When reporters freak out on air, the result is often great internet fodder. That was just as much the case for one Jonathan Pie, the British reporter who dropped decorum between takes in order to bash the lame media machine he belongs to and the conservative interests of his country.
Except Mr. Pie isn’t an actual reporter – though he does have some people fooled, which makes his anger all the more shareable. He’s a character made up by Tom Walker, an actor living in London.
Konbini caught up with Walker to talk about satire, the origins of Jonathan Pie, and the moment he noticed the character’s rant going viral.
Konbini: What’s your background?
Tom Walker: I graduated from drama school in 2000. Like every jobbing actor it’s like feast or famine. You have busy years and you have not busy years. And it’s been a not a busy year. So I figured shit, I just want to go out and do something.
How did Jonathan Pie come about?
Jonathan Pie is kind of a character I’ve had in my head for years really… Certainly I have no background in politics whatsoever. I don’t consider myself a satirist, to put it that way, but I appear to have by default to have turned into one.
What was the motivating factor?
Jeremy Corbyn has just been elected leader of our opposition. The day after he was elected, the way the press just pounced on him with what to me [were] blatant fucking lies… I got really annoyed by it. And I rarely get that annoyed by politics, or not by politics but by the ridiculousness of the British press.
You know some people really like to express their political views on Facebook and that kind of thing. I personally find that little bit vulgar. But I wanted to find a way to express like, fuck’s sake, that’s just a blatant lie.
And suddenly the character that I’ve had in my head for years just popped into my head. And I thought: Oh, maybe he can express that for me.
How much of yourself have you put into the character?
I invented some spleen. He was an exaggeration of the way I was feeling. And it went ballistic. it got twenty thousand hits, which to me at the time seemed pretty viral. Now I really know what going viral means.
So that was the genesis of the politics of it, and it seemed to go well, so I thought “well, I’ll stick to some politics.” But I feel I have to be careful because a lot of the time I don’t really know what I’m talking about.
This week’s one, which was about the economy… I haven’t got a fucking clue what the economy is about, and yet the news purports to tell us what the economy is all about. But the majority of us are none the wiser most of the time.
Why do you think people have connected with Jonathan Pie, and is there something particularly worth lambasting in the present state of affairs?
It’s not about politics and it’s not about journalism. The reason people connect to it is because we all have our public persona, and he’s an exaggeration of that. When the camera’s rolling, he is a professional. “Good evening, this is the news, bla bla bla.”
As soon as they say cut he goes “Fuck that, what a load of bollocks.” And then we go “Action” and he’s got that public persona back. And we can all relate to that, socially or whatever. That’s where the genesis of this character came.
However, the satire is really easy at the moment. We have a right wing government that’s probably the most right wing government in certainly in my lifetime, and that includes Mrs. Thatcher.
(Source: R Barraez D´Lucca via Flickr)
Over here during Thatcher’s reign we had a huge tradition of satire in Britain, which during the last 10 years, not so much, because we’ve had a Labor government, a left wing government (well I say left wing, they were pretty right wing, really). During the Bush era for you guys, that was great satire. During the Obama years, not quite so much.
What does it take to run your channel?
It’s a one man show. It was through necessity as well. I have no technical skills whatsoever. I’m shit with a camera, shit with sound, shit with editing.
So what can I do in one take?
Now, sticking a camera on a tripod outside our Houses of Parliament and me in a suit, that convention is already there. You know who I am. You know that I’m a news reporter.
What I really like about it is that there has been and there continues to be in some quarters this debate about whether I’m for real or not.
As it’s gone on, very quickly I’ve had to up my game with regards to the quality of the sound and the quality of the camera.
I’m in a position now where I work with a news broadcaster here, a very small news broadcaster [RT UK], who is filming it for me, editing for me. I get full control over it, but they basically buy it off me for 48 hours to use as they wish, as officially their exclusive content.
And I get it back [on Sundays at 3:00 p.m.]. It’s a really good deal for me. I’m earning a little bit of money from it, it’s ideal. This has only started in the last couple of weeks.
What’s the writing process like?
I try not to learn it, because I want it to be fresh. I write it down in a really loose way. The only one that I really heavily scripted was the one where “Russia’s bad, this is bad, that’s shit, bla bla bla.”
That one was a nightmare. I took an afternoon off the day before to properly learn it like it was a piece of Shakespeare or something. It had to be word for word for word or word. But that was the one that went ballistic, and that’s why I’m talking to you now.
I was on my way to a christening in Somerset, which is rural England, and I just got a text from someone going “you’ve had a million hits.” And then I looked on Facebook and someone had ripped it. Thank god they did. By the end of that day, eight million people had viewed it via that Facebook page. [It's currently at 15.8 million views].
A friend of mine who’s in social media, that’s his job, he’s like “I’ve never seen anything go so viral so quickly.”
He was there saying “right, you need a Facebook page, you need to talk to all these people about licensing, bla bla bla.” And I’m on the phone going “I’m in the middle of a field in a christening, I can’t fucking do anything.” So he did all of that kind of for me.
For someone who’s an internet sensation, supposedly, I am the least internet savvy person ever.
What’s with the name, Jonathan Pie?
About 5 or 6 years ago I was asked if I’d like to do something for a friend of mine’s dinner cabaret show. And it was a little cabaret venue called the Battersea Barge in London, so it’s a boat, like a little venue.
And I always wanted to do stand-up comedy but I never had the balls to do it. So I did it as a character. I did it as the health and safety officer of this boat. Fairly basic conceit. And for some reason I thought of the name Jonathan Pie, because I liked opening it by going “my name’s Jonathan Pie, as in… pie.” But that name stuck with me, right? Always when I was thinking of this reporter I thought I’ll use Jonathan Pie for this.
No relation to Arnie Pye in the Sky, from the Simpsons?
[Laughs] That is bizarre. I had not made that connection at all. Maybe in my head.
What’s next for Jonathan Pie?
I can’t shout at the camera every week, it would just become boring. So almost on purpose this week I’m lowering the bar slightly so that I can go back up there.
This interview has been edited and condensed.