THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Unspun's Matt Forde talks Trump, Theresa May and Tackling the big US/UK political issues
We spoke with Matt Forde ahead of the new series of Unspun with Matt Forde starting January 28th, on Dave (Freeview Channel 12, Freesat Channel 157, Sky Channel 111, Virgin Media Channel 127 - Sundays, 10pm)
Congratulations on the upcoming fourth series of Unspun. The first season aired back in 2016, and almost felt like a revival in political news comedy in the UK. In the US, there are regular news style shows like The Daily Show, and figures who excel in political satire like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers - did you take any inspiration from the US conventions on political comedy, or did you want Unspun to be a proper British take on political issues?
Thank you, we are all delighted to be back. It's hard not to be inspired by those shows because they're excellent, but we certainly didn't just want to make a British version of The Daily Show. We wanted to make a show which had its own style and tone. I don't even think of it as being a British take on political issues, more that it's our take on political issues.
Have you had a chance to work in the States, is it something you might like to do if you haven't?
I haven't had the chance yet but I'd love to. I love America and working there would be a dream. To perform in New York has been an ambition of mine for a number of years, it's the most exciting place I've ever been. There's an energy in the air in New York I haven't experienced anywhere else, it feels like the centre of the world.
Your background includes being a political advisor - have those experiences helped you in developing the show?
Massively. It helps me pick a way through a story because I know the tricks of the trade. It's also helped me in handling the politicians we have on the show, they know that I understand the pressures on them. The main benefit is the insight into what will be happening behind the stories, whilst adhering to Bernard Ingham's rule that most political mistakes are the result of cock-up and not conspiracy.
Have the various events of the past few years; Trump's election, Brexit, the UK General Election of 2017, the rise of Corbyn and Sanders, been the catalyst for a resurgence in political humor, both in the UK and the US?
I'd include the Scottish Independence referendum in there as well. They've not only politicised a new generation of comedians, they've made audiences want to see more political comedy. I just hope it's not cyclical. The Thatcher era led to the creation of the alternative comedy movement in the UK, but satire and political comedy steadily tailed off in calmer times. I think that politics is always interesting, always exciting and always full of big characters. More importantly, it's always relevant.
Unspun has a great tradition of taking to task those on both sides of the Atlantic - has the show given you a new insight into the differences between American and British politics, or is it all much the same from a comedy angle?
A bit of both really. Some of the specifics are obviously different, especially around the constitution and some of the culture of politics but in general terms the fundamentals which drive American and British politics are the same: personal ambition, jealousy, a genuine desire to make the world a better place, incompetence, hubris and much more! From a personal perspective, President Trump is someone I enjoy impersonating and he has his own part of the show so I've had to study him more closely than I perhaps would have previous Presidents.
Brits take quite an interest in American politics, more so than say EU politics - do you think the US/UK Special Relationship is still particularly relevant for Transatlantic comedy?
It's relevant in so many ways. I think most British people regard America as our main ally. Whilst it's true that a lot of that is due to politics, it's also cultural. There's a genuine fondness for America that whilst not always fashionable, certainly persists. It can be harder for some during particular times, whether it's Iraq or the election of Donald Trump. Ultimately it's underpinned by an awkward truth - most of the time we need you more than you need us.
From the world of British politics, you've interviewed some big names, including Tony Blair. Who has been your favorite interviewee, and are there any hints of big names for Season 4?
Nice try but no spoilers on the forthcoming series! I'm going to give a bit of a politician's answer and say that all of my guests have been great. Tony Blair does stand out though. For a variety of reasons, people were genuinely surprised at how funny he was which is proof in itself of how distorted our impressions of politicians are. He's arguably the most naturally gifted British politician of my lifetime so to interview him on TV was a great experience.
If you had the chance to interview anyone from UK or US politics - who would you choose?
Surely you know who I'm going to say?
President Trump. He's the most compelling and powerful politician in the world. Plus, he is inherently comedic.
Beyond entertainment, do you feel there's a serious message to take home from political satire - can it influence the real issues?
Possibly but its greatest influence is on individuals. If you can simultaneously entertain and educate then you've hit the sweet spot. Audiences primarily want to be entertained but they also want to know what's going on in the world. There's something deeply satisfying about making a subject like politics entertaining.
Following on from that question, your episodes after the Westminster attacks of 2017 were particularly heartfelt and sincere. Is it easy to walk the line between humor and serious issues that can take place in politics?
It's very difficult when you have to cover an atrocity. If you're making a topical show you can't not talk about it, so you have to handle the situation in a sensitive and humane way. You can't be flippant about something so grave. What you can do is acknowledge the mood of the country and satirise elements of the coverage and then move the show on.
Did you have to work hard to perfect the impressions of politicians for the show? Is there a particular impression you're quite proud of? Have there been any politicians you haven't been able to nail?
Some come quickly, others take a while. Boris was quite easy to get, Corbyn is almost there, May is very hard to do. Trump I got quite quickly, he has big mannerisms and distinct verbal tics which help get a 'hook' on him. I do love doing Trump. Because he's so inappropriate impersonating him allows me to say things I wouldn't be able to say as someone else.
What do you hope audiences take away from watching Unspun?
I hope audiences are entertained and informed in equal measure. I find politics fascinating and important and I want to be able to spread that passion for it to the people who watch.
Series 4 of Unspun with Matt Forde starts on 28th January at 10pm, whilst Unspun XL with Matt Forde starts on 31st January at 11pm (both on Dave). He’s touring A Show Hastily Rewritten In Light Of Recent Events – Again! until 8th June. More info and tickets available here mattforde.com