A ‘Clash of Worlds’: Think Tank Puts the Laughs into Politics

Stand up comedian Joe Wells writes about his new project bringing together politicians and comics for themed political debate.

If I have achieved just one thing in the past 5 years working as a stand up comedian it is getting the vegan, transvestite, anarchist, metalhead, comedian, Andrew O’Neill on the same stage as the Conservative parliamentary candidate (and quite possibly the next MP) for Portsmouth South, Flick Drummond. It’s hard to imagine these two people walking down the same street let alone sat on a panel debating education policy.

It’s this clash of worlds that drives ‘Think Tank’, where politicians whose job it is to represent people and who must be seen as respectable members of their communities are forced to interact with comedians, most of whom have no interest in being respectable or polite.

How Think Tank works is that I get 3 of my favourite comedians to come up with ideas for laws or legislation that they have to pitch for 5 minutes before joining a cross-party panel of politicians who debate the policy, with me as the Chair. All of this takes place in front of a live studio audience, we record it as a podcast and then, some time later, we release it into the world through the internet.

Each show is on a political theme. The first show’s theme was education and the next one will be ‘health’ (Watch this space for more details).

I have always enjoyed comedy that feels dangerous: Mark Thomas driving a tank into McDonalds or Joan Rivers being so rude to the guests on her talk show that they walk off. Think Tank is the first thing I’ve done where I felt there was danger, a sense that anything could happen.

Our first comedian Grainne Maguire opened with an impassioned attack on private education, at one point describing people who went to boarding school as ‘psychopaths and drug addicts’. Now you don’t get that on Question Time.

Following her, Gareth Richards went for an even more controversial theme for the crowd when he suggested better incentives for teachers prepared to teach ugly, annoying and under-achieving children.

Finally Andrew O’Neill finished the night and got the panel and the crowd engaged with his suggestions for shaking up the old grammar school system and creating better opportunities for working class kids.

I was aware that some politicians would not know how to react to something like this, luckily Tim Dawes (Greens), Flick Drummond (Conservative) and  John Ferrett (Labour) all held their own against the comedians – a couple of times they even got some laughs, for the right reasons. I left with real respect for all three of the local candidates (and I never thought I’d respect a Tory!).

I’m proud of creating a format where bad politicians could really falter and make fools of themselves but at the same time politicians with conviction can come across really well.

I believe this is what good political comedy should do: shine a light on the hypocrisies of bad politicians but leave alone those with consistency and conviction in what they believe.

The next Think Tank will be in July, there’s no fixed date yet but the best way to find out more about it is to sign up to my mailing list here.