Musical comedy at the ballot box: Jonny and the Baptists Rock the Vote
Can music and comedy mobilise voters? Jonny and the Baptists' Paddy Gervers talks to The Skinny ahead of their Glasgow and Edinburgh shows
In September last year, something exceptional happened. The Scottish Independence Referendum brought 85% of Scottish voters out to the polling booths, and Paddy Gervers, one half of musical comedy duo Jonny and the Baptists, is full of praise.
"The rest of the UK should really be taking pointers from Scotland," says Paddy Gervers. "The Referendum was a thing of beauty, to have such a close margin between Yes and No, and 85% turnout is incredible. They got young people involved and old people involved... they got people interested."
Jonny and the Baptists are musical comedy’s answer to the coalition government. Finalists in 2013’s New Act of the Year, Amused Moose and the Musical Comedy awards, the combo are also known for their Stop UKIP tour (perhaps due to it being the tour UKIP tried to stop). This experience, and the hate-mail they received, became central to last year's popular and well-received Fringe show The Satiric Verses.
They arrive in Glasgow and Edinburgh this month with a new show called Rock the Vote. Can we expect more of the same?
"This show is more a call to arms, about the act of voting rather than the direction of your vote. We’ve got songs about all the major parties and we’re making sure that there’s a balance of piss-taking… It’s a discussion of why people should vote."
Stateside in the 1990s, there was a concerted campaign called Rock the Vote to get the American young into politics by talking to them via pop stars. A British equivalent formed a little later but was never known for its success. This makes the concept, even as a show title, something of an odd choice. Then again, Jonny and the Baptists may have something those pop stars didn't: comedy. Is comedy, then, a good way of capturing voters' imagination?
"I really think it is. I emote with comedians and musicians in a big way, since they’re an enormous part of growing up, especially in Britain where we have this amazing culture of art. If you can get people to laugh while talking about politics... [then people] can connect with politics."
Getting us to connect with politics remians a tricky task: excluding the referendum, turn-outs in general, local and European elections have stayed resolutely low. In the last UK general election a third of the adult population didn't vote.
"People are really disenfranchised with voting. There are so many parties throwing around jargon and saying the same things, and it’s all about blame and finger-pointing. As someone who hasn’t voted before, you really need an argument to go and do it. If it was my first time, I’d know that he doesn’t like her and she doesn’t like him, but I wouldn’t know who to vote for.
"That's what the show is about. If everyone goes out and votes then at least we’ll have a completely democratic representation of what everyone wants, as opposed to saying well, 20 per cent of the people think this."
While the group's commitment to mobilising voters speaks of a commitment to the democratic ideals of voting in general, given their previous shows, would the group really be happy if everyone went out and voted, but the result ended in a UKIP-Conservative coalition?
"That’s one of the brilliant privileges that we have in Britain, that we’re all entitled to our own opinion, and as long as you go out and research and vote for who you believe then who’s to say you shouldn’t? Even if we change one person’s mind about whether or not they should vote, that’s a really good thing. Even if they vote for someone I don’t believe in, our job’s done. They’ll continue to vote and continue to determine our country’s future in a time when that’s really important."
Currently gigging and rehearsing in the US, Paddy has become acutely aware of the benefits of having the NHS, the welfare system and Arts Council funding – all of which may be on the chopping block come 7 May.
"Everyone’s going to notice if the NHS disappears, if benefits or arts funding are slashed, or if there’s a higher bedroom tax. I think that’s when people think, 'I’ve actually noticed my country change, maybe I should have said something.'"