Rosie Holt - Image by Karla Gowlett
Rosie Holt - Image by Karla Gowlett

BN1 Chats with Rosie Holt

Comedian, actor and internet sensation makes it right

“Wouldn’t it be great to be a political influencer to politicians?” asks Rosie Holt. “But you don’t want to give them any good ideas.  I like to think my MP character only comes out with bad ideas of how to defend things. Emulating it is not a very good sign.”

It’s been an odd week for the actor and comedian. Over the last three years, she’s become one of the most infamous British people on Twitter (No. I’m not moving on, Mr Musk) by pretending to be a slightly-startled and ill-prepared Conservative MP. Neatly editing herself into clips from genuine news broadcasts, this political facsimile has been attempting to spin various missteps and pratfalls from the stickier end of our cultural spectrum. 

People either get the joke instantly or take it at face value and become peeved that such a hapless character could find their way into the corridors of power. Either way, it generates attention for her talent, which is fine. The only problem is she’s inadvertently become some kind of satirical oracle. The Government’s sacrificial lambs being sent out for media rounds every morning and defending the indefensible have started echoing the sentiments in her videos. 

Yesterday, she’d put up a video of Kay Burley ‘interviewing’ her about certain comments made by Lee Anderson. Instead of discussing the matter with any depth, she simply kept repeating that the member of Parliament of Ashfield’s remarks were ‘wrong’, while being incapable of explaining exactly why. “Then today… everyone’s been sharing this video from LBC, where a minister has basically copied my script!” 

The imitator has become the imitated. Which either speaks to the sharp nature of her work or suggests that a few people’s inability to concede wrongdoing is making a farce of current affairs programming. Holt tells me the MP character’s mesmerising oddness was created with a simple premise. She’s about to do an interview and has been told to try and justify the latest scandal. “It comes from a place of panic. It’s kind of like: ‘Right! Got to defend this, and can’t say this… What do I do?’ I kind of see her as improvising.”

She’s just written a book, which comes out in July. Or rather, Rosie Holt MP has just written a book. “It was really fun fleshing out the character. She’s more dreadful than I previously thought!” It sees this titan of politics explain how the Tories made Britain great again over the last 14 years – from getting Brexit done and bending the Ministerial Code, to rowing back on climate change policies and voting in Liz Truss as leader. Called Why We Were Right, it neatly explains why the ‘scandals’ or ‘controversial’ decisions of the government, which have been derided by the Left and the woke media, were correct and intentional all along. On a side note, it would be interesting to do a comparison with this work and Liz Truss’ upcoming epic, Ten Years To Save The West: Lessons From The Only Conservative In The Room. Life may well be imitating art once more.

We need to establish some distance between Holt and her Tory MP character, just to avoid any confusion. She couldn’t be further from her slightly deranged and flustered creation, quick to chuckle, thoughtful and relaxed. The Member of Parliament for somewhere unspecified does form an integral part of her new live show, That’s Politainment! Last night she was trying out some new material. “I have to write quickly, because the government keeps doing things! But you need to try out to see if it’s funny as well. Which is quite important for a comedy show…” Heading out tour this month, and stopping off at Brighton’s Komedia on Thurs 23 May, she’s picking over the threadbare boundary between government and a career in media.

In a bizarre confluence of events, we now live in an environment where the worst excesses of populism and objective idiocy are being rewarded. The worse you are at public service, the more likely you can land a job shouting nonsense on one of those new truth-bending TV networks. “My first idea with the show was after being obsessed with GB News. You’ve got this channel which has presenters who are politicians. So, you’ve got politicians interviewing politicians about other politicians. It’s insane. I find that really fascinating. They recently gave this whole hour to Rishi Sunak to take a Q&A from an audience. It feels like a propaganda channel, and I don’t know if they’re dressing up politics as entertainment, or vice versa.” Following a hugely successful Edinburgh Fringe season, Holt is taking an extended version around the country. Obviously, being a work which delves into politics and culture, it needs constant updating. “There was a Holly & Phil joke in there. Everyone is going to say that was 500 years ago. So, now I’m having to rewrite and add bits.”

It follows on from her last Edinburgh Fringe show, The Woman’s Hour, which offered a fast-paced array of ludicrous characters. “That was really fun but I was throwing a lot of things into it. I was trying to showcase everything I did after becoming online famous.” In contrast, That’s Politainment! is a lot more pared down. There’s plenty of the MP character, but she’s also introducing an over-amplified right-wing talk show host called Harriet. “They’re two halves of the same coin really. You’ve got a politician who is dissembling the truth to get at the public, and the host is working in aid for them. It’s a simpler structure. I’ve also got a left-wing comic, who comes in with balanced jokes to appease the BBC!”

Rosie Holt – Image by Karla Gowlett

There’s good reason to question the motives of news channels established to beam unchallenged rhetoric into the nation’s living rooms, especially when public service broadcasters are tripping over their own feet to deliver true impartiality. “I find it really interesting how they position themselves. Talk TV and GB News like to talk about themselves as if they’re the political underdog. Liz Truss was recently talking about how the ‘wokies’ and the ‘lefties’ have been in charge for too long. There’s this weird narrative going on. You’ve got a right-wing government. The majority of the media are right wing. Yet we’re still enthralled to the woke left? It doesn’t add up.”

By mining humour from a daily deluge of scandals, incompetencies and the Government’s attempts to make us believe everything is completely normal, Holt has found an audience amongst both comedy fans and the metropolitan liberal elite. I ask if she’d intended to be the darling of the woke left from a young age or had she aspired to be a PE teacher and become radicalised at Loughborough University? “I was so bad at PE,” she says, with a regretful sigh. “I was always picked last, and I hated it. So that wasn’t the case. I really wanted to be an actor.” Attending The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, she struggled to find her niche after graduating. 

“The problem with acting, is that most actors are quite creative. Firstly, you’re reliant on other people allowing you to create. And when they do, you’re part of someone else’s vision. You might have interpretations about a character, but you’re still serving a story.” She found herself at a point where she wasn’t getting much acting work, but was doing a lot of lousy jobs. There were ideas and things she wanted to say, and she might have been inspired to try stand-up while living with comedian Harriet Kemsley. “Comedy seems to be a wonderful thing, especially in London and Brighton, where you could go out that night, find an open mic night above a pub, and try out some jokes to see what happened. That seemed wonderfully liberating. I still love acting, but I can’t imagine just doing that. I’d probably go a bit mad.”

She understands why people want her to talk about politics but is adamant her role is being a satirist rather than offer practical solutions to societal issues. “Where I’m coming from is observation. I wouldn’t want to run the country. I don’t know as much as a journalist… I want to be funny, which you can’t always do if you’re going into the minute detail.” Obviously she’s interested in what happens in a potential election this year. “I want Labour to get in. But… Do I? It’s not a secret to say I’m on the Left, but we should always be holding our Government to account.”

It’s an important part of a democracy to call a political party out when they’re doing something wrong. At the moment, she wants to carry on doing that, no matter who is in charge. “Whether there’ll be an appetite for satire immediately…, people might go: ‘let them have a chance!’ But we had Keir Starmer during the pandemic saying he was going to step back, when everyone was going: ‘Not now! They’re talking about not feeding starving kids!’”

The big boost for Holt came during lockdown, where she deployed the Tory MP character to highlight hypocrisy around the Partygate affair. As with most, even vaguely, outspoken women on social media, she comes in for a troubling amount of abuse. The trolls won’t allow certain people to be criticised. “I’ve got various things in place on Twitter to protect me from the really nasty stuff. It does make you think about what female MPs must have to put up with, which is really awful.” If it’s something light and silly, which I can play and joke with, it’s fine.” The problems arise when people move away from the character and start attacking her personally, but it happens relatively rarely. “You’ll suddenly have a wave of it. It is tricky online, I don’t think I’m saying anything unusual, but there are a lot more pitfalls for women online than there are for men.”

While she’s been rather fortunate in using the platform to gain prominence, since Musk took it over, many of her fellow comedians using Twitter as a springboard have struggled with reaching an audience. “Engagement has gone down, less people see your videos and there’s all sorts of things which make it harder. And they took away my blue tick, the bastards…” she bemoans people like Owen Jones being able to retain his verification on the app, while people like Ben Stiller lost theirs. “That was a sad day. I think Musk wants to get rid of it all. He tried to stop the purchase and was forced into it. Now, I think he’s trashing it, like a spoilt rich man.”

In a fast-moving political world, there’s less room for analysis. Helpfully, people like Holt are lobbing in logic grenades from the sidelines to underline just how silly some of our public discourse is, and hopefully get a few laughs in the process. She obviously gets misunderstood on a regular basis, but that appeals to her sense of playfulness. Especially when somebody thinks she genuinely represents a parliamentary constituency. “That’s happening less, but I have had it when I’ve gone to do sets and a few people were wondering why an MP is talking to them in a comedy club. That I don’t mind, now I’m expecting it. I do worry that I’m going to get someone who votes Conservative getting in touch and saying I’ve made a good point. If there’s a load of people on the left who think I’m real, there must be a lot of people on the right who are watching me thinking I’m doing a terrible job and making them look stupid…”

Rosie Holt’s That’s Politainment! comes to Brighton’s Komedia on Thurs 23 May. Her debut book, Why We Were Right: A Catalogue of Conservative Successes will be published in July. Liz Truss was unavailable for comment.

www.rosieholt.co.uk

www.komedia.co.uk/brighton 

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