Preview: Pie Live

Jonathan Pie is the voice of reason for many disillusioned consumers of news. Nicola Mostyn talks to Tom Walker, the man behind the character of the irate news reporter

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A week used to be a long time in politics, but in 2016 we might as well amend that to 24 hours, what with all the blink-and-you-miss-it resignations, about-turns and unlikely plot twists of the last few months.

For Tom Walker, creator of Jonathan Pie, that turbulence has been somewhat bittersweet, career-wise. “I don’t think Pie would be as popular if the political climate hadn’t been so up in the air. But, also, I couldn’t keep up! It was crazy. You’d write a joke and four hours later it would be out of date because someone had resigned.”

Pie is a “news correspondent with one fatal flaw: he can’t talk about the news without getting angry”. The character’s first frothing, “off-air” rant was posted online just a year ago, a last ditch attempt by the out of work actor before he gave up and got a proper job.

“I thought, I’m not going out without a fight, so I’ll make some videos and just see what happens.” What happened was 9,000 views. “I thought that was viral,” Walker says. Then, a few weeks later, it went ballistic. “A video got viewed about eight million times, and I was like, oh, that’s what viral means.”

His work is not always just a comment about how awful the government is, explains the actor. A lot of the time it’s more of a comment on the media. Walker cites how the mass coverage of Traingate overshadowed the news that the Human Rights Act is another step closer to being abolished. “It just confuses everyone to the point where people are apathetic about everything because they don’t trust a thing.”

This might explain why, having been tempted by the artistic freedom offered by controversial TV network Russia Today, Walker has recently cut ties. RT might have felt right for Walker, but it was wrong for Pie, whose demographic need to know that he, at least, remains an impartial voice in all that spin.

It’s been an astonishingly swift rise to fame for Walker, who has followed up his internet success with a one-man show, which he debuted in Edinburgh and is now touring around the UK.

How did he go about adapting Pie’s three-minute diatribes to a longer format? “I put in this conceit that he’s a last minute replacement for John Barrowman, doing a segment for Children in Need,” explains Walker. “So he’s there, he’s out of his depth, he’s doing light entertainment, which he thinks is beneath him, so already his hackles are up, but he’s trying to entertain the audience.”

That’ll keep Walker busy until March 2017, especially given those inevitable rewrites. And then? “I’m sure Pie has some legs left,” says Walker. “Whether that’s getting him on the telly, maybe, I don’t know.”

After the year he’s had, Walker knows better than to try to predict the future. But one thing we can be sure of: Pie won’t run out of things to rage against anytime soon.

Pie Live is at The Brindley, Runcorn, 17 Sept, The Lowry, Salford, 25-26 Sept, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, 5 Oct, City Varieties, Leeds, 14 Oct, The Met, Bury, 7 Nov and further venues in the New Year

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