MATT Chorley was on his way to the first gig of his new comedy tour when he had a sudden crisis of confidence. What if nobody enjoyed his show? “I was on the train going to Epsom and I thought ‘why am I putting myself through this?’ And then as soon as I got onstage and the audience laughed, I thought ‘this is why I’m doing it.’”
The cheerful 39-year-old might love the feedback he gets when he performs but Chorley is not your typical stand-up comic. He is actually an award-winning journalist who writes about politics for The Times and has a weekday morning show on Times Radio. But he cannot resist the lure of a full venue, even more than ever after the isolation of the last two years.
“On the radio it sometimes feels as if I’m just talking to myself. Particularly during periods in the last two years when I was doing my show from the spare room at home. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush you get from being in front of people.”
Onstage Chorley explores the current state of politics in the UK, so there is certainly plenty for him to get his teeth into. But he might also face a challenge in the coming months travelling around the country from theatre to theatre. The show is called Who Is In Charge Here? and the answer might change while Chorley is on the train to a gig.
Experience has taught him to be prepared for every eventuality though. He faced the same problem with his debut tour in 2019. “That one was called This. Is. Not. Normal. and a General Election was called in the middle of it, so the show just got longer and longer as I wrote more. Though maybe not as long as a Ken Dodd show. This time round I’ve structured it differently so I can add bits and it won’t all fall apart.”
When he asks who is in charge he is not necessarily saying the answer is Boris Johnson anyway, so it might not matter if the PM changes. So who does he conclude is in charge? You’ll have to buy a ticket I’m afraid to find out his answer, but he offers some clues. “The cabinet? His advisors? Media lobbyists? Donors? Dominic Cummings? Or Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie? I work through all the possibilities. But it is currently a very live question.”
And maybe not even Chorley knows for sure: “We’ve got someone in power who doesn’t play by the rules so all bets are off.”
The show is the perfect primer for anyone who wants the inside track on Westminster today. Chorley says he gets bored easily, but with the news changing daily there is little chance of boredom right now. Onstage he explains how a leadership contest might play out, jokily suggesting it is definitely no beauty contest. “I’d say it’s the opposite of Miss World, whatever that is.”
For Chorley combining comedy with political commentary is his personal dream ticket. He now lives in Fleet in Hampshire with his wife Alyson, but grew up on the Somerset Levels watching The Two Ronnies and then when he was older Have I Got News for You? There was no comedy or politics in his family. His father was a plumber, other relatives were farmers.
“I just didn’t really see that that was a possible job.” He loved TV so much though that he made one out of a cardboard box and used to poke his head through it. He says when he was at school he was “a bit of a class clown” but he also loved journalism. “I think I was a slightly annoying child. I started a newspaper at school. I’m nosy, which is what journalists need to be.”
He even appeared in a sketch show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2005 which The Scotsman described as “a gem” but then proper jobs and relationships got in the way of him earning a living from his clowning. He made a brief comeback as an ugly sister in a Christmas panto in 2007 but then work came first. So getting back onstage feels like he is getting a second bite at the comedy cherry.
Having been a political journalist for over a decade now Chorley knows plenty of MPs and actually has quite a high opinion of them. Or at least of most of them. “People are always very cynical about politicians. But actually most of them are nice. Not very interesting but nice. They are just trying to do the right thing.” In recent years though he has seen the environment change: “Trust has been eroded. If people didn’t want to talk about something they used to say ‘no comment’. Now they lie or try to argue that black is white.”
As for taking sides, he sees the pros and cons everywhere. “I’m pretty equal opportunities with my criticism. With Keir Starmer the question is is he keeping his powder dry? Or has he got no powder?”
One thing he wants to underline is that the emphasis of the show is very much on humour and entertaining the audience, with a little bit of education thrown in for good measure. “It’s not supposed to be an Open University talk. Politics is a bit like a soap opera. Imagine an American trying to work out what’s going on in Coronation Street. So I sort of say well, these are all the people and this is where they’ve come from. Did you know Foreign Secretary Liz Truss campaigned to end the monarchy as a student and was a Liberal Democrat?”
Well, that was news to me. Chorley certainly knows his stuff. I’ve definitely been entertained and educated during our chat. Go along to his show and you will be too.
Matt Chorley: Who Is In Charge Here? is on tour until April 7. Dates and ticket information here: mattchorley.com/tour-dates