A highlight of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Matt Forde is one of Britain’s up and coming comedians. He’s made numerous appearances on TV shows like The One Show and Mock the Week, as well as his own show Unspun. And for a good reason – Forde is a master comic. I went to see him at the Phoenix, where he was performing his tour ‘A Show Recently Rewritten in Light of Recent Events – Again!’. At 35, Forde is now a seasoned veteran of the stand-up routine, yet he declared Exeter was the nicest audience he’d ever had. After which he admitted he says that to every audience, so his praise can hardly be taken at face value…
One of Forde’s greatest gifts is his ability to do impressions. Boris Johnson, Ed Miliband, Leanne Wood and David Cameron were all subject to mockery via imitation, and to incredible effect. When he did an impression of Jeremy Corbyn to prove he talks as if he’s a drug addict, my sides were splitting! Undoubtedly the highlight of his impressions was his take on Donald Trump at the end of the show. Forde perfectly captured Trump’s ineptitude and nonsensical rambling. Even his hand gestures and facial expressions were accurately portrayed. Forde wasn’t entirely cynical though, he had high praise for Exeter’s Ben Bradshaw, save for an increasing patchy hairline.
Forde may be political, but he wasn’t partisan. Whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer, a Corbynite or a Mayite, you had something to laugh at. His gag at Corbyn’s Labour being increasingly anti-Semitic would have riled some in the audience, but it never felt he was being unfair. An avid Blairite, Forde is despondent at the state of affairs today. He was trying to see Brexit optimistically, but the taste of American chlorinated chicken is hardly something to rouse an appetite. Overall the act felt more like a light-hearted take on an increasingly depressing era than a genuine attempt to view the future positively.
A particularly enjoyable part of the act was early in the first half, when Forde asked the audience the best place in Exeter to go on a night out. Sarcastically, an audience member shouted, ‘TP!’ to which Forde asked what’s it’s like. Another audience member bluntly described it in not very polite terms; Forde conceded the criticism, but then yet another audience member said TP is a good night out because the queue is short and there’s a good smoking area. Even I got a chance to interject: when Forde asked whether there were any prominent Leave campaigners in Exeter during the referendum, I said there was Daniel Hannan. To which Forde said that didn’t count because Hannan hasn’t achieved anything. He later admired the fact I didn’t heckle Hannan – he wouldn’t have been as polite. The banter between Forde and the audience worked extremely well because it felt as if we understood each other, even if we didn’t necessarily agree.
Forde’s focus on British politics never felt insular or exclusionary. Even if you didn’t know much about politics, you could still laugh along. For instance, he asked an audience member where she was from, and she said she was from Berlin. He then used the opportunity to declare his love for Currywurst sausages, a must-try item for anyone who visits the city. Even when the subject matter was political, Forde used humour to make it relatable. He said Theresa May’s uncontrolled facial expressions made it seem like she was hiding a dark secret, like she’d killed some children. Or that David Davis’ overconfidence in the Brexit negotiations was like your mate who’d walked into a GCSE exam with a smug smile despite having done no revision. As a Blairite, Forde is often accused of being elitist, yet his comedy was as down to earth as possible.
It would be easy to dismiss Forde as derivative – yet another left-wing comedian who does impressions and laughs at old racist people. In reality, the show was extremely unique. This was partly because of Forde’s eclectic humour and style. But behind his bravado, Forde is a defeated man, and to a large extent he recognises that. He regrets Britain’s decision to leave the EU, America’s decision to elect Trump, and Labour’s decision to get behind Corbyn. His sense of a declining state of affairs gave the show a distinctly (small c) conservative feel.
Forde is a man coming of age, who has now realised life doesn’t always go your way. This frustration wasn’t expressed as anger, but as a call for liberals to make a better case for their beliefs. Rather than dismissing people and being aloof, they should be honest and passionate about their principles. Forde’s show was as much self-criticism as it was criticism of various opponents, and that was what made it so special.
– Owen Bell
Featured image from: https://www.exeterphoenix.org.uk/events/matt-forde/