POLITICS, SPORTS, puns, and just about any subject you care to mention, are all grist to the comic mill of satirist supreme Andy Zaltzman who is appearing at the Róisín Dubh on Saturday February 10.
Zaltzman will perform his hit show Satirist For Hire where he invites audience members to suggest any subject under the sun for him to riff on and satirise in the course of the show. Since debuting in Edinburgh in 2013, Satirist For Hire has toured all over the world and, thanks to its format, no two shows are ever the same.
With his bald, domed forehead framed by a frizz of curly hair, Andy Zaltzman looks like the comic sibling of Larry from The Three Stooges and US stand-up Steven Wright. In fact, his family tree has Lithuanian Jewish roots. He is the son of South African sculptor Zack Zaltzman and the older brother of Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist and Answer Me This! podcasts.
Andy himself is the writer and presenter of acclaimed satirical podcast The Bugle, one of iTunes’s biggest ever comedy podcasts which averages two million downloads a month. His sharp brand of political satire has established him in the vanguard of British comedy, and seen him guest on a range of leading news programmes on TV and radio. His passion for sport has also seen made him much in demand for his wry punditry on rugby, cricket, and events like the Olympics and Tour de France.
Ahead of his Galway visit, Andy spoke with me about show and I began by asking if his Jewish background was an influence on his comic sensibility; “No it wasn’t,” he replies. “We were lapsed Jews, my father had lapsed before we were born. My mother converted to Judaism largely to appease my father’s parents who were angry at him for wanting to marry a Gentile. I guess we had a neutral religious upbringing; we went to Christian schools so it was probably a healthy balance in a lot of ways. I’ve not drawn on my Jewish background for my comedy very much. I have a few jokes about what a bad Jew I am, but I wouldn’t see myself in the tradition of Jewish comics.”
Zaltzman’s performance style is centred on verbal dexterity, and on his love (and extensive use ) of puns, especially in extended "pun runs". His sister Helen also displays a witty passion for words in her podcast The Allusionist. Given their father was a visual artist, where did their shared flair for language?
“I don’t know”, Andy declares. “If my father had been born in a different generation he might have had a go at being a stand-up comic; he was never afraid of a pun certainly and that remains the case to this day. It just happened to be his career choice to become a sculptor – he had been working as a business statistician and then quit in his early thirties to become a sculptor. I guess in ways he was a role model; by doing that he showed us it was ok to pursue a career you want to do and to do something creative. In terms of the words, I’m not sure really but as children we were both encouraged to read and to think laterally.”
Moving on to Satirist For Hire, Andy tells me how the show came about. “Initially the idea was that it might be funny, and interesting from a comedic point of view, if I allowed the audience to choose the topics for the satire in a broad sense rather than just having the comedian hectoring the audience. A lot of live stand-up seems to consist of a comic hectoring an audience that already agrees with them. As it turned out what it led to was a very broad range of requests and that has made them enjoyable shows to do and to watch. They veer from people asking about big international and national political issues to extremely petty or personal things or sports or totally random things like satirising the pedal steel guitar.
"Once I got asked to satirise every single Pokemon character in numerical order which I bailed out after managing about four. The show can tip between more serious stories to people making requests about Trump or, especially in the UK, about Brexit - I don’t know if that’ll be a topic that comes up in Galway. Basically, I build the show around whatever the audience has asked for and I even take last minute orders at the start of the gig as well.”
I ask if most of the requests arrive early so he can work up routines around them or are they last-minute affairs? “They tend to come in quite late,” he admits, with a wry chuckle. “I did envisage when I came up with the idea that I’d have a few weeks’ lead-in time to work up routines and enable me to do some research on the more obscure ones. However, a lot of the requests arrive on the day of the show or the day before so I have to do what I can with those topics.
"I’ve even had emails from people sitting in the audience right before the gig who’ve suddenly remembered they meant to send something in. I get these while I’m in the dressing room getting ready to go on. Then I’ll see this email asking me to satirise 15th century needlework or something mad like that. It is a fun show to do and it is different every time; it keeps me constantly writing and coming up with new ideas.”
Andy’s mentions of Trump and Brexit prompt the question are those topics the gifts that keep on giving to satirists, or can one get too much of them? “They both offer a deluge of material, but there are so many people doing comedy about Trump and Brexit, both professionals and people just posting stuff on Twitter or wherever, that it can be very difficult to come up with a distinctive, original angle on them,” he observes. “I think I’ve managed it with a chunk about Trump that I’ll be doing. There are a few set-piece routines in the show. It is a constant challenge to come up with something about those that hasn’t already been done.”
I enquire whether sports will feature on the show menu, especially seeing as we’ve just learned that the imminent Winter Olympics has led to a slight rapprochement between the two Koreas; “It’s amazing what winter sports can do,” he laughs. “Perhaps they could solve all the world problems; they could have a Winter Olympics in the Middle East! I’m quite happy to watch most sports and I’ll probably do something on the FIFA World Cup. I’d love to see a hurling match sometime, though I don’t know if I’ll get a chance while I’m over in Ireland this time. Pretty much any sport can keep me happy.”
Andy Zaltzman appears at the Róisín Dubh on Saturday February 10 at 8pm. Tickets are €12 in advance from www.roisindubh.net and Ticketmaster, and €14 on the door. Details for those wishing to submit a topic for Andy to satirise in Galway are as follows: "You are invited to email your satirico-query to [email protected], with details of the issue/person/concept/thing you would like addressed. All issues considered (within reason ), whether political, social or miscellaneous, and whether global, national, local or intensely personal."