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Matt Forde: Our biggest problem? We’ve forgotten how to disagree

The Jackal talks to one of the country’s most in-demand satirists, who proves political comment and nuance aren’t mutually exclusive

Words by
Amy Wakeham

Matt Forde is under no illusions. ‘Politics has become a real cesspit,’ he declares, his naturally warm tone surprisingly sharp. ‘It’s a nasty place and at the moment it’s only going in one direction.’

The political advisor-turned-comedian should know. Since his first stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011, he’s become a steady feature on the British comedy and current affairs circuits. His own satirical talk show, Unspun, has screened on UK terrestrial channel Dave for four seasons since 2016 and now he’s on tour with his latest stand-up routine ‘A Show Hastily Rewritten in Light of Recent Events – Again!’ On top of that, he also hosts weekly podcast called The Political Party.

In other words, he’s Britain’s answer to the sharp-talking comics that flourish across the pond: a Stephen Colbert or John Oliver for UK screens. And excellent though his Trump impressions are, it’s his measured, incisive political commentary that really makes him stand out from crowd. He was ranked at number 91 in LBC presenter Iain Dale’s ‘100 Most Influential People on the Left’ list, last year, an timely pointer to his significance in the political world.

“I always prefer to talk to people I disagree with”

A self-declared Blairite, Forde joined the Labour Party when he was 15, and worked as an advisor to the Gordon Brown administration until 2010. Things aren’t so simple for him today though: he left the party in 2015 following Jeremy Corbyn’s election, and is as critical of ‘Obi-One Guevara’ today as he is of Theresa May and Co. ‘I’ve always been very mindful, particularly of where my politics are, of taking the piss out of everyone. Because they’re all ripe for it. They all deserve it,’ he laughs.

It’s this good-natured humour and his easygoing interview technique that Forde’s known for, and it feeds into one of his biggest political gripes: ‘we’re losing the enjoyment of sitting opposite someone and disagreeing with them,’ he says. ‘I always prefer to talk to people I disagree with, because I know what I think. I’d much rather sit down with someone different and hear where they’re coming from. That nuance and that joy of disagreement feels like it’s really been lost at the moment. It’s tribal and entrenched, and nasty and aggressive.’

Of course, though he’s prepared to empathise with those he interviews, he won’t let off those politicians he thinks deserve a skewering. He sees comedy as an important tool for holding the political world to account. ‘Satire should make people laugh. But it’s also there to inform and to prick the bubble of the powerful. It’s really satisfying if you can have comedy that’s funny and also tells people a bit about what’s going on. That challenges people.’

“Satire has to prick the bubble of the powerful”

He believes there’s a growing appetite for political satire in the UK. ‘I think the times in which we live demand it. People recognise that this is a volatile and unpredictable period. The leaders of all parties have been particularly reckless in the last few years. Brexit didn’t need to happen. Nor should British politicians be queueing up to go on Russia Today and defend Vladimir Putin. We are in uniquely bizarre political times and people are shaken by it. I think people feel that there’s a generation of politicians that have really let us down.’

Given his views it’s unsurprising that he’s no desire to return to the political fold. ‘I was exhausted when I left politics. It was a hard place to work when I was there, but I think it’s even worse now. The abuse they face is unprecedented, on all sides. The personal sacrifice you have to make outweighs doing something positive for your community or you country.’ It’s a damning indictment of politics today – and a worrying hint that good people are being dissuaded from making a difference in the halls of power.

Nevertheless, Forde is making a difference outside of said halls, instead. His own contribution to community and country is in championing the measured debate that’s so sorely lacking in politics today. He might call it a ‘cesspit’, but he seems determined to make some sense of the political mêlée,

whether that’s through reasoned debate or sharp-edged satire.

‘A Show Hastily Rewritten in Light of Recent Events – Again!’ is on tour nationwide

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