The politics of comedy

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A former adviser to the Labour Party, Matt Forde is a skilful political stand-up – and there’s been plenty to satirise this year. He spoke to Yvette Huddleston.

A self-confessed political nerd, satirist Matt Forde is a big fan of BBC Parliament and revels in the thrust and parry of Prime Minister’s Questions, but even he has been struggling to keep up with the extraordinary events of the past few months.

Currently on tour with his acclaimed new show It’s My Political Party (And I’ll Cry if Want to) which received rave reviews up in Edinburgh this summer, Forde is stopping off at Leeds City Varieties this weekend and he admits that the ever-changing political landscape has been keeping him on his toes. “I am constantly having to update things, which is great,” he says. “I think there is such an appetite for political comedy at the moment. My shows have always been political – that’s what I do – but this year people have really tuned into it.” There’s certainly been plenty of material to work with.

Forde has politics in his bones – you can hear the passion when he talks about it. He is a former special advisor to the Labour Party, which he joined at the age of just 15, and given what is happening currently, I wonder whether he has – even just for a moment – thought about going back in to politics. His answer is unequivocal. “Absolutely not,” he says. “Politics is really tiring and you need a lot of personal strength to cope with the criticism you get. It’s a very hard job and basically a thankless task, I really don’t envy the people who have to take on those roles.”

And anyway, he is having far too much fun enjoying what he is doing (“and you have so much freedom to say what you want”) – not to mention the plaudits and the success. His London stage show, The Political Party, has been a sell-out during its monthly residency at Westminster’s St James Theatre. Guests have included Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, Michael Portillo, Nigel Farage, Neil Kinnock and Jacob Rees-Mogg. He has also recently launched his TV show Unspun on Dave which invites politicians on for a chat. “It’s a mix of genuine politics because I am discussing issues of the day with them, but equally it is an opportunity for them to show their human side,” he says. “I think one of the most exciting things in life is to sit opposite someone you disagree with and have a conversation. We seem to have lost the ability to do that – debate today has become so polarised, especially on social media where it quickly becomes so personal and rude.”

Forde is also a very gifted mimic, and impressions are a significant part of his act. There are plenty of ‘larger-than-life’ characters to choose from on the political scene at the moment – not surprisingly Messrs B Johnson and N Farage pop up at fairly regular intervals. “I’ve never been one of those people who try and try to get the voice right,” he says. “I think it just helps that I watch politics so closely. I notice things about people.”

While Forde acknowledges that the turmoil of the current political landscape makes for rich comedy, he admits he finds some of it quite depressing, especially as a committed Remainer. “A lot of what is going on is heart-breaking but you have to be able to laugh about it. I think there have been very few times in history where everywhere you look there’s chaos – mayhem in the Labour Party, UKIP is in a mess, the fall-out from the Brexit vote… but comedy is there to make people feel better.”

City Varieties, November 13. www.cityvarieties.co.uk