Rory Bremner: interview
The man who saved impressionists and political comedy is heading out on tour just as election fever takes hold. He tells Time Out why, and what Mandy thinks.
With the general election just weeks away, you're heading out on tour again for the first time in five years…
'I thought this would be the pefect time to get out there again and to do something a little different. The first half of the show will be me doing live stand-up and the characters. It might be a bit of a Sinatra tour for some of the older ones like Michael Howard, Blunkett, Brown and Prescott. It could well be the last time they'll be able to come out on the road with me. The second half, though, will be more of question and answer session, with a panel of experts talking about how things are going in the run-up to the big day. We've got some great people joining us in each place we go. In Greenwich we've got Matthew Parris; in Ealing we've got John Kampfner and local MP Stephen Pound. The audience will not only get a fun comedy show with all the impressions they'd expect, they'll also get the chance to ask questions about what's actually happening, to some of the people who really know.'
You've chosen to play quite intimate venues; were you not tempted to take it to some of the bigger arenas to capture that 'political rally' feel?
'I find myself strangely intimidated by the big juggernaut comedy tours, like Ricky's and Jimmy Carr's. I see their massive posters and it makes me quake.'
'I get nervous at the idea of even being considered to be in their company. I haven't been on the comedy circuit for years and I'm just afraid that they think I'm some old-timer. I feel like Frank Dobson must feel at the Labour Party conference. He's walking around and saying, “Hello, everybody,” and they go, “Oh, are you still around?” But that's just one of my own personal demons. I think this show will work perfectly in the venues we're heading for, especially for the “Question Time” element.'
Having been a keen observer of the Westminster village for the last couple of decades, are there any major political changes you would like to see brought in?
'I wonder if it's now time for us to consider getting in a foreign prime minister, in the same way we've done with the England football manager. We need a Fabio Capello-type to run the country. It would be great if at the bottom of the ballot paper it said: “Here's this guy from Norway. In the past five years he's done a fantastic job with the Norwegian economy. He wants to bring in his own trainer, and wants the cabinet to go on a macrobiotic diet. But he will deliver results.” I think that would make a nice change. People are so hacked off with politicians and by extension politics. The thing is they screw up so often now it's actually hard to keep up with them as far as ridicule is concerned. It makes the voters feel demotivated and disconnected. They don't really want to vote for anyone because they think they're all corrupt. Then you look at Iraqis - voting is so important to them, they'll even risk getting themselves blown up to do it.'
It's difficult for the public to fully engage or get excited about the election when all the politicians seem to have had personality bypasses…
'It's true, we're entering the Age of the Bland Politician. And that's a real worry for someone in my position: the golden age of Prescott, Blair and Brown is coming to an end and none of the next generation of politicians has really resonated with the public. As an impressionist you love the eccentrics, you love the Ken Clarkes, you enjoy the William Hagues, you're grateful for them. Thank heavens for Mandelson at least. Just after he made his comeback I happened to meet him at a dinner I'd been asked to speak at and I said to him, “Thank God you're back because at least you're a voice that people recognise.” He leant over and softly said: “I only did it for you, Rory.” So there you go. I'm to blame for Mandelson's return. Sorry.'
Are you looking forward to the new presidential-style televised prime ministerial debates?
'Not really. It's almost the final triumph of celebrity politics; people are saying that it's going to blow everything else out of the water, which I think will be such a shame. I love the nuts and bolts of real election campaigning. I like people going round the country. I like the fact that Prescott will lose control and punch somebody or a voter will confront Tony Blair in some random shopping centre. We'll miss a lot of that if it all becomes about the TV debates. Mind you, I think the Tories and Liberal Democrats are most nervous. They're terrified that it's going to be shot in 3D. Clegg and Cameron are so two-dimensional if they turn them sideways the camera might not be able to see them at all. At least we know Brown has a personality, even if it is a rather awkward cross between Russell Crowe and Susan Boyle.'
Will you be doing impressions of all the three main leaders?
'Actually, no. I don't do Nick Clegg. I do a Nick Clegg joke where I imagine meeting him and he says, “Can you do me yet?” and I say, “No, can you?” We're having a race to see who can do the best Nick Clegg impression, me or him - so far we've both got a pretty blank canvas to work with.'
Who would you like to win?
'I wouldn't like to say, although I think it's fairly well known that my political affiliations are somewhere to the left of Mandelson's, but then whose aren't? Having said that, with the country in the state it is currently, there maybe only one thing actually worse than losing this election and that's winning it.'