The Sound of Satire: Andy Zaltzman interview

For a man who takes on the world via a podcast called The Bugle, Andy Zaltzman is surprisingly modest about tooting his own horn.

Feature by Tamara Mathias | 06 Jan 2016
  • Andy Zaltzman

Andy Zaltzman's Twitter bio currently reads: Born in 1974. Still not dead yet.

"Not a massive amount has happened since then,” says Zaltzman, by way of explanation, “Everything else is just a footnote to that.” 

However, upon further inspection, this apparent footnote proves to be a fully fledged story in it’s own right. 

Zaltzman is one of the remaining artists in the country to treat political satire as a serious comedic genre, and can be categorically relied upon to comment on news stories from across the globe, pulling them apart with precision for the benefit of a bemused but entertained audience.

Take The Bugle, the podcast that Zaltzman and longtime co-host John Oliver of Last Week Tonight bring to life on an (almost) weekly basis, through impressively co-ordinated recording sessions across the Atlantic. The comedic duo work together in a long distance relationship of sorts, with Oliver stationed in New York and Zaltzman manning the home base in Britain. Over the last eight years the show that describes itself as ‘an audio newspaper for a visual world’ has gained an impressive global listenership of around 300,000 people per episode.

Regular listeners, or Buglers, are fed a steady diet of facts and it's all seasoned with just the right amount of comedic hogwash. Their characteristic wit and chemistry makes for wonderfully symbiotic show and Zaltzman attributes some of this to the new avenues that technology has opened: "Podcasts have enabled great independence for artists,” he explains. “In some sense comedians have claimed this independence since ancient Greek times. There is still some truth to Aristophanes’ idea that the comedian is equipped with a voice to critique society from an objective point of view."

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Zaltzman possesses a particular talent for dissecting and cross-examining stories that make headlines, most evident in Satirist For Hire, his solo show that solicits audience suggestions in advance. He meets last minute email requests for his take on everything from ISIS to romantic relationships, finding each topic's inherent satire with rapid writing and research: "Despite the obvious pitfalls to such a format," he says, "I think every show retains a freshness. There’s a balance between serious issues and total nonsense. I don’t know if that makes it fun to watch but it’s certainly a lot of fun to do as a comedian.”

Satirist For Hire arrives in Edinburgh this month and is also on the Glasgow International Comedy Festival's schedule in March. “I always go out of my way to make jokes about cricket when I’m in Scotland. While there are a few hardcore cricket fans around, I enjoy playing on those differences between a cricket-loving Englishman and the cricket sceptic nation of Scotland."

With the New Year sure to be replete with folly, we make a request for advice on the planet's future. 

"Ah yes, the planet is pretty much falling apart without us so we’ll be back to fix everything in January. Until then, I think my advice would pretty much be that we all need to ‘grow up!’ We’ve all been behaving a little bit childish of late, so growing up would be a pretty good start.”

Andy Zaltzman: Satirist For Hire plays The Stand, Edinburgh, 13 Jan 2016, doors 7:30pm, £12 and The Stand, Glasgow, 16 Mar 2016, doors 6:30pm, £12

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