Interview: Heydon Prowse on politics, controversy and the future

Image credit: Venkatesh Muthukrishnan

As part of the Cambridge Union’s Lent term programme, Heydon Prowse was invited to speak on his work as a political satirist and activist. Having been involved in numerous shows, campaigns, and projects, Heydon is perhaps best known for his role in the BAFTA-winning political satire show, The Revolution Will Be Televised and its offshoot, the recently released Revolting. Masterminded by Heydon and his co-star Jolyon Rubinstein, The Revolution Will Be Televised was first released in 2012, and Heydon began by discussing how contemporary political circumstances have affected the show.

He suggests that 2016 was a momentous year for politics, and of paramount significance was the election of Donald Trump. I ask whether the growing political polarisation and the increasingly emotive tone of public discourse presents challenges for production the show, a show which has not strayed away from controversial themes. He argues that actually the “weird and unfortunate paradox” is that “the worse it gets, the better it gets for us - there is more to laugh at”. He sees the changing political climate as an opportunity. Indeed, having previously produced content for the show in the US, featuring the parodic ‘coalition partners’, he plans to travel back across the Atlantic in light of President Trump’s election and the subsequent reaction to it.

In-keeping with the theme of dealing with volatile political topics, I ask Heydon to discuss notoriety generated by his recent “Real Housewives of ISIS” sketch, which led to the show being featured on national news. He suggests that the reactions to it have been mixed and he found it peculiar how “many people that never claimed that Daesh was Islam were offended on behalf of Islam”. I then probe further, questioning whether there is a ‘line’ and if satire can at times, cross this line. He emphasises the importance of the BBC editorial team, or “TV philosophers”, who help to determine “whether something is appropriate, whether it is punching up or down, and who the victim of the joke is.” He notes that “we pitch a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t get away with.” However, there are instances when even despite such rigorous preparation and contemplation over a sketch, it can nevertheless go wrong. The account he gives is one in which he attempted a piece featuring Paul Golding and Britain First. He claims that during the item he was confronted by one of Golding’s companions, and that there are thus always risks involved with the production of shows like his.

Following on from this, Heydon discusses the challenges associated with dealing with different political binaries, left and right, leave and remain, and so on. He stresses the importance of always “taking the piss out of both sides”. This is then brought into a broader point about the role of satire - “Satire is at its best when it’s plant centre. People are going so far to the extremes. The function of satire is therefore to bring some sense of rationality back to people’s perspectives.” Stephen Colbert’s show is one which Heydon admires. Stephen’s “lack of a big political point is what makes his show so good - satire is nuanced”.

I end the interview by asking Heydon to ponder over the future of British and American politics in the light of the seismic developments of last year. “If Brexit is an economic disaster, there could be a swing towards the ‘end of history’ type of politics, but it is really hard to predict at this point. If I were to predict anything, it’d be that things will get pretty bad pretty quickly”. Despite the relatively bleak short-term prognosis Heydon makes, he ends on a lighter note. With a slight chuckle, characteristic of his amicable and cheery demeanour, he suggests that “people will start voting Lib Dem again”.

Following the release of the series finale of Revolting last night, fans of Heydon’s work will now wait in anticipation for his next project. With various elections set to occur across the continent this year, and with the start of Trump’s presidency and the process of Brexit, one thing is for certain. There will be an abundance of opportunities for Heydon’s incisive satire and social commentary to flourish.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories

In this section

Across the site

Best of the Rest