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Jonathan Pie: Live review

| Comedy, Theatre | 22/03/2017


Tom Walker‘s ranty yet astute live show as comedy creation Jonathan Pie will be available to buy on his website from Monday next week.  Ian Cater attended the recorded performance at The O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 3rd March 2017, and reports below on Walker’s brilliant delivery and ‘rare ability to spew out persuasive points amongst the bile’.

Tom Walker’s weekly videos as alter ego Jonathan Pie are as close as we currently get in this country to The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  Or perhaps The Late Show with Steven Colbert is a better comparison, given Walker uses his fictional creation – a television news reporter who rants acerbic views at his producer during out-takes – to make important arguments about politics, the media and society in general.

Like many, I am a huge fan of these angry, insightful and sweary three-minute instalments but was unsure how the character would adapt to a live show lasting for 60 minutes.

The good news is that – overall – Pie does succeed in this format, thanks in part to the clever context used for the show: a live telethon for Children With Needs which Pie has been parachuted in to host as a last-minute replacement for John Barrowman.  This takes him outside his comfort zone – a first foray into light-entertainment with the added pressure of live television – while also providing a familiar backdrop for Pie fans: one persona when the live feed cuts to him, and another when the camera stops rolling and he can vent his spleen.

Another factor helping Pie work onstage is the neat writing of Walker and Andrew Doyle, who largely avoid desensitising the audience by altering the rhythm of Pie’s rants and introducing a new source of frustration: his family life.  This is what Walker was getting at when he told us last month that in the show “you learn a lot about [Pie] and people who get angry about politics in general: are you really cross with Theresa May or just pissed off at life?”

It’s not a faultless production.  At times, the focus on Cameron, Osborne and Gove betrays the fact the show was originally scripted a year ago to attack the then Conservative cabinet incumbents – although given the pace of political change over the past 12 months, keeping all of the material fresh and contemporary is a pretty tough ask.  And despite Walker revealing some of Pie’s underlying family frustrations (including an ex-wife insisting that “Divorce means divorce” and a son from whom he struggles for validation), these really need more time to percolate to truly flesh out his character.  To this end, plans to create a Partridge-esque Pie TV sitcom are welcome news.

However, neither of these issues detract from the brilliance of Walker’s delivery or his rare ability to spew out persuasive points amongst the bile – in short, to leave the audience with laughter lines and expanded minds.

No one survives Pie’s harsh gaze.  With typical flourish, he lays into charity appeals (contrasting public willingness to “see Gloria Hunniford in a bath of beans” or “support someone growing a mustache for arse cancer” with its ambivalence towards a stark rise in homelessness), Theresa May (“who looks like the Emperor from Star Wars stole Grayson Perry’s wig”) and – repeatedly – the Tory party (“trusting them with the NHS is about as sensible as cleaning a dog’s teeth with your bellend”).  Nor is the Left spared.  Far from it: Pie bemoans Labour’s current attempts to “fist itself to death” and Guardian readers’ smugness at spending £2 a day to read opinions they already agree with.

But Pie’s real brilliance lies in his ability to cut through arguments and promote a better way of doing things.  This is enlightening in itself, leading to a lot of nodding in the predominantly liberal crowd.  But it also creates great comedy by adding to Pie’s frustrations: he’s adamant that the world would be a better place if he could only say what he thought on TV.  He should soon get his chance.

Jonathan Pie: Live will be available to purchase as a download from his new official website from midday on Monday 27th March 2017.  To catch all of his latest videos, follow Jonathan Pie on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter @JonathanPieNews.

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