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Sydney Morning Herald

Jonathan Pie, the angry British TV reporter created by actor Tom Walker, has become a viral sensation online thanks to his erudite rants about the state of UK and world politics.

But if fans of Pie’s blistering attacks attended his Melbourne show expecting he would turn his attention to the sorry state of Australia’s parliamentary representatives, they may have been disappointed.

Pie freely admitted he knew nothing about Australian politics (it meant he didn’t “have to rewrite the whole show” he confessed). But he wasn’t entirely telling the truth. Although his early focus remained on UK politicians, he had done enough research to throw in a few lines about Bronwyn Bishop, the same-sex marriage plebiscite and the state of offshore detention centres.

It didn’t really matter – when Western politics has become so partisan and driven by ideology, Pie’s attacks on right-wing thinking translated easily to a local audience.

That said, after taking on the low-hanging fruit that is Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, Pie reserved some of his most cutting remarks for left-wingers and the rise of political correctness. In a very funny segment involving his “Woke-A-Lator”, he took on the rise of terms like “mansplaining” and “cultural appropriation”.

The show climaxed with a segment that succinctly and scathingly summed up how mainstream and social media combine to convect outrage daily, using Pie’s own show as an example. Although the Twitter reactions Pie displays to the outrage he has created are fake, he recently had his own real-world experience on this subject, after posting a video complaining about a comedian being charged with a hate crime over a tasteless joke.

Beyond the material, credit must go to Walker’s incendiary performance, which starts off intense and relentlessly builds to an explosion of anger and will leave audiences exhausted.

Pie may not be the modern-day Bill Hicks, but in a world seemingly gone mad and getting madder by the day, he offers a thought-provoking, occasionally controversial and often very funny take on the world.
★★★★½

Chortle

At the National Theatre, Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston is resurrecting the 1976 film Network, the rage-to-riches story of newsreader Howard Beale who’s ‘mad as hell and not going to take it any more’.

Well, Jonathan Pie is a Howard Beale for the YouTube generation, a furious reporter on the edge who vents with a rare intensity against the incompetent, self-serving political class the moment the cameras are off. Ironically, this fake newsman brings a rare authenticity to political coverage, attracting big audiences online, and now in the real world on tour.

His second show takes the form of a dry run of a planned topical discussion show he’s hoping to pitch to the BBC or ITV elbowing out Andrew Marr or Robert Peston. Though maybe Rupert Murdoch’s outlet would be a better fit, if only for the Pie In The Sky pun potential.

Think that would be tacky? Wait until you see the hilariously low-budget and ill-conceived graphics put together for this pilot, which he describes as ‘Question Time meets Victoria Derbyshire meets Live At The Apollo – without the comedy.’ Harsh.

His first topic is the Tories, offering plenty of cheap shots to easy targets: from the Prime Minister’s woeful ineptitude to Michael Gove’s smug face to Pie’s crowd-pleasing, if probably over-simplistic, answer to the NHS funding crisis: ‘Just give them the money.’ This is not always subtle political science, nor nuanced humour. ‘Theresa May’s fucking shit,’ he opines to a roar of approval.

The reaction is Pavlovian, with rousing ovations whenever Pie sticks it to the enemy so bluntly. Yes, he can create the sort of towering edifices of eloquent insults once found on the Thick Of It, especially in his deliciously vicious ad hominem attacks, but just swearing at the powerful gets a mammoth reaction, and it can seem a bit easy. And that’s even before he gets on to Donald Trump, whom he can mock simply by reading out his deceitful, self-aggrandising tweets. Little comic imagination is needed.

However, the script (co-written by the support act, stand-up Andrew Doyle) sometimes strives harder, while Pie’s frustrated character adds enough background to counter the moments when it feels more like a rally than a routine. In this show, we get a little glimpse into the personal life that makes him so wound up, while his professional jealousy of Fiona Bruce or the frustrations of being on an interminable royal baby watch seem very real. Just ask the BBC’s Simon McCoy.

And in the second half of the show, things get a lot more interesting as Pie directs his volcanic anger towards the ‘woke’ liberals that comprise a large part of his audience. Turning on his own constituency as being quick to judge and quicker to censor, he confesses to being infuriated by ‘liberal people doing illiberal things in the name of liberalism’. Read Orwell, not tweets, he urges.

That the good ideas of political correctness have gone too far is a more widespread opinion than some bleeding hearts might acknowledge. Many have argued against the way virtue-signalling fosters a victim mentality, while doing more to massage the righteous ego of the ‘offended’ than anything meaningful to combat the big issues at society’s core. Other than opening the door for Trump, May and Brexit, of course.

But Pie is playfully fearless in bringing the fight to those who probably most need to hear it, revelling every provocative statement and the reactions he’s inviting, just toying with the idea that he wants to dismiss the idea there’s such a thing as white male privilege, for example. Tom Walker, the man behind Pie, delivers another barnstorming performance, steamrolling his point through with audacity, clarity and a good deal of wit.

Until, that is, his pitch for the TV show is brought crashing down by a blizzard of snowflakes, so perfectly illustrating his point about how the sanctity of free speech has been fatally eroded by hair-trigger sensibilities. There’s a slight touch of Alan Partridge pathos as he sees his dreams of moving out of the rain-lashed media scrum outside Downing Street and into the nice warm TV studio slip through his grasp. And of course, he reacts to this disappointment by displaying the only emotion he really knows: fury.

In a meltdown of Fukushima proportions, theatrics, invective and passion combine for a devastating rabble-rousing wake-up call for the majority in the middle of politics to show some common-sense, engage in meaningful debate rather than shutting it down, and turn their damn Twitter feed off. Powerful stuff – and very often funny, too.

The Scotsman

THOUGH best known for his three-minute YouTube rants, Tom Walker’s splenetic news reporter character Jonathan Pie is altogether funnier and more impressive in a live setting. The narrative arc of this show allows him to build up an incredible head steam, escalating from pompous self-regard and waspish asides, through thermonuclear paroxysms of rage to sustained and seething but clear-eyed invective.

Jonathan Pie – Back to the Studio, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

****

For his second live outing, he’s angling to leave on-the-spot reporting behind and launch The Jonathan Pie Political Roadshow. Parking his upstart tanks on the lawns of Andrew Marr and Robert Peston, it’s a non-broadcast, studio showcase for the heads of BBC and ITV. Some of the alternative show titles considered offer an early indication of the kinks that still need ironing out. Dismissing Scottish politics as all but irrelevant to the Westminster to-and-fro, he doesn’t care about ruffling feathers, berating at length anyone in the audience with their phone out. A momentary lapse into cyber-stalking his estranged wife offers some insight into one possible source of his belligerence, but it chiefly seems to stem from his bottomless hatred of the Tory party, with Theresa May and Michael Gove in particular subjected to vicious personal attacks.

That’s not to underplay the increasingly deft choreography of Pie’s pique as he paces, snarls and sneers. And gradually, as he turns his guns on the Left, offence culture and the overreach of political correctness, the show evolves into something far richer and more theatrical. A recent dearth of sharp political satire perhaps makes this seem more piercing than it is. Still, Pie’s ultimate meltdown is as exquisitely performed as it is well written, damningly scathing of current political discourse and engagement.

Evening Standard

There has been no slogging round the club circuit for Jonathan Pie. This spoof news reporter sold out the Apollo twice this weekend thanks to his rapid-response online rants that regularly go viral. Whether it’s the weather or Brexit he delivers vitriol by the bucketload.

His latest live outing purports to be a pilot for a potential political TV series. The perma-angry Pie, persona created by actor Tom Walker, fancies himself as the new Robert Peston but with more manageable hair. Things soon look shaky. He immediately hates the childlike graphics that introduce his opening section.

But maybe childlike is apt, as there is nothing mature about his initial low-hanging fruit routines. Margaret Thatcher was so keen to sell everything she was basically Del Boy in a bouffant, he explains. Instead of subtlety there are jokes about Michael Gove’s face and Donald Trump’s spelling errors.

There is more original satirical punch, however, when he takes aim at Generation Snowflake with the aid of his “woke-a-lator”, skewering the current obsession with being offended. This builds neatly to Pie finding his career plans scuppered by a Twitter storm.

It is a smart, slightly Alan Partridge-esque idea, giving the show, co-written with stand-up Andrew Doyle, a strong finish as the media monster goes into youth-bashing mega-meltdown. While the humour is uneven in places, Walker’s performance is eminently watchable. What Pie lacks in nuance he definitely makes up for in volume.