Pretend news reporter Jonathan Pie – the creation of actor Tom Walker – has risen to public attention, during the last year, thanks to a succession of videos on YouTube which allegedly reveal what happens in-between the regular “in the field” reports to camera that have become the basic vocabulary of television news. If you haven’t seen any of the Pie videos, the idea is pretty simple: invariably, what happens “off-camera” is that Jonathan Pie goes into an explosive rant about either the subjects he’s reporting on or the way it’s being reported by the mainstream media – of which he is, ironically, a part.
Brilliant, funny, angry, and above all intelligent.
Few of these videos have run for longer than five minutes, however, so the obvious challenge for Walker – along with co-writer Andrew Doyle – is how to expand the basic premise into a full hour for the Fringe without ruining it. The method they opt for is perfect; Jonathan Pie is brought into the studio as the last minute replacement for John Barrowman during an Edinburgh Fringe-based segment of the BBC’s annual Children in Need appeal. Given that most of the action in this live telethon is happening elsewhere, however, it becomes all too obvious that the man will have plenty of time “off-air” in which to get enraged.
In part goaded by his unseen producer “and director, on this occasion” Tim (who I imagine to be about 21 and straight out of Oxbridge), and also by his ex-wife’s refusal to pass over their son for the weekend, Jonathan Pie is soon tearing into the need for charities, the ever-widening rich/poor divide in Britain, and why he really misses David Cameron and his supposedly “Green” government policies. The audience lap it up, though that doesn’t actually go down that well with the reporter – the more we applaud, he points out, the less he’ll be able to tell us in the time available to him.
The big danger with Jonathan Pie is that it’s sometimes too easy to comprehend the sound and fury but not the intelligence behind it; for this news reporter is well aware of his own foibles – not least his weakness for “Ad hominem” attacks on people’s characters and attributes rather than their policies. That such “arguments” don’t actually lead to the kind of reasoned political debate that we so desperately need. And, as he’s all too willing to point out, of late it’s actually been those on the Left of British politics who have been most guilty of the bigotry they accuse of in others.
“Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right,” he eventually shouts at us, after being forced to apologise for saying nasty things about his ex-wife on BBC premises. Arguably, it’s his attacks on those who are all too willing to be offended and outraged that is Jonathan Pie at his most powerful, insisting that genuine debate is at the heart of democracy. Bad, negative ideas should be shot down by good argument, he insists, not just banned. Unfortunately, democracy is just one of those wonderful ideas which always gets ruined once people – and, in particular, the Great British Public – get involved.
Or a producer with a really naff idea about how to present the show which, ever the professional, Jonathan Pie feels obliged to carry out. Brilliant, funny, angry, and above all intelligent.