Political satirist Matt Forde talks to The Glasgow Guardian about his upcoming show at the Edinburgh Fringe – including why it will always feature some Scottish politics – as well as the role of impartiality and cancel culture in political comedy.
Both “crasherooni snoozefest” and “security, prosperity, respect” could feature in Matt Forde’s lexicon. As well as voicing Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer and Donald Trump on Spitting Image, Matt has written a book about his disillusionment with The Labour Party, and had a four-season political satire TV series on Dave: Unspun with Matt Forde. He also hosts The Political Party, a podcast which combines stand-up comedy and informal interviews with prominent political figures, ranging from Jacob Rees-Mogg to Tony Blair to Mhairi Hunter. His latest endeavour is Clowns To The Left of Me, Jokers To The Right, a political comedy show poking fun at the fairly grim state of politics at the moment. Ahead of its month-long run at the Fringe this summer, Matt spoke to The Glasgow Guardian about his work as a political satirist, and his thoughts on Scottish politics more generally.
TimeOut describes the performance as perhaps “as close as we get to objectivity”, as Matt “doesn’t take sides or pick favourites”. I start off by asking Matt whether he finds it hard to keep his own political views out of his professional work: “I always take the mick out of people I agree with and disagree with. It’s not so much that I keep my own views out of it, but that I’m equally annoyed with all sides. So much that is going on that’s ludicrous, I’m not short of targets. I’m livid at the way Boris Johnson has governed this country, and I can’t believe Labour ever elected Jeremy Corbyn as their leader.” Of course, both of these figures have now been deposed by their parties, and I wonder whether Matt sees this tumultuous period as the result of the public electing rubbish individuals, or the result of a more institutional problem: “Political parties are the gatekeepers of our democracy, and the public are given what parties put out before us. If they give us quality candidates, people will vote for them – that’s how Tony Blair won three elections. The problem is that all major political parties in the last ten years have failed at controlling their own supporters, especially online, and not pandering to the worst elements of their parties and creating an environment that is way too tribal and way too nasty.”
The ascendance of a Durham/QMUL University student into a regular GB News panellist via incandescent quote tweet does seem symptomatic of a politics increasingly dictated by reaction, perhaps even more so than reason. Indeed, Matt’s show takes place at the height of the Tory leadership contest, in which Kemi Badenoch shouted at ice cream as part of the supposed war on woke. I ask Matt whether culture wars are really worth worrying about, and if he shares Dame Maureen Lipman’s concern that cancel culture risks wiping out comedy forever: “Most people just think (the woke agenda) is all a bit odd..it animates a small number of people on both sides and the rest of the country are slightly mystified by it…most people are barely getting onto political correctness!”
“There is a risk that you create an environment where people are actively looking for offence, and it’s irresponsible to try and turn the temperature in that regard…it does happen a bit more often now and people are becoming more sensitive and that’s not necessarily a positive thing. That said, doing comedy that’s nasty or prejudiced was never okay, and thinking carefully about what you say is important.” So while the liberal metropolitan elite may not represent an immediate threat to political satire, perhaps a bigger one arises not from those scapegoated by the war on woke, but by those initiating it. The absurdity of a 36-hour Secretary of State for Education, or government ministers (literally) giving the public the middle finger feels almost beyond parody. I’m not especially interested in impersonations of Nadine Dorries, because the actual Nadine Dorries is funnier. Matt, however, is not convinced that the actualisation of Armando Inucci’s wildest dreams will reduce our appetite for satire. “It’s a double edged sword, really. People are way more interested in satire and parody during these times. From the outside it might look harder, but actually people are so desperately outraged about the way the government and individuals are behaving, they crave seeing them impersonated, lampooned or skewered. These things really boost satire.”
Much of political satire, including The Thick Of It, focuses on Westminster. Its arcane workings and questionable characters are easy to laugh at, and I wonder whether it would be harder to produce a show exclusively about the politics of devolved nations. Matt disagrees that there is simply less to work with in Scotland: “Scottish politics certainly isn’t more civilised…the 2014 referendum was one of the most ferocious exercises in democracy and a lot of people are still recovering from how abusive it was. Look at the ferry contracts, the exam algorithm which was exactly the same as the one Gavin Williamson used, the census that the Scottish government can’t even run, the incompetence let alone the corruption. Fear not, there is always a decent Scottish politics section in any of my shows.”
Matt Forde plays ‘Clowns To The Left of Me, Jokers To The Right’ for a month long run at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the Pleasance Beyond, plus is set to interview Gordon Brown on the 7th August, Anas Sarwar on the 15th August and Joanna Cherry on the 22nd August over 3 live Political Party Edinburgh Fringe specials. More info and tickets at mattforde.com