Matt Forde: I want to let politicians show their funny side
The comedian discusses humanising politicians in his new television series Unspun.
With anti-establishment sentiment coursing through the capillaries of many western nations, how do you go about humanising politicians?
That is the challenge undertaken by comedian and broadcaster, Matt Forde. The 33-year-old, a former Labour special adviser, last week kicked off his six-part television series Unspun on Dave with Labour grandee Alan Johnson his first guest.
Speaking the morning after, the Nottingham-born presenter relishes the “great, really positive” feedback from the show’s first airing. Johnson was a top guest, especially given his renowned sense of humour and relaxed disposition, Forde reflects. So is the aim of the series to paint our often maligned politicians in a different light?
“Yes, I’d go so far to say in a more honest way, and to show them as people,” he says. “I think it’s also important to let them show their funny side and let them show their informal side. Just show them as people a little, tease them a bit, but let people warm to them.”
Forde combines his take on the week in politics with interviews, armed with his house band, MP4, comprised of Pete Wishart (SNP), Kevin Brennan (Labour), Sir Greg Knight (Tory), and Ian Cawsey (former Labour MP). With so many different viewpoints in one green room, has there been any tension backstage yet?
Forde laughs. “No, it’s not like Oasis; I’ll put it like that. They’re a very harmonious group, and they’re brilliant. They just add a real warmth to it, and they’re all really funny and obviously highly experienced politicians themselves. And a really good band!”
Political satires are running amok across the pond. The success of the Daily Show has never truly been replicated in Britain, but Forde says rather than seeking to emulate the programme’s formula, Unspun is “its own beast”.
“It has comedy in it, it will try to break down the week’s politics, but also there’s an extra element which is unique to it where politicians are involved to some extent.”
Originally lined up for the premier, was Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith, who pulled out at the last minute. Why?
“I think he just felt that he had to concentrate on the campaign. I think he felt that maybe doing a light-hearted show would cause him trouble, basically. I think he felt he had to sort of focus on the task in hand, and I think he’s perhaps slightly worried appearing on a comedy show might be damaging. Which I completely disagree with, because I think as Alan Johnson proved last night… the whole point is that it’s a supportive environment, and that the whole point is that it’s a safe place for politicians to come and be themselves.”
Forde, who revoked his membership of the Labour party under a year ago, is in touch with Jeremy Corbyn’s team to get him on a future episode. “I think that he’s obviously very busy at the moment, but certainly I would love to have him on.”
Labour’s Chuka Umunna, the SNP’s Angus Robertson and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson are all lined up for future episodes. He lists a string of cross-party backbenchers, including Tory MPs James Cleverly and Bill Cash along with Labour figures such as Margaret Hodge and Tessa Jowell, as “absolutely fascinating people” he would relish getting on the show.
“There are lots of politicians I find really funny and interesting,” he says.
Forde joined the Labour party as a teenager and unapologetically considers himself a Blairite. This sends him off in a tangent to Corbyn’s own worldview. But Forde retains hope that a figure can emerge from within the party’s ranks to draw him back to becoming a Labour member. Does he have anyone in mind?
“Personally, I think Hilary Benn is really talented and could reach out to people on the left and right,” he says.
“Politics needs to of course be robust, but it also needs to calm down a little bit in terms of the way it’s conducted. It’s a very febrile atmosphere and I do worry about that and Hilary Benn is the sort of person who could help soothe not just the party but the country as well.”
With Westminster satirising itself, Forde is keen to add comedic value, rather than simply rehashing the news as it appears. He is also determined to strike the right balance, as recent events such as Brexit could have implications for people’s lives.
“I’m both acutely aware that while I have to make hey out of the situation, I think you have to get the tone right and find what the comedy really is or isn’t about.”
The stand-up, who last month enjoyed a stint at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, is somewhat in flux at the British political scene. As a comedian, he relishes it, as a keen politico, he seeks calm and reflection.
“Yes, the comedian loves it. As a comic, it is the best thing, the best 12 months really probably that I could have asked for. As someone who worries about the state of the country, the state of the world, that’s a slightly different question.”
Unspun with Matt Forde is on Dave, Wednesdays at 10pm