Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014: Political advisors are turning stand-ups in 'revenge of the wonks'

Alice Jones has noticed odd clusters of former careers among comedians

There are odd clusters of former careers among comedians. One-time doctors are ten-a-penny - Harry Hill, Simon Brodkin, Adam Kay, Paul Sinha, Mike Wozniak, the late Graham Chapman. There are plenty of ex-lawyers - Susan Calman, Demetri Martin, Al Lubel. Even marketing has its funny alumni in the shape of Jimmy Carr, Noel Fielding and Rhod Gilbert. Civil servants? Not so much.

Until now. At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, several former political advisors are taking to the mic to spill the beans on life inside the Westminster village. Call it the revenge of the wonks.

In The Michael Gove Expose, ex-civil servant Gareth Morinan sheds light on his time working in the Department for Education, while in 24 Hour Political Party People, Matt Forde, an advisor to the Labour party for many years, casts an insider’s eye over what today’s MPs are getting wrong. Meanwhile Robert Khan, a Labour councillor for Islington is back at the Fringe with Kingmaker (co-written with Tom Salinsky), a satirical drama about a familiar bumbling Mayor running for the Tory leadership. 

While a few comedians have gone into politics - Beppe Grillo in Italy, Al Franken in America, John O’Farrell and perhaps one day Eddie Izzard in the UK - there has been little traffic the other way. The less said about Lembit Opik’s stand-up career, the better.

These new shows are a step up from the standard political satire found on the Fringe. Their performers have been on the front line, sat through the meetings, cooked up the policies and chewed over the statistics. There’s knowledge behind the gags, which makes them uniquely interesting, as well as funny.

Morinan was an analyst in the Department for Education for two and a half years, working under both Ed Balls and Michael Gove, until he became a comedian in 2011. His show is a rather bleak insight into how government works - “Most policies start from a soundbite, rather than what is needed”, he says. “They have something they want to push throughand work backwards from that.” He chose to focus on Gove because, “This is the year he’s hitting peak hatred. I’m giving the people what they want.”

Forde meanwhile has been obsessed with Parliament for almost as long as he can remember. Now 31, he joined the Labour Party aged 15 and studied politics at university, after which he worked for his local Labour MP Nick Palmer and then for the party in various guises until he left to pursue comedy full-time four years ago.  In London, his monthly comedy chatshow at the St James Theatre, The Political Party, has already welcomed the likes of Alastair Campbell, Nigel Farage, Jack Straw and Stella Creasy.

“I used to do fairly run-of-the-mill, quite laddy stand-up - drinking stories, everyday stuff and a few impressions. But I wasn’t massively enjoying the material”, he says. “I don’t why it took me so long to wake up to the fact that I had this whole area of passion and knowledge that was absolutely ripe for comedy.”

That passion and knowledge feeds a focussed and funny hour of political material. There are impressions of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, analysis of the speech patterns of Cameron and Miliband and a comprehensive demolition of his fellow comedian Russell Brand’s call for revolution. He also deconstructs many of the absurd details of modern politics. Why does Chris Grayling blog like Alan Partridge? Why is Cameron is only ever pictured talking to the people in front of heavy machinery or pallets filled with loaves of bread? Why does Miliband point with his knuckle? It’s astute, obsessive stuff - the kind of stuff on which elections are won or lost. 

With the 2015 vote looming, there has never been a better time for disillusioned advisors and analysts to cast off their back-room roles and take to the stage. “It’s about giving politics all the respect and disrespect it deserves,” says Forde.

Matt Forde and Gareth Morinan are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe to 24 August

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there