. Articulate, would be able to spell well and a little bit more thick-skinned than our present Commander In Chief; who is like a very, very thin skinned toddler most of the time, also with that toddler bravado”.
Pie is pretty good at his job and that’s where him and Partridge differ
If Pie was American, I am sure he’d have been signed up for a regular slot on Saturday Night Live or one of the other top prime time shows. What if Pie got the chance to sit down with Trump to do a serious interview, how would that go?
“Pie is pretty good at his job and that’s where him and Partridge differ. Probably do a relatively professional interview, but if he was in unprofessional mode, I just don’t know. But I’d probably start by asking him, do you understand what your job is, and do you understand – which he clearly doesn’t – that golfing and Tweeting is just not a good look. And what I’d really like to do is to explain a few things. To explain to him what politics is, how important diplomacy is.
“Because he doesn’t seem to have a diplomatic bone in his body. It’s made me realise that however much we detest politicians, how fucking important politicians are and how important politics are (sic). I don’t think I’d ask him questions, I think I’d just have a rant at him”. That I’d pay to view!
Tom hits 40 in June. “I don’t mind hitting 40, because I am doing something I wanna do. But I think if I were still having to listen to people talk about their diarrhoea, I would really not be looking forward to 40, but I am in a good place in my life at the minute…” He is “very single”, lives in London, was born in Taunton, Devon and studied drama at Manchester Met Uni – where a certain Steve Coogan aka Alan Partridge is a former student.
So, back to the huge global appeal of the life of Pie. Attracting roughly a million views a week and that gob smacking stat’ for the Trump wins the election clip. “That stat’ is totally bonkers but verifiable; the Trump video I did in response to Trump’s election has been seen over 150 million times worldwide, which is fucking ridiculous.
“The most viewed piece of commentary on Trump’s election on the planet. I can’t think of anything else (on the Trump win) that would have been seen, read or listened to, 150 million times. That is extraordinary and total bonkers, but it also proves the power of the internet”. Quite…
There is that old saying; the pen is mightier than the sword, coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839.. Not any more; social media can make or break you, overnight. For Tom Walker and that Pie person, it is clearly the former.
What do you reckon about that Tim? Tim. Tim. Are you there?
- For tour dates and tickets: www.jonathanpie.com/live/
By Simon Redley