Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 8
Matt Forde – Pricking Pomposity in Politics
Political Podcaster and impeccable impressionist Matt Forde joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss the role that humour plays in parliamentary politics.
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Political podcaster, author, and comedian Matt Forde joins The Humourology Podcast to share his impeccable political impressions and discuss the power of a punchline on the political playing field. Forde discusses the humour trends of the Prime Ministers of the past to deliver a poignant chat about the power of punchlines when winning over people politically.
“Humour is the single best way to make people want you as a politician, or as a person.”
Join Paul Boross and Matt Forde as the explore the presence of humour in parliament and share a few laughs of their own, this week on The Humourology Podcast.
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Matt Forde on The Humourology Podcast
– It’s Boris Johnson here. I want to pay tribute to the great work that the Humourology podcast has, has played, in not only galvanising the country during a very dark year. And keeping people, keeping their peckers up – less said about that the better – but I want to pay tribute to the wonderful advice that Professor Paul Boross has given me and the government over the last year and a half. Not on Humourology, but on epidemiology. Particularly in the period of time where the virus was going rampant, that was all thanks to the expert advice of Paul Boross.
– Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and entertainment, who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business and your life. Humourology puts the fun in business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of The Humourology Podcast is an award-winning comedian, broadcaster, podcaster and author. This Nottingham native is known for his political prowess and penchant for punchlines on his widely popular podcast, The Political Party. Where he’s interviewed the likes of Tony Blair, Nicholas Sturgeon, Jeffrey Archer, Keir Starmer and Sadiq Khan to name, but a few. His book, ‘Politically Homeless’ is a marvellously mirthful memoir about his own relationship with the current state of politics. And it was honoured as one of the Sunday Times best books of the year. He is also a hugely impressive impressionist, and his uncanny Boris Johnson is a mainstay of the new Spitting Image TV series. Whilst he’s been phenomenally successful, performing critically acclaimed stand up comedy and chatting with world leaders, he would probably give it all up to play for his beloved Nottingham Forest. Matt Forde, welcome to the humourology podcast.
– Oh, Paul. That’s the nicest introduction I’ve ever had, and you absolutely right, I would swap it for a minute in a Forest shirt, in a game, my God.
– Oh good, well there’s your pact with the devil, sorted.
– Are you’re the devil? I didn’t expect you to be so friendly.
– Well psychopaths you see they’re, you know… they look friendly, but then there’s, devilment in there. I am a huge fan of ‘The Political Party’ podcast. You’ve met and interviewed hundreds of politicians. Do you think that politicians having a good sense of humour is part of persuading people to vote for them?
– Absolutely, I think it is. And I think if you look at the success of Boris Johnson in particular, he really proves that. But if you look at quite a few of the successful leaders in my lifetime, Tony Blair was very funny. David Cameron was pretty funny. It’s not the most important thing, but what it does, humour I think is the single best way to make people warm to you as a politician, or as a person. You know, in an office environment, if someone’s funny, they tend to be one of the most popular people in the office. Equally people who think they’re funny and aren’t, are therefore, I think often amongst the least popular. So it’s, you know, it’s in the eye of the beholder. But definitely, I think for politicians to be able to show that particularly they can laugh at themselves, I think is a huge asset for them. And I think a lot of them actually can’t laugh at themselves, particularly not in the, not at the time when it would be most advantageous. I think a lot of them after can look back and be quite funny. At the time, I think they find it very difficult, and finding that sweet spot, I think really just. I think what it does is show a level of self-awareness because that’s, politicians are in such a difficult position where they have to be to some extent serious, although I realise Boris Johnson disproves part of this, but it’s also about who your opponent is. And he was up against someone else who wasn’t serious in Jeremy Corbyn. So that kind of effectively, if it’s two unserious people against each other, obviously then the rule is sort of neutralised. You have to be an authority figure. You have to be serious, you have to be trusted. But also we want to see a little bit, we want to know a little bit about them. And we want to feel some sort of connection with them. And that’s important, not just in getting people to vote for them, but for those people who don’t vote for them. Just that sense that, well, I lost, but I can live with that person being in charge.
– Well, that’s really interesting because we had Alastair Campbell on and he said, the one thing that frightened Tony Blair was William Hague’s sense of humour, and weaponizing his wit. And they said they had to come up with a huge strategy whereby they said, “he’s all jokes, no judgment”.
– Just to sort of cut him off at the knees because he was winning PMQs all the time based on that humour. And funnily enough, we had William Hague on as well. I think I’m just nicking all guests, actually, to be honest with you. From that angle, it is so effective. So do you think that you can’t be effective now as a politician without a sense of humour or does it, you still can, but you have to do something else?
– Yeah, but I think it makes it harder. And I think sense of humour in itself is part of a wider thing of being… having a level of emotional intelligence that lets people know that you’re a functioning human being. And humour is the quickest way to do that. And Farage understood that, and Boris Johnson understood that. William Hague, I mean, as I’m sure you will attest to having him on this show, he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Not just one of the funniest politicians. And what was interesting in politics about humour is, It’s not just what it does for you. It’s how, and you’ve got to this with Alastair Campbell, how your opponents react to it. And the danger with saying, he’s all jokes and no judgement worked for a while just because Tony Blair was so phenomenally popular at that stage. And anyway, it didn’t really matter because Tony Blair was so phenomenally popular. The danger with saying, oh, he’s all jokes, and no judgement is, you end up looking a bit Po-faced. And I think the danger with Labour’s reaction to Boris Johnson at times, has been to kind of effectively say, oh, he’s just a joke. And he’s not even funny. You know, I don’t even find Boris Johnson funny. And the truth is I would never vote for him, but there are times that he’s made me laugh. I mean, I would never have voted for William Hague. He used to make me howl, and he had, I don’t know if he repeated any of his great lines on this podcast, but one of my favourites he did at PMQs back in the day when he said, “The Prime Minister talks about delivering a first class health service, he’d have problems delivering a second class letter.” That’s so funny. But these are great jokes.
– That’s a zinger.
– It’s an absolute zinger. And I remember him once when he was up against Prescott, when Blair was away, he said to Prescott, “There was so little English in that answer, Jacques Chirac would have been proud of it. The whole thing he did. I don’t know if you talked about that whole routine about Tony Blair becoming president of Europe. You ever seen that?
– Oh, that. Oh, yes, he told us about that.
– That is a routine.
– It’s brilliant.
– That’s a genuine stand-up routine because they’re like there’s kind of sketch elements to that. That’s not just one liners. That is, that’s a piece of stand-up. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen that.
– People can look that up on YouTube because I think it’s got sort of hundreds of thousands of hits because it is like a piece of stand-up in a theatre. And what’s amazing about that is when they cut to the opposition benches, they’re all laughing as well. And that’s when you know, it’s really cut through, isn’t it?
– Yes. Yeah, there was a really funny moment a couple of years ago when Corbyn got heckled, and he did that terrible thing of leaving a pause at the worst possible time. And he said something like, it was when Cameron was Prime Minister and Corbyn was Leader of the Opposition. And Corbyn says something like, “Mr. Speaker, all week I’ve been meeting with senior European politicians, and the question they’ve been asking me is…” And some Tory backbencher shouted out, “Who are you?!” Andy Burnham pisses himself laughing, but realises that he sat right next to him, so he’s going to be in shot. And you can see him doing that awful thing, that ‘back of assembly’ like trying to kind of move his mouth so that he doesn’t smile, trying to just bow his head. And Corbyn goes, “No, no, that’s not.” And your like, well he wasn’t genuinely suggesting that’s what you’ve been asked. He couldn’t take it.
– That heckling is really interesting, isn’t it? Because both of us have grown up sort of playing clubs and, you know, the Comedy Store the Jongleurs and all those. That circuit and actually a good heckle is your friend. If you treat it right.
– Hundred percent, hundred percent, and it’s the same. And that is the same with, I think if we’re trying to draw parallels with politicians was, and I would always say this to a politician. It is better to be asked the difficult question, and answer it and give a really good answer. That is the best situation you want. Be asked the hardest question, give a great answer. If you’re just being asked sort of easy questions, it’s so dissatisfying for the public. Get a really good answer written to the hardest question you could be asked, deliver it. And that’s when, I think that’s when you’ve got the real ability to change public opinion. But so many politicians live in fear of that, but it’s the same with the heckle is, if you get heckled and you respond to it, whatever gig you’re having, you then become a God. And I’ve seen, I mean, I would never say that about myself, but when I’ve seen other people do it, you go, well, this is what you look like, you’ve got super powers now. You’re in total control of this room.
– Well, I think that’s true. I mean, I spend a lot of my time these days as a psychologist training people to, you know, deliver speeches and work rooms. And using all the psychology and the comedy sort of chops, if you like. But what I always say to people, I wonder how you feel about this. ‘Cause all these politicians running away, like, you know, Boris Johnson runs away from, you know, he hasn’t done Newsnight for 360 days or whatever it is. You know. We should be looking forward to stuff going wrong. ‘Cause I think that’s where politicians or leaders in business or whoever it is look human when that stuff happens.
– Yes, and also I think the more you communicate. I mean, this is the thing, this is why, the crucial… there are certain things that are required in politics, particularly for this rule to work. The first thing is, political parties need to pick their most impressive individual as their leader, and actually on the whole, that doesn’t happen. And that is a major fault with the way that political parties operate. Jeremy Corbyn was arguably the least impressive member of parliament in the country. He ended up being the leader of the Labour party. That’s why Labour lost, as well as all the political stuff that came with that. So when you’ve got someone really impressive like, Tony Blair, or David Cameron was impressive. Margaret Thatcher was impressive, taking politics out of it. Then you want them on telly all the time because, you’re like, well they can deal with this stuff. So the flaw comes when you have someone like Boris Johnson who communicates well in the sense that people like him, but he, as you say, avoids scrutiny and he can afford to when his opponents on up to it. That’s when sadly the kind of rules break down. But in a normal functioning democracy where political parties understand their proper place in those democracies, they would pick impressive people who were happy to be out there communicating because that is the job of the politician. You’re like a footballer not wanting to play football. That’s the job.
– I’m interested in this whole thing that if Boris Johnson, common perception, is winning because he is quotes funny, why would somebody like Jess Phillips not be the leader of the Labour party when she is clearly, and I think she says on your podcast, Boris Johnson is scared of her because she’s funny.
– Yes, well, I think it’s always, I think in the mind of a political party when they’re choosing a leader is who is the one that your opponents fear most. That’s not necessarily the most important question, but it’s certainly an important question. And one that I think political parties have not pondered often enough. I think Labour actually does have a bit of an issue with comedy and with using humor… a lot of Labour people rightly take life very seriously. Because if you join the Labour party, you are animated by trying to solve deep global societal problems, poverty, you know. I mean, think of the things that motivate Labour party members. These are people who think globally about the world’s ills. That, for some people sadly, they can’t somehow realise that you can have that, and also laugh at yourself, laugh at life. You know, it’s not always cruel to laugh at, you know, certain things I think. I think perhaps Labour attracts, no, let’s not say that the Tories don’t attract serious people, of course. So there’s plenty of Tories who wouldn’t laugh at certain jokes, you know, because they’re just as sensitive. But I think, I think there’s an earnestness that has crept in with the Labour party, that is firstly actually quite repellent is that people feel like they’re slightly being lectured. And that’s the real skill is, how do you bring people with you on these great injustices? Because actually if you were to poll the British public and say, “Do you think we should do something about homelessness?” I guarantee most people would say yes. If you said, “Do you want to live in a country that doesn’t need food banks?” I guarantee you, most people would say yes. So it’s not like people aren’t onside with these major Labour ideas. It’s sometimes, firstly, do they trust Labour to run the economy? That sadly… the answer has been a huge no. And on security issues and other things. But it’s also sometimes I think the way that Labour, and other parties that are in that space, talk about those things. I think sometimes people go, oh, I feel like you feel like I’m a bad person now. And they’re getting that knack of saying, perhaps we need to do more about this, but you’re not a selfish bastard, if you’ve not thought about this yet, it’s a very delicate thing. And again, it comes back to the root question is, humour is a huge part of that. Is I think, you have to take things seriously, but if you’re weighed down by that. I mean, look at Theresa May and Gordon Brown are two really good examples of politicians who looked, whilst in the job, burdened by it. Tony Blair for most of his time was pretty light on his feet as was Cameron. Boris is arguably too light on his feet. Arguably, doesn’t take the job seriously enough. He’s kind of at the other end, but I think it’s very, very hard for them, but people in leadership roles. And this will come to a lot of the work you do, is to not be burdened by leadership. Realise you’re going to fail. And I think from the outset, set a course with your character that says, you can trust me to do this. I won’t always get it right because that is literally impossible, but I’m approachable. I will find a way, during think of… You know, I realise I’ve wandered off the point here. But the importance of leaders in times of crisis for the country. In a way, at the start of COVID, Boris had the potential to get the tone right. In a way that perhaps other leaders didn’t, you know. He could be the one that you think, well this guy really likes delivering good news, you know. The way it’s gone, you know, apart from the vaccine and other things, I think he missed that opportunity to actually capture the mood. I think he genuinely missed that, but leaders have played such an important role. And it’s not just by being an authority figure. They’re the people you look to for motivation at difficult times. And it could be in the wake of a football defeat. It’s not always things that are about people jobs, or public health pandemics. Can be about all sorts of things. And I think to kind of return humour for Labour people is something that really for 10 years has felt like it’s been missing. And I think it’s because it doesn’t come naturally, to a lot of people to be fair across politics. But when you’re facing Boris Johnson who deliberately seeks humour as a tool, that’s a very difficult opponent to fight on that ground.
– Yeah, and so I know you had, you had Kier Starmer on before Piers Morgan, which I think was was right, to be honest with you. But I mean, he, you helped humanise him, and let people see the other side because… But how difficult is it for him to show his natural humour at the dispatch box? Is that something to do with, and you and I, coming from comedy backgrounds, the delivery? You know, and is it something to do with the voices, the intonation, fact of the rhythm of what he’s saying doesn’t cut through? Because I think you were the person who pointed out to me, but that he sounds a bit like a Ed Miliband as well, so there’s that nasal thing going on, which is harder to deliver comedy through that prism, if you like.
– I think that’s a really, really good point. I mean, what I would say to that is William Hague, now obviously William Hague lost his election in 2001 in spectacular form, but William Hague had a really funny voice, and he used it to his advantage. He used his delivery to make the government look silly. You know, he kind of owned it in a way. I think what he had was that ability to go low, which gives it a bit of a punch. And he kind of understood the comedy in his own voice. Whereas in a way, Ed Miliband sounded like a victim of his, he never kind of owned what was funny about him. I mean, I know he had that whole thing, look a bit like, you know, Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. And you’re like, no, I’m not sure that’s the right way to kind of own it. I think he was trying to kind of own it.
– It’s a gag that’s been written for you, isn’t it? But then it comes down to, you can have the best material in the world., but if you don’t know how to deliver it…
– Well, the delivery is key. The delivery is key. Also, I think another thing to be fair to Keir Starmer, and to be fair to any politician telling a joke in parliament at the moment is. Telling a joke to a room with a quarter of a capacity where there’s huge swathes of empty space is tough. When Prime Minister’s Questions is packed, that is a completely… You know a full Comedy Store is completely different to five people being there. And all of them at the moment are having to deliver it to five people. What I would say, and Keir Starmer said this about Boris Johnson on my podcast. Boris Johnson looks round as if there are people there. He, Boris Johnson does what you would advise a comedian to do, which is just play it like you’re smashing it. That is what you’d advise a comedian to do at a corporate is just pretend like they’re listening. Act like you own the place, play it like you’re smashing it. And the few, the ones that are listening will laugh. That is an instinct that doesn’t come naturally to most comedians let alone most politicians. So in that regard, Boris’ shamelessness is a huge asset to him in an arena like that.
– I couldn’t agree more, and you and I, and we won’t mention any names, we’ll know comedians that we know, who have played Live at the Apollo, and have had to keep the rhythm as if they are doing really well. Because they know that in post the laughs will be put in.
– Well, that’s the best thing to do. That is the best advice on anything on any live gig, telly gig, anything, is just do it like it’s going well. And in the end, what will happen is you will bring some of the audience with you, but crucially, as you say, they look after you in the edit as much as they can. And you’d be amazed at how well some things come out.
– Well, and especially when we live in a world, whereby people are going to clip these things. The clip on the news. If you look like, oh God, has it gone south? Or you look, yes, I’ve delivered the line. Then that’s where we’re going. And that is part of Boris Johnson’s success, is people believe, there’s a saying in psychology, which I often say on here, which is, if you want anybody to go into any state, you have to go there first.
– But if you think about it, what is a comic doing? What is a great communicator doing? It’s you go into that state, and the state is, I’m confident, I’m warm, you’re in good hands. And that’s what you want people to feel. And I would say that when politicians aren’t working, or corporate leaders or anything, aren’t working, it’s when they don’t do that extra mile and go into the state and go, I’m just staying in the state. I’m comfortable, and it’s like, when you’re at school and the supply teacher comes in, you know. You can smell the fear, can’t you?
– That’s so true. I mean, comedy is so much about… Initially, you know, particularly in a club setting where audiences might not know who the comedian is, confidence is the single biggest immediate thing that’s going to be on your side as a performer. Is it reassures, you know. It’s also, you don’t want an audience to feel sorry for you. And then that’s just confusing. You just want to own it. And then early on, and then you’re in. And that in the end, you have to learn how to fake that, or genuinely get there, and not care anymore in the right way. Obviously care about entertaining people, and giving them their money’s worth. But having a level of confidence in yourself that you can do it.
– It is ‘fake it till you make it’ really because we’ve seen, you know, thousands of comedians who are nervous as hell backstage. And when they, as soon as they go out there, they have to show they’ve, I’ve got this.
– Yes, and nerves aren’t a sign that you’re not funny, they’re a sign that you’re a rational human being. You understand that you’re about to go into like an unusual pressurised environment where you can’t see the audience. Where it’s hot. You know, all of a sudden you go from being in a room to bang straight in the headlights. I mean, physically, it takes your eyes a while to adjust, you know, for most people that is their biggest fear. So it’s not a reflection of whether you can write funny or perform funny, it’s you just have to acclimatise to doing it in that setting. And that’s, all that is. So I think once you can kind of overcome that. And I think anyway, I think the younger comedians I see are probably more fearless than any generation that’s been, you know. I think…
– Are they more fearless, or do they just fake it better than anyone else? Because they’ve grown up faking it. I bet you see, I would, from a psychological standpoint, I don’t think they’ve lost the fear. I think that’s inherent. Maybe they’ve just got better and quicker at actually translating that into, you know, looking confident.
– Maybe, and I think social media helps, you know, people are used to putting more of themselves out there these days and that comes, you know, perhaps they’re more comfortable being on a stage. I don’t know, but maybe it’s just that, I still think, God, I still feel a bit nervous sometimes, but I think nerves help. You know, the worst time is when, I always think this, if you don’t feel any sort of tingle before going on, you think, oh God. You know, then the danger is you try and summon it by making yourself scared. ‘Cause you want that just slight nervous energy that gives you that fly at the start. I was thinking it’s good. I think nerves are your friend. I think you want that because it just gives you a bit of… I think it helps. I think it helps get your brain going. I think if you go on a bit too relaxed, you kind of can be a bit slow on your feet sometimes. So I think nerves are your friend. It’s just about how you kind of control them.
– Well, you know that, from a psychological standpoint, there are two types of people in the world. There are those who get nervous and there are liars.
– That is a very good point.
– So, I mean, it’s just about, I mean, you know. When you’re on a roll with gigs, the nerves just, it actually just shortens the time, but I still want, whether that’s 10 seconds before I go on, I still want the adrenaline boost. What makes you laugh?
– Oh God. I mean, if I really, I think Viz is the funniest thing that delivers particularly Letterbox, the fake letters page. I think Viz, I think as well because Viz is a bit rude. There’s that, it still has an elicit sense of, I probably should have grown out of laughing at this by now. That really makes me laugh. I mean, there are individuals, I think Kevin Bridges is an exceptional comedian that has so much… You know what? I really respect the comedians that make it look easy. That make it look effortless because you think, oh God, I know how much sweat and stuff goes into comedy. And when you… And also it’s kind of a point made by William Hague, Kevin Bridges makes the most of everything that’s funny about him, his voice, his body, his expressions. And he makes it look effortless. You know, some comedians will never learn in their lifetime, you talk about finding your voice in comedy so much. And in it’s first months and years. And he just found it immediately. I think watching him is like watching a great footballer, like his touch and his composure and everything is just, he makes it look so easy. And yet it’s really, really hard. And he’s, at the moment probably the best at it. I think he really makes me laugh.
– So he’s the Ronaldo of comedy. So we can give him something to put on his next show.
– I think he’s excellent.
– Matt Forde.
– Frank Skinner as well. And I think the two are really linked – is they’re both… Skinner again, has a really distinctive voice, and look, and face and he uses his face, and he uses his voice, and he knows what’s funny about him. And his vocabulary is just slightly different as Bridges’s is. And they both have that kind of, I think it’s maybe what Viz has in common with them is, there’s a way that some people talk in this country.` A kind of… there’s definitely a kind of pub chat thing that they all get. That way that… Russell Howard understands it as well. There’s a way that people talk, and I’ve never thought about this before, actually. So this is only occurring to me now, but they all tap into the way normal people talk authentically. And they manage to bring it into their comedy. There’s something about the sentence structure, and the confidence of the ignorant. And they don’t say that, it’s all show, it’s never tell. They’re never making a kind of point. They just do this so well. And I think Viz does that, is I read Viz, and I think I’ve met people who talk like this. We’ve all been in pubs with people who talk like this. And when Skinner tells a story, you know, when he does that kind of, it’s like an unspecific character that he just uses. Oh, here he is, you know. And you think, I know exactly the sort of person. In fact, I get clammy thinking about that sort of person that’s going to shoot me down in a pub conversation. Bridges has it. The kind of conspiratorial look… Bridges’s use of the conspiratorial look over the shoulder, and the smoking of an imaginary cigarette before delivering the line that that person says. You like, that makes it 10 times funnier because we’ve all met the, here we go, you know. And it just gives it that kind of Viz feel. I just think it’s those things are things that a few people might notice, and then try and use. People like Bridges and Skinner notice it better than anyone else, use it better than anyone else. You’re just like, oh, that’s… And they make it just look so easy. And a fool would watch that and go, oh yeah. Well that’s just what people… and you’re just like, oh, you’re missing the point of how, what amazing skill and dexterity that requires. So I think that, I think there’s something they tap into what’s really funny about, I guess, Britain, Scotland, Birmingham, however you define it, the way people talk. And I think that’s what really, that it rings, it’s such a brilliant way to do observational comedy.
– The thing about Kevin Bridges, which I thought was amazing ’cause when he came on the scene, he was so young. He was like 22 or something, or even younger, was it?
– Yeah, I think he was like 17, 18, yeah.
– Oh, was it as young as that?
– Yeah, it’s incredible.
– I mean it was just like… But he had that presence, which is that X factor thing of like what… And he was no specific age. Normally, I mean, you know, that it takes comedian sometimes at least five years to get their voice or their presence. He came ready mixed. It was just…
– Oh, he’s once in like a five generation talent because people, he was just fully formed from such a young age. So it is in terms of his ability, and then… There’s so many people who have potential as well, and you see this a lot in football. There’s a lot of people that get talked about when they sort of 17, 18, maybe 19, 20, maybe a bit older in comedy, But don’t always find a way to keep doing it, to keep writing brilliant tools. To stay at the top, or to even get the… And he is one of those people you go, that is someone who came on the scene with phenomenal talent and more potential than anyone I’ve ever seen. And has absolutely made the most of all his ability, and had the huge success that that ability absolutely deserves. And I just, I mean, even the other comedians that make it, they are brilliant. McIntyre, Flanagan, you know, think of all the, Sarah Millican, Jason Manford, you know. Just think of the ones that really make it big. I just think it probably took even all of those who’s, I mean, to be fair, Manford when he was young was out of this world. So maybe… They were all fantastic at the start to be fair, but I think Bridges just was so incredibly good, so incredibly early, that he really stands out.
– Tell me a true funny story about something that’s happened to you.
– Bloody hell. I remember once my, oh God, it’s more embarrassing, but I, oh God. I went to a house party when I was about 15, and got drunk, passed out and woke up. And somebody shaved my eyebrows off. One eyebrow, shaved one eyebrow off. And this was like on the Saturday. On the Monday, I was doing work experience with a Labour MP with one eyebrow. My mom was livid, as you would imagine. What happened? I want to know who did it. I was like, oh God, you know. The other part of the story is on the way back from this house party, it was the first hangover I’d ever had. I was on the bus on the way home, just in an appalling physical state. And I just heard about Alka-Seltzer on telly. So I got off the bus and went to shop for Alka-Seltzer. I’ve seen on telly that Alka-Seltzer sorts this stuff out. So I got the next bus and just put two Alka-Seltzers in my mouth. Didn’t realise you meant to dissolve them in water. So then I’m 15, I’ve got one eyebrow. I’d never had a hangover before, and now I’m foaming at the mouth. I was like, what the fuck! This thing is then like spraying out of my mouth. The bus driver, I just like run the front of the bus, the bus driver thinks I’m like rabid. Then I’m sick on myself. Anyway, obviously by Monday I’ve tidied myself up, but I was like, I can’t go to work experience with a Labour MP. And I was a nervous lad at that age. I was awkward. Wasn’t… Had sort of periods of confidence, but you know. So I got my sister, my sister said, well, I can draw one on with a mascara brush. And obviously at that age you’re like, oh yeah, that’s like that’s a solution that works. So she would, at the start of the week it was kind of quite light, and then there was one day. I don’t know why I wasn’t checking the mirror before I left the house, but I, one day I could sense the problem was I should’ve just said, I got drunk, I got my eyebrows shaved off. But obviously you don’t, at 15 you don’t think like that ’cause you a nervous wreck, and you’re going to work for an MP who is a real authority figure. I should have just said, oh, a mate shaved my eyebrow off. I’m really sorry, this is really embarrassing and just owned it, you know. And that would be my advice now in that scenario, just tell people, just say, I’m really sorry, I went to a party and someone shaved it off. Oh, God this embarrassing. Rather than all week, having this eyebrow that, I sweat a lot anyway, was like running into my face. I did check my eyebrow one day and she’d given me the most ludicrous, like sarcastic. They must’ve thought this kid’s got an attitude problem. He coming in here giving us these slightly sarcastic looks. So it was just terrible. I mean, I’ve never actually, I got to know that MP quite well after that, I’ve actually never said to him, you know when I came on work experience, was that, did I look… You know, one of those things actually that until now I’ve completely blacked out because it’s just, I guess it’s more embarrassing.
– That’s a great story. And you’ve drawn a picture.
– A terrible picture.
– And next time you go to a party. Oh no, that’s brilliant. You tell brilliant stories, you put things together. Do you think everybody has the potential to be funny but has isn’t realised, or is it, as you mentioned it early on, is it a superpower, you know, that only the few possess.
– I think some possess it more than others, and some possess the confidence to try it on stage, or to try it in a social setting or in a workplace. I think if you think about what… I think the danger is with comedy is you think it only belongs to comedians. And there’s that sort of false divide where you go, oh, this guy’s professionally funny. Often all that means is, this guy’s thinking about being funny all the time. And therefore that yields, by sheer resource, more gags a day than the guy who’s working in a factory, or working in finance because that’s not where your head’s at. You know, if everyone spent as much time as comedians do thinking about jokes, some of them would write some decent jokes, of course they would. So I think sometimes it’s like this group of people are making the effort, equally some people just, you know, wouldn’t be able to do it. I think if you think what makes people laugh in life. People are funny, you know. It’s other people that make you laugh. It’s funny things, unintentional things and not just falling over, but saying an awkward thing at the wrong time, you know? So I think everyone has the potential. And it’s just about whether they realise, and it comes back to the Ed Miliband and the Kier Starmer point. It’s, do people realise what’s funny about them and are they able to use it? And I think that’s, what’s, I think that’s the tricky thing is. There are plenty of people at work you would laugh at behind their back because they don’t, they are funny, but perhaps in a way that would be undesirable, or they don’t realise the joke’s kind of on them. Now that’s part of the human experience it’s unpleasant. And you might think to yourself like, oh, I can’t bear it. You know, The Office is a great, but the success of The Office as a sitcom is making that mundane, claustrophobic environment, really funny. That toe curling mundanity. You got, oh my God, it’s such a phenomenal piece of observation about office life. And the tedium of it and all those things and the sorts of people you genuinely do work with. And actually it shows, those sorts of people are funny, but perhaps not in the way they think. So I think everyone does have the potential to be funny. And the crucial thing is knowing in what way. Finding what’s funny about yourself is such, probably just quite a good life lesson because it will help you deal with setbacks and tragedy and heartache in a way that is far more, just far more effective than if you don’t.
– Well, I think it, it will also help you have resilience to life, if you can, and you know. You’re good at laughing at yourself. You’ve just told a brilliant story, which the joke was all on you. And very few people actually are brave enough to go, look, I’m an idiot as well. And I recognised that about me, which I think is what humanises people. And it goes back to what great leaders are, is that ability to go look, look, I am, you know, whilst I’m stood up here, I recognise my own ridiculousness as well. Don’t you think?
– Yeah, and what’s, you know what what’s so phenomenal about that is actually what they think is the high risk thing actually, isn’t the high risk thing. It’s just showing yourself to occasionally laugh at yourself. I mean, who can’t, you know, if you can’t think of times when you’ve failed, or made a mistake or said the wrong thing, then you’d have to be deluded. You’d have to be blocking it out on some level because that absolutely happens. So it then shows a lack of like emotional intelligence, but just occasionally saying, oh God, here’s a story about when I did something silly, or the joke was on me, actually isn’t high risk at all because people absolutely love it. And that is the sort of story they love. And that’s the story where they go, oh, I really like this guy because he told that story. Actually, the threshold for those stories is in reality, very low. It’s a low bar to clear on a story where you’ve been the butt of the joke because people will really like it. They’re the stories they want to hear.
– For our listeners. Everybody should recognise that people are much happier when they hear about your failure than when they hear when they hear about your success. I don’t know about you, but if you go and tell any of your mates that I did this and I won this award, and you can see their faces go, but tell them how you slipped over in a pile of poo. And they will love you. And they’ll clutch you to their bosom, and think you’re, well not after you’ve stood in poo.
– On man. I totally get it-
– you know what I mean?
– Absolutely, I mean, there’s the joke about, oh, you might know it better than me, about one comedian saying to another about how well they’ve done, do you know this one? I’m going to do that awful thing where I don’t remember the joke properly, but it’s something like this and I’ll have a go to make a point. One comedian says to the other, “Oh man, you know, I’ve had a really good week. Like I won a BAFTA at the weekend, and just filming this new sitcom that we recorded last night, and it’s just being recommissioned for five series, you know, it’s like a million pound deal.” And the guy goes, “Oh, I hadn’t heard about that at all. Well done mate.” And then the first one was goes, “Yeah, and so weird because the week before I died on my ass in Birmingham.” And he went, “Oh yeah, I heard about that.” About the way news travels. And I think I’ve slightly misremembered it, but that’s the kind of, that’s the kernel at the heart of it. And that must be absolutely true.
– And by the way, and that’s true if the psychology of it as well. You know people, yeah, we want to hear, you know. We want to hear our friends do quite well, but not that well, but you will humanise yourself. So I think that’s well worth everybody remembering when they do it. If I asked you to make a business case for humour, Matt, that what would you include? Why should-
– Oh my God.
– Why should people encourage humour in the workplace? Because sometimes it’s actively discouraged. You know, your here to work.
– I think it’s highly motivating. I think that is highly motivating. And actually I think people who discourage it fundamentally misunderstand what you mean. Is that people imagine, wrongly, that it means wasting time and clowning about with no effect on productivity or output. Firstly, workplaces should be happy environments. You should care about the mood of your staff as much as you would care about their physical health. So I think there are positive mental health elements to it. And also there are times in any workplace where you will need the loyalty of your staff and your colleagues. That is guaranteed. And these things can come out. Think of the last year and a half. No one would have seen that coming. That would have been in no one’s business plan, really. Would have been at the start of 2020, there’s going to be a global pandemic that’s going to fundamentally affect our business for at least the next two to five to 10 years. In those moments, when you need to perhaps pull a favour from staff, when you need people to do things, put an extra couple of hours in. If your workplace is a… Firstly, the productivity of your staff, I’m genuinely convinced, is affected by it being a happy place to work. And that comes from humour, and laughing at whatever life throws at you. Your ability to motivate your staff and your colleagues in difficult moments, in setbacks, and taking COVID out of it, difficult years for business or whatever it is, is fundamental to dealing with a challenge and motivating. If you’re hit with a challenge, and you’re all in a foul mood about it, you know, your ability to deal with that challenge is hugely diminished. Then if… That’s when you’re not realistic about it. Then if in those moments you have a bit of humour, and you deal with it. And actually, particularly when you’re dealing with things that are public facing, having humour as part of your brand is a big deal. And it also just, there’s nothing worse than working in work places that have a blame culture, where people pass the buck, you know. It makes my heart sink. When if you say to someone, “Oh, I’ve,” you know. Let’s say you go to a pub and say I’ve booked a table for three people at five o’clock, and they go, “Oh, it’s not in the system.” You go, “Well, I’ve got the confirmation email.” They go, “Yeah, well, it wasn’t me. I wasn’t working yesterday.” I immediately go, this must be a terrible place to work. If your first thought is, it’s not my fault. I go, this says so much about the culture of this place then rather than going, look, don’t worry. I’ll do what I can. I’m sure we can find some way, if not, here’s five pound off next time or whatever, you know. Just having that… Customers don’t care whether it’s your fault or not. It’s not their first thought is blame. So I just think, we’ve all worked places where blame is the first thing, you know. Oh God, it’s someone’s fault. Who’s going to carry the can for this. If you work somewhere where particularly the people in charge say, well… You know, I always bring it back to politics. John Major in 1997, when he goes back to Tory head office, central office, and just walks through door and goes, “Well, we lost.” And everyone bursts out laughing. You like, that sets the tone. They go, he’s not going to bollock us for this. That was the person who had ultimate control, who by the way, has just been booted out of Downing Street himself. And personally is going to take responsibility for this. Has had a light moment. I remember Tessa Jowell telling me about Tony Blair after he got slow hand clap by the Women’s Institute of Wembley arena during the 2001 cafe, hugely embarrassing. And he’s just stuck there on stage. You talk about faking it. There was no way that you could fake it. Wembley Arena just slow hands clapping him. And he kind of goes well, I’ll soldier on and all that. And then she said that he gets into the car afterwards. And it was him, Anji Hunter and Sue Nye. And yeah, he’s got this sort of rictus grin. They get in the car, they’re driving off, and no one says anything. And Anji Hunter turns around and says, “Actually that went quite well.” And she said, Tony Blair just went, “Keep it plausible, darling.” And it was just a great way of going, what the fuck, come on. You know and he just, it killed, it pricked the tension. You know, it was over. It was a funny way to deal with it. It also had a ring of honesty, which was, he’s not going, don’t blow smoke up my arse, I just died in there, you know. Your recovery. So much of life is about how you recover in difficult times. And humour, there is no better… You talk to people. When you talk to people, who go through genuine grief and bereavement, humour and laughter is the thing they always talk about. Giving them profound strength, being able to laugh again. And if you can’t have that in your work life, if you can’t have that as a business, then I think you’re putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage to those companies that value it.
– Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more, and humour is at the ultimate state shift.
– You know.
– Your going from one place to another. And when you have tragedies in life, as we all will, you need that state shift. So it does give you resilience, but it also shifts you to another place, so you can deal with the problems in a more creative way.
– What I would just add is, so many businesses, understandably, think about how you boost productivity without people paying more, paying people more. Now how’d you get more out of it. And sometimes they’ll think of a fun day, or, oh, we’re going to do a thing and, you know. And that’s all fine. And some of that works. Humorour is the single biggest way to boost productivity without a single extra penny of investment. Humour is free. And it’s a phenomenal motivator.
– Well, let’s not say without a single penny of investment, Matt, because they got employ you and me!
– No, of course, but once you’ve taught them how to do it, of course, of course.
– They going to have you at their Christmas party.
– Yes, they need to know how to use it, of course, yeah.
– We’ll go in as a double act. They’ll get a good price for that. We’ve reached the part of the show, which we like to call Quickfire Questions.
– Okay. ♪ Quick fire questions ♪
– Did you like the jingle?
– Loved it.
– That’s what I like… a pro. Who’s the funniest business person that you’ve met?
– I’ve got a friend called Steve who runs a business called Cattle Grid. Which is a steak restaurant. And he owns a number of them. And he is really funny. And he’s really funny on social media. And I think their social media stuff is a big part of why… You know what? He used to run a pub. Him and his mate Phil, who is also a good friend of mine, used to run a pub in London. And the reason most people drank there was because they ran it. It was the single biggest reason why people came to that pub was because, and people would come to the pub on their own sometimes because it was like being with two mates. It was like walking into Cheers. And they were the single biggest asset of that business. And a guy called Sean as well. The three of them ran it. And it was like, it was I’m walking into a sitcom. It was the closest thing to Cheers, a very British version, but I was just like, oh my God, the amount of people that would come in and just ask, “Are Steve and Phil in, is Sean in?” And it was just because they wanted to laugh with them, and sit there and have a few pints. You just have a laugh with them.
– Well, I’m hoping if this stays in the edit that you and I never have to pay for a drink or food at Cattle Grid ever again. So Cattle Grid it is. What book makes you laugh?
– Oh God, Frank Skinner’s autobiography, I think is the funniest.
– Isn’t it brilliant?
– The first one especially is. An incredible read. The second one is great. It’s more, the second one is for comedians, you know. When he’s on the road is really, so much of it resonates.
– What film makes you laugh?
– I think Bridesmaids is the funniest film I’ve ever seen. That made me… But now I’m thinking Dodgeball and Anchorman. I think those three are in a space where they are so tight, with the characters are already funny. Where the writing is really tight, where really daft silly things, they have so much different types of comedy in them. And the hit rate. The hit rate in those films is incredible. It’s laugh after laugh after laugh. ‘Cause I think, why aren’t more comed- Obviously it’s because it’s really hard to do it, but why aren’t more comedy films this funny? Really big laugh after laugh, after laugh, after laugh.
– A really high GPM as they used to call it, gags per minute.
– Yeah, they’re all incredible films.
– I’m going to ask you to go away from the funny, for a moment and ask a difficult question. What’s not funny?
– I think. I guess this gets to the heart of the question about, is any topic out of bounds?
– And I don’t think any topic is out of bounds. I think it’s about how you talk about it. But laughing fundamentally, laughing at the misfortune of others in a way that, the thing is, people falling over is funny. So that then disproves that. People falling over, as long as they’re fine is funny. And I think that’s kind of, I think that then is a rule to apply to, or is it? I’m thinking about this on the hoof, I should be careful.
– No, no, it’s very difficult because it’s a very difficult philosophical question. Because it’s like, well, everything can be funny in the right hands, but is it not about the intention? Is it not about punching up, punching down? It’s all those things that come into play.
– I think fundamentally prejudice isn’t funny. If you’re coming at it to be nasty about someone less powerful or privileged than you, or even then, you know, because, so for instance, punching up is a really interesting way to think about this. ‘Cause that was always the rule, is punch up, don’t punch down. But take someone like Meghan Markle. She is financially better off than me. She’s way more successful than me in many ways more privileged than me. She’s also a black woman who faces prejudice I will never know and will never feel. And that’s appalling. So it would then be about what is the joke about Meghan Markle? What are you talking about Meghan Markle? And also, why are you choosing to talk about Meghan Markle in the first place? And what does that say about what your targets are? So then, you know. And a whole load of other questions come. And I just think, I’ve never, you know, instinctively, I don’t feel like, I think for me, there are other things to talk about. Do you know what I mean? So I just think, and what’s your intent when you go into those things. I’m always thinking that. When you see other comedians, you know. Obviously there was a generation of comedians in the kind of seventies, which is seen as the bad old days of comedy. And not everything was bad in the seventies. Comedy was a reflection of where society was. There were a lot of things that explain it, but fundamentally a lot of the people that told racist jokes in the seventies told them because they were racist. And people laughed because they were racist. And the idea that no one was horrified by that at the time I don’t buy. I just think not enough people in positions of authority cared, necessarily about whether that was broadcast or not. But fundamentally, I think prejudice isn’t funny. It’s coming from a nasty place that isn’t funny. But I just think, you have to think so carefully about the issues you tackle, the way you tackle them, and also comedy dates faster than any other art form.
– Well, that’s true, isn’t it? There’re very few comedies that last, which is probably why Life of Brian, which is set in the time, is one of the few things that actually, whereas the On the Buses movie, not so much.
– Well, I haven’t seen it, but I’ll take your word for it.
– Oh, well, it’s not a recommendation. Just so we’re clear.
– That makes me more likely to want to watch it now because I want to see if its. As an experiment.
– What word makes you laugh, Matt?
– Oh my God.
– Prick, prick, and specifically the way Romesh Ranganathan says prick. He’s able to wrap his mouth round it. Prick. You almost see it sort of ripple across. Prick. There was some comedians that can really, Paul McCaffrey can do that. Sean Walsh can do it as well. There’s like, there’s a certain, there’s a word well-delivered, you know. What a prick. You just think, oh, there’s something about prick. Not quite a swear word. Strong enough to get the laugh, to have a punch.
– It’s a hard K. It’s a hard K, isn’t it? Bang.
– Prick. You prick.
– And you hitting the K.
– Yeah. But also the word itself is silly enough to kind of not matter. You can’t be too offended if you called a prick. You prick. I think it’s a great, great comedy word. You prick.
– Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
– Oh, funny, funny. That’s the thing that I think if you’re a comedian you should value, obviously all moral considerations taken as read, funny. Funny is the big, I’d take being funny over being clever. And I think arguably my work proves that, I hope that…
– Certainly does.
– And also I think if you’re valuing being seen as clever first, you remove that ability to laugh at yourself. And that’s such an important thing for even a comedian to have is you need the authority to be, you know, to be worth spending the money on. But also playing the fool is such fun. Don’t underestimate the ability, particularly in a team scenario or in a two piece. Having the skill to realise, I’m better off playing the fool here, and asking the dumb questions in the right way, but service the sketch or service the punchline. And I think if you value being clever, you’ll never play that role. And you remove a whole pillar of comedy that was open to you.
– And finally, Desert Island Gags. You can only take one gag with you to a desert island, Matt. Forde, what is it?
– I mean, I think this question to everyone should actually be, what’s your favourite Tim Vine joke? Because whenever I’m asked to name my favourite joke, they are literally all… It’s like when I’m asked to name my favourite song, I’m like, what, which Oasis song am I going to pick? But really, realistically for a man of my tastes, it’s whatever Tim Vine joke I prefer on that day. And today my favourite Tim Vine joke is, All tennis players are witches. Look at Goran, Ivanišević. I love that joke so much. I just think it’s so silly. It’s brilliant wordplay. It’s the nonsense of the setup. All tennis players are witches, and what that does is hide it on the way in. You’re never going to see that coming. It does so much as a joke. And it’s delivered, and Vine’s delivery is the best. I’m going for that. That would keep me laughing on a desert island forever.
– Well, you did it justice and you’ve delivered for us. And we really thank you for being part of the Humourology podcast. Matt Ford, thank you so much.
– Paul., it was an honour to be asked. You have a very special place in comedy history. So this has been a real treat, thank you. [Music sting]
– [Matt Forde As Boris Johnson] I will not be. I wanted, by the way, talk about the terrible fake media that is The Humourology Podcast. Which is a part of the fake news media telling lies about not just, not just me, but about comedy and bad things. And I want to talk about, it’s host is a total loser, by the way, he’s the biggest loser I’ve ever seen. His name is Pete Burris and he is, he is a terrible man. He is, he’s a total, total loser. You should not listen to a word he says, and I want to tell you that. The Humourology Podcast is fake news, and they’re bad dudes, folks. They’re bad hombres.
– The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks. Music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.