Tom Walker isn’t really Jonathan Pie – or James Blunt

Ahead of the West End run of Heroes And Villains, we get to know the man behind the exasperated, straight-talking politico

Look at the comments beneath the satyrical videos of Jonathan Pie and you’ll find observations such as “this isn’t comedy, this is reporting” or “now we take comedians seriously and laugh at politicians”. For a long while now satire has been a risky game: not least because political figures are providing their own exaggerated and buffoonish caricatures, but also because of the pace at which one shambles into another.

Few know this as well as Tom Walker – the actor and comedian behind the fictional political correspondent Jonathan Pie, who since the mid 2010s has earnt a massive following for plosive, no-holds-barred rants seemingly off-camera. “The first live show we ever did was very up-to-date and about what was happening right now. During that tour Brexit happened, Trump came into the White House, David Cameron left Number 10, and I was continually having to rewrite the show. It was a nightmare. When it comes to the live shows you obviously want to keep it up to date, but you also want it to be about something that isn’t going to necessarily change overnight.”

Quite the conundrum, then, for his latest show Heroes And Villains, which takes aim at the conveyor belt of UK prime ministers of late. “There’s a joke in the show about what if Rishi calls a general election before the end of this tour. I mean, that’s the half the show all gone.”

It’s (hopefully) safe to say that Walker won’t need to go back to the drawing board anytime soon in that respect, which will be a relief for him as he prepares to bring Heroes And Villains to the Duke of Yorks Theatre from 16 – 27 April. As he makes his final tweaks – “I think a West End audience is likely to have another five to 10 minutes in them without needing a loo break” – we get to know the man behind the exasperated politico a little better.

Heroes and Villains in The West End

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

This is a difficult one, but it’s the person that if I met them outside of that lift I would be so starstruck I wouldn’t know what to say. Like Paul McCartney. You know, what do you do if you meet Paul McCartney? “Thanks for the music that I’ve listened to my whole life”… you’re stuck in a lift with him for two hours, you’ve had a shared experience with Paul McCartney. Or Kate Bush. Or Al Pacino. Imagine being able to say I got stuck in a lift with Al Pacino. And he’d remember it as well, even in years to come: “remember that time I was stuck in a lift with that guy?”

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with? 

This was just as difficult. I thought I’d say someone like Donald Trump. And then you think, actually being stuck in a lift for a few hours with Donald Trump would be fascinating. So I don’t know, it’s probably someone from my past who I don’t speak to anymore.

What’s the weirdest interaction you’ve ever had with a famous person?

I met Ricky Gervais at Glasgow airport in the height of the pandemic. It was on my last tour and normally at the start of a tour I have a lot of trouble sleeping. It’s kind of a weird thing, but then you get used to it. So I hadn’t slept properly for a couple of days, I was knackered, and it was in the pandemic when everyone was wearing face masks, but I went up and introduced myself to him. I don’t think he had a single idea who I was because I was wearing a face mask. I just walked away going, yeah that was awkward.

Have you had a chance since to tell him that was you?

Yeah, we’ve interacted before. Afterwards I texted him saying, “Oh, it was nice to meet you,” And he was like, “Er, yeah, same here.” But I don’t know. I just look back on that and go, that was definitely awkward.

Jonathan Pie: Heroes and Villains.

What was the last show that you went to?

The last play in the West End I saw was The Motive And The Cue. I thought Mark Gattis was amazing. I just loved every minute of it. And the last music gig I went was Gaz Coombes in Cambridge and it was one of the best gigs I’ve been to, without a doubt. I think he might be a genius.

What’s on your rider?

This might be a bit embarrassing, but caffeine-free Diet Coke. It used to be Diet Coke, but because I sometimes have trouble sleeping unless I drink the caffeine free stuff. It tricks my brain into thinking that it’s a refreshing drink. Oh, also there’s zero alcohol Guinness. I never really drink for the first month for the tour – I’m back in the drinking stage now – but with zero alcohol beer, halfway through the second one you think what the f*ck am I doing? But you can actually spend an evening in a pub on 0% Guinness and have a good time.

What work of yours didn’t get the attention that it deserved?

This is an interesting one. The tour I’m on right now is the biggest tour I’ve ever done, seen by more people, with more dates, and the feedback from an audience point of view has been better than I’ve ever had before. And yet, I haven’t had a single national reviewer in a single newspaper review it. I’ve kind of been looking into it and it seems to be kind of the norm, but comedy criticism is on the decline. And that’s not me just out there asking for praise; good and bad reviews should be part of a healthy comedy ecosystem. I just think that it’s problematic. You know, of course, I’m biassed. I’m in the comedy world. But it is an art form and it should be looked at with the same seriousness as theatre or music or anything else. And that’s any type of stand up comedy, too, not just mine. Even, you know, a guy that walks on stage and does nob gags. It’s just concerning that it’s really difficult for the national papers to come and review comedy. So in a weird way, this show now is the one that hasn’t had the attention it deserves.

What did 12-year-old you imagine that you’d be doing now?

I always wanted to be an actor, probably from about the age of 12. I think my 12-year-old self would look at what I’m doing and be pretty happy. You know, when I’m having a sh*t day or, like today, I’m f*cking knackered – when I’m at the end of the tour and when walking on stage sometimes feels like a chore – you just remind yourself what a privileged position you’re in. So I think if your 12-year-old self could see you right now, you should savour every second of it.

When did you first get into politics?

Oh, about two weeks after Jonathan pie was born. I’m playing a politico, but I’m not one, and therefore it was a bit of a baptism of fire if I’m honest. I suppose I’ve always had an interest, I’ve always voted, I’ve always taken that seriously. But no, I am still not a polotico., I just think I am because I play one.

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

I suppose relating to my career, not in so many words, but you know, Why don’t you give up the acting and get yourself a proper job? Or the more friendly advice to an actor: Why don’t you get yourself a part on EastEnders? As if you can just ring the BBC up and ask them for a part in a show. They’re both terrible pieces of advice. But if I’d listened to the former, just give it up, then I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. So that was pretty bad advice.

If you had to have a song playing every time you walked into a room, what would it be?

In the last show I walked on stage to a song called ‘Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five’ by Paul McCartney and it’s a f*cking great track to walk on stage to. But I think if I walked into every room with it on it would be a little bit over the top.

Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five (Remastered 2010)

Who do you often get told you look like?

People think I’m Jonathan Pie all of the time. They certainly generally call me Jonathan, and I find it a bit disconcerting when they call me Tom if I’m honest, like how do you know that? But no, I do have one, it’s James Blunt. Everyone says I look like an older James Blunt. I’m younger than he is.

What’s the skill that no one else knows that you’re great at?

I make a mean martini. Dry, with a twist.

What’s your most controversial food opinion?

Mushrooms are the worst thing that’s ever happened to food. It just shouldn’t happen.

Do you have any superstitions?

I’ll always say hello to a lone magpie, I’ve always got that going on. Morning Mr. Magpie. My pre-show ritual is I’ll always have a shower. Ridiculous, but I have a shower when my warm-up act is on. I’m in Bath tonight and it’s the only venue on the tour that doesn’t have a shower and it’s really freaking me out. It’s a ritual rather than a superstition, but it’s really throwing me off balance not being able to get in the shower. Weird.

Tom Walker will take to the stage as Jonathan Pie (showered, hopefully) for the West End run of Heroes And Villains from 16 April onwards – tickets are available here