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Jonny & The Baptists: A bit of politics and ping pong

By | Published on Monday 8 August 2016

Jonny & The Baptists

Rock solid ThreeWeeks favourites Jonny & The Baptists return to the Fringe once again with a brand new show about inequality and the wealth gap.
Which might sound a little serious, though this musical comedy duo have demonstrated before that they can take on political issues while keeping us well and truly entertained.
Which is to say, there’ll be plenty of funny songs while they subtly feed your brain with facts and arguments. We caught up with both Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers to get the lowdown.

CC: Can we call you ‘Fringe veterans’ yet? You’ve done a lot of shows here – what’s draws you back each time?
Jonny: ‘Veteran’ sounds like too serious a word for a couple of guitarists from Reading spending their summer doing funny songs. This is our fifth Edinburgh show together, but you still feel nervous every time, especially as it’s where we premiere new material. As long as people enjoy it we’ll keep coming back and hoping we’re still allowed a career.
Paddy: It’s hard to imagine doing anything else. Edinburgh is the best place in the world in August. Though I wouldn’t call us ‘veterans’ so much, more like the problem locals at a very, very large pop-up bar.

CC: Tell us about ‘Eat The Poor’ – what’s the theme and storyline?
Paddy: The show’s about inequality and the wealth gap, how we got here and where it’s taking our society.
Jonny: Alongside presenting a load of research there’s a full, epic storyline this year. It’s mostly set in the future, but it’s a true story. I betray Paddy; betray him for money, fame and more money. I even end up married to Jerry Hall. Paddy has a terrible time, ends up homeless.
Paddy: I hate the future. The future’s awful.

CC: What motivated the show?
Jonny: Inequality is like Everest for us. It’s there and it’s massive, so we thought we should explore it. We’ve spent six months researching it. We’ve spent a lot of time with the homelessness charity Crisis, we’ve tried to learn a small amount of economics, and we’ve played a huge amount of table tennis. Too much table tennis. To be honest, it would be a better show if there had been less table tennis, but what can you do?

CC: You’ve played with political themes a lot in recent shows. Was that always an ambition, or did it kind of evolve that way in response to world events?
Paddy: We got together not long after the first Conservative-led government of 2010. Whenever a new Tory government gets in there’s a sort of Bat-Signal that goes out and all the lefty comedians, musicians and artists get paired up together via a ballot to fight injustice. Like in the 1980s, with people like Alexei Sayle and the alternative comedy movement. And if it weren’t for their tireless work, we’d never have got rid of Thatcher after several terms and a coup by her own party. We feel we’ve achieved the same strategy with David Cameron.

CC: How do shows with a narrative compare to more conventional gigs?
Jonny: They’re really hard to promote. The shows now are part-theatre, part-comedy and part-music. So every journalist believes that we aren’t technically within their editorial remit.

CC: Do you come up with the narrative and then write songs to fit, or do you have some songs already done that you squeeze in?
Paddy: It’s a bit of both really. This story is one that we’ve wanted to write for a long time so we’ve had lots of ideas for songs and drafts of bits of material that we knew we could work with. Then you hope it all comes together just in time. And if not, the train from London to Edinburgh is almost five hours, so you can get a lot of panicked rewriting done then.

CC: It’s been a busy few months in the world of politics. Is there, like material for about twenty new shows in that lot?
Jonny: People always say to us, when awful things happen in the world, ‘Oh that must be great for you, you don’t even need to think of any new material’. The truth is, we’d much rather have no career and just be playing table tennis, if we could swap that for a fairer society.

CC: Do you think comedy can change the minds of an audience – or at least make an audience aware of certain issues?
Paddy: Definitely. It’s not like one show is going to suddenly turn someone’s views on their heads, but it’s important to keep talking about these things and hope you’re part of a wider eco-system that encourages debate. And we definitely think that laughter makes people more receptive to engaging with different opinions. We tour the shows across the UK and play to a lot of people who maybe don’t agree with us, but are willing to listen so long as there are fun songs about swans.

CC: You’ve toured with Mark Thomas, another comedy performer who has found interesting ways to bring politics into his work. Although you are doing something quite different, are you inspired by his output? And any other comedians with a political agenda?
Jonny: Mark is absolutely brilliant. He’s a huge inspiration and such a warm, kind, generous person. If we could be anything like him when we’re a bit further along our careers, that would be amazing. There’s also a wealth of intelligent political comics from our generation – Nish Kumar, Tiernan Douieb, Josie Long, Ria Lina – who are doing great things, and hopefully we can also inspire each other a bit.

CC: You are back at Summerhall again this year. It has an eclectic programme, but isn’t so known for its comedy. What attracts you to the venue?
Jonny: We love Summerhall. The people, the staff, the audiences are brilliant. We play at Paines Plough’s Roundabout venue – it’s a pop-up 160-seat theatre in the round which is the most beautiful, intimate space. Plus Summerhall has it’s own gin distillery and there’s a pub round the corner with a table tennis table.
Paddy: We won’t say which pub, don’t ruin it for us.

Jonny And The Baptists performed ‘Eat The Poor’ at Roundabout @ Summerhall at Edinburgh Festival 2016.

Photo by Kat Gollock