Rosie Holt: Comedian who thrived on Twitter takes tour to Leeds City Varities and Ilkley King's Hall

Rosie Holt found success with her online spoofs of painful political interviews during lockdown. As the actor and comedian heads back on the road, with dates in Yorkshire, she talks to John Blow.

Rosie Holt popping up on a laptop screen ready for a Zoom video call feels somewhat surreal and yet rather normal at the same time.

For many users of social media, particularly those on what was formerly called Twitter, her face is ubiquitous – and the material she posts now part of the daily political discourse.

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Often, it goes something like this: a politician does something stupid, Holt posts a mock interview about it as her Tory alter-ego, then someone, somewhere is so convinced by it that they confuse her for a real MP. Art imitating life, or vice versa, has become the norm for Holt, 38, of London.

Rosie Holt as her Tory MP alter-ego. Picture by Karla Gowlett.Rosie Holt as her Tory MP alter-ego. Picture by Karla Gowlett.
Rosie Holt as her Tory MP alter-ego. Picture by Karla Gowlett.

“I put up a sketch yesterday and it's just been kind of almost emulated word for word on LBC this morning by a minister,” says Holt, speaking in late February.

But reality, sometimes, outdoes satire. "The last few weeks I was watching a lot of these MPs and ministers on the morning channels, and I was thinking, I can't do anything with this – it’s already so ridiculous.”

She is talking ahead of two live dates in Yorkshire, in Leeds and Ilkley, as part of her latest tour That’s Politainment!

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Holt is one of the best known examples of a crop of comedians who, during the pandemic, put their work online and saw their popularity rise. In Holt’s case, she won the Chortle Social Media Award in 2022.

Rosie Holt has live shows coming up in Ilkley and Leeds. Picture: Karla Gowlett.Rosie Holt has live shows coming up in Ilkley and Leeds. Picture: Karla Gowlett.
Rosie Holt has live shows coming up in Ilkley and Leeds. Picture: Karla Gowlett.

Her videos are sometimes spliced together so that her MP character interacts with real television presenters who have conducted interviews, but superimposed so that she responds with inane, filibustering (though not so farfetched) answers.

The way politicians talk in interviews, she says is “like (the phrase) ‘Dance like nobody’s watching’ but it’s ‘Answer questions like nobody’s watching’.”

She’s tackled pandemic stories such as Partygate (‘MP doesn’t know whether she attended Downing St Party’), but also sycophantic politicians (‘MP decries kangaroo court that victimised Boris Johnson’) and, of course, the B-word (‘Woman explains it’s not Brexit it’s bad attitude’).

What was it like to be succeeding during the pandemic?

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“It's a really terrible thing (that) this awful time of everyone's life actually kind of kick started my career in lots of ways,” Holt acknowledges. “But I think part of the reason for that really is, even when I was doing straight stand up, I didn't really do political stuff, but I always joked about things that made me sad and angry. That's always how I've dealt with things as a person. And I think during the pandemic, I was pretty sad and angry like a lot of people.

"So the first video that I posted, I posted because I thought it was funny, but also because I found it cathartic. I think because things were bad was why I was able to thrive a bit because a lot of people were looking for a bit of a release. I wanted to acknowledge what was going on, but also laugh at it.”

When the world opened back up it was time for live performance again after her profile had soared on the web, and her last tour was The Woman’s Hour.

“That was quite frightening because I was suddenly going, ‘I know this works online, can I make it work on stage?’ At Edinburgh, I did throw quite a lot at it and I think some of it worked and some of it didn't. By the time I got it on the road, I was very pleased with how it was and I loved performing to an audience. And it's so much fun, I'm really lucky because people coming to my shows, they kind of know what I'm about and so they're already quite engaged with the material and with the persona.”

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That’s Politainment! will bring familiar characters to explore Holt’s fascination with “how thin the line is now between politics and entertainment”.

Satire, though was not the initially the plan for Holt, who is originally from Somerset.

She says: “It's funny, I never thought about doing stand up comedy. Originally, I always wanted to be an actor and I went to LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts). Then what happened is, when I left, I wasn't doing I wasn't doing terribly well. I wasn't getting very many jobs. And I think part of the thing with acting is, you're so reliant on someone else giving you work.

“But also, I've got friends who are doing really well and they often still find it quite frustrating because it's not your own creative vision. You're usually part of someone else's creative vision.

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“So I was doing the odd bit of acting work, but not much, and then I was living with a stand-up called Harriet Kemsley, and I started getting interested in the world of stand up comedy.

“Then it seemed wonderful to me because you could come up with an idea and then you could find an open mic night that night and try out an idea and see if it was funny, and get an audience.”

After building up her work she had been steadily gathering accolades – she was a finalist at the Amused Moose New Comic, Leicester Square New Comedian and Bath New Act awards – and was performing in the acclaimed theatre show The Crown Live! with Brendan Murphy. They were about to take it to America when the pandemic happened and, like may of her peers, took her creativity online.

Most of her sketches skewer Conservative politicians, but with a general election expected over the next year, what will she do if the Tories get booted out of office?

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"This is why we've got to keep the Tories in, everyone, it’s my career!” she jokes.

“So when Labour get in - if Labour get in, but I hope that they do - I think it's always important that the government, whatever their political leanings, and however you feel about them personally, needs to be held to account and we need to analyse what they're doing and be critical of what they're doing.”

She does wonder whether people would have the “same appetite for satire and what I'm doing, because I think there might be a huge sense of relief” if the Conservatives lose, adds Holt, and that audiences might feel a potential Labour government deserves a grace period before comics send them up.

Holt is also co-host (as character Harriet Langley-Swindon) of NonCensored – a parody of GB News and Talk TV - and in the summer will release her first book Why We Were Right.

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“It's written from the point of view of my MP and it's going through all the scandals of the last couple of years, like Partygate and things like that, and explaining why actually they were really good things and the Government were really right to do what they did. It was so much fun to write. That is coming out in July – unless the Tories suddenly pull out an early election.”

What else might people want to know about the new tour?

"Just put in there that the show is funny!” It sounds a little like the MP talking, but it might just be the real Rosie Holt.

That’s Politainment! is at the King's Hall, Ilkley, on Wednesday, May 1 and at the City Varieties in Leeds on Sunday, May 12.

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