Jonny & The Baptists are arguably the UK’s hottest musical comedians, playing raucous shows full of songs, satire and silliness. Ahead of the 2014 European Elections they aim to amuse, engage and enrage the political spectrum, and take on UKIP’s ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closest racists’. They make their debut at The Stand Glasgow on March 30th then head to Newcastleon 31st, and Edinburgh on April 1st. We channel the spirit of Paxman and Humphreys and ask them a few questions before they head off on ‘The Stop UKIP Tour’. (Since doing this interview Paul Nuttalls of UKIP has been kicking up a stink about the tour and is trying to kebosh it. The story was first reported on Chortle and has since been picked up by the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, and others, as well as a comment piece by Stewart Lee in the Guardian.)
When you’re given a list of your forthcoming shows and you see that The Stand is included in that list, what do you think?
Our first thought is: ‘that’s awesome’. We first played the Stand in Edinburgh last year, doing Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience, and it remains just about the most fun we’ve ever had together. Apart from once when we got drunk and made out in a Leicester Travelodge. But then there was so much awkwardness in the morning, that I think the Stand gig probably just topped it.
The Stand has clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle. Do you think that you’ll need to adapt your act in any way for each club, or does the city/venue not affect what you do?
The opening of the gig is different in every city, as we always try to start with some stuff about the audience and the city wherever we are. Mostly because when we try to learn obscure Wikipedia facts about everywhere while we’re travelling. For example, the climate in Newcastle is oceanic, and significantly milder than other locations in the world at a similar latitude. I just got that right now off Wikipedia. And thinking about it, I guess that’s why people can go out for the night without a coat on.
We recognise that you’ve worked very hard crafting this show, refining it with each performance, and generally giving it your all, so could you overlook that and sum it up for us in an easily digestible soundbite?
It’s funny songs about the world around us. It’s rock n’ roll, but with jokes with a point. Think of it as sort of sex, drugs and rationale.
UKIP are a big old glaring target for comedy, as is anyone who’s views are seen as being a bit more ‘extreme’ than is the norm. What’s your take on Farage, is he a misguided fool, or a deceptively sharp operator who’s adopting a persona to try and ingratiate himself with potential voters?
Ah, the serious questions now. We try not to talk about Farage, as UKIP’s success has been on his personality, not the issues behind the party. Most UKIP supporters aren’t weird, or extremist, they’re just fed up. But, to take just one little example, their party would cut tax on millionaires and then go even further on privatising and dismantling the NHS. Two of the many things that are wildly out of step with their voters’ viewpoints and interests. Farage has a pint of ale, a flatcap and wants a referendum on Europe. But aside from that he doesn’t offer his potential voters anything they want. That’s terrifying.
Without giving away anything that will spoil the show, do you think that we ‘need’ to Stop UKIP, and if so, how do you think that should be done?
We had a drink with Marcus Brigstocke at Latitude last year, and he said you can’t change the world as a comedian and a satirist. The only thing you can do is try to point out that something bad is about to happen and try to stop it happening as badly. Hopefully, that’s what we’re doing. But the show is a comedy, first and foremost. If it also provokes some debate before a set of elections that are usually met with apathy and disinterest, then that’s brilliant.
With stand-up comedians I’d ask them about whether the show is evolving as their tour progresses. Does the same happen with musical comedy, are you able to make sweeping changes to things that you don’t feel are working, or with music is it a bit more subtle?
Just like a stand-up routine, we adapt our setlists to suit the current audience, and over the course of a tour, new songs appear, setlists move around and old songs get cut. We’re always writing and try to write about what’s going on around us. Getting to see the whole of the UK is a pretty brilliant inspiration. Also we talk to the audience a lot between the songs, that keep it very new each night.
Does each tour contain all new songs or do you sometimes throw in some fan favourites? I guess that unlike stand-up folks are perfectly happy to hear a funny song more than once, in fact, songs tend to go down better when people have heard them before?
You don’t want people coming to see the same fifteen songs every year but simultaneously if I go to see Prince I would be heartbroken and disappointed if he didn’t play Purple Rain. I’m not saying we’re as good as Prince. Some people have said that, of course, but it’s not for us to say.
How, if at all, does the show differ from your club set?
Our club sets are our loud sets. A lot of our songs work within either the context of an hour long show, or make a lot more sense once you’ve had fifteen minutes or so to get used to us and see where we’re coming from. At a lot of clubs you don’t get that luxury, so we try and put our ‘Big Noise, Big Laughs’ material forward as quickly as possible, perhaps throwing in a quieter more considered song at the end of our set once we’ve got the audience on side. I feel we get to fit more politics into our hour shows, plus we get to play around with more instruments and take more musical and technical risks – you can’t exactly show up at a club with a saxophone and a dulcimer in tow and expect them to have eleven DI Boxes and four rifle mics…
If someone has seen you before, how will this compare to previous shows?
This show has more of a throughline and an identity of its own, where our last two shows were more like a load of songs with talking in between. Also we now do a full striptease* (*this is a lie).
Do you stick primarily to comedy venues and festivals, or are we just as likely to see Jonny and the Baptists pop up at music festivals in the summer? If so, do the crowds react differently?
We do Latitude every year, but that’s more of an arts festival than a music-only festival. We played Bearded Theory in Derby last year. It was amazing, we went on after Asian Dub Foundation. That was mental. Everyone there was either a druid or weirded-out that there were so many druids. We’d definitely do that again.
It’s a perceived stereotype in comedy that when audiences see an act they don’t know walk onstage with a guitar, they tend to groan, but if the act is then good they’ll react even more positively. Is that the case for you, or as a duo do people take you more seriously?
There’s nothing worse in life than a comedian badly playing a guitar and changing the words to another song with the word ‘vagina’. That’s hell. So I get why people might worry. But these days musical comedy is so good, with Tim Minchin, Isy Suttie, Abandoman, Mae Martin and Grace Petrie to name just a few, I don’t think people are as nervous. It’s definitely true that if you make a lot of noise and be both very funny and make good music then the reaction is massive. But then, you’ve got to do both things really well, so I guess that’s fair.
Both Scotland and The Stand are immersed in the independence referendum debate. Jonny and the Baptists have a song called Scotland Don’t Leave Me, do you play that on this tour, and if so, how do you think Scottish crowds will react in comparison to our English counterparts?
Well we’ve played that song in Edinburgh for a whole month in 2012 and 2013, so we’ve seen a lot of reactions. The song is just a funny way to talk about something serious. Scottish Independence is not unlike a break-up. England have been dicks, not treating you right, sometimes playing away, and now Scotland has had enough and might move on. But come on! Surely we’ve got to stay together for the little kids, Wales and Northern Ireland?
A lot of people will see you as ‘that funny person’ but we’re wondering if you have an interest, passion or hobby that will surprise people, making them think ‘I never expected that’?
Paddy can crush walnuts with his bare hands. Jonny can bathe four times in one day and then shed his skin like a milk-snake. (Paddy can actually do the walnut thing. Jonny cannot shed his skin.)
Our clubs attract a different sort of clientele during the festive period, and also during Glasgow Comedy Festival and Edinburgh Fringe, do you find it a different experience playing ‘off peak’ in front of a ‘real’ crowd?
Of course. Festivals are weird things where most people are on holiday and in a very different mood and frame of mind. ‘Real crowds’, if we can call them that, have decided this is how they want to spend a hard-earned night off. We love both audiences, but the best is playing to people in their hometowns during their normal working week, because you feel really privileged that they’ve trusted you with their evening.
Last but not least, some stand-ups aspire for greater artistic credibility and go off and do serious acting or write a book or a play; in keeping with this train of thought, can we ever expect to see a Jonny and the Baptists freeform jazz or alt. country album?
Oh yeah. The next record is going to be alt-polka-gangsta-rap. Just MCing and viola. We call it ‘Skintight Fast Al and the Shibby-Fresh Poncho Revolution’. It’s so good people will be hospitalised.
Interview: Dave McGuire 7.2.14