One random comedian, eight random questions; it's the ultimate test of funny person and fate. This week we're hanging with Berry, Josh Berry - license to lampoon the establishment, on Union JACK Radio. A third series of the satirical show Josh Berry's Fake News has just begun, and he's certainly making the best of 2020.
The pragmatic impressionist sold out the Leicester Square Theatre in March, then boosted his profile during lockdown by launching popular new characters over the socials, "most notably my Conservative Party advisor Rafe Hubris," he says. "There's been a lot politically to digest these last five months and a lot of farce; I'd say this third series is a reaction to that."
JBFN is a sort of bizarro news show, as mock-anchorman Berry interviews politicians and the like - also played by him - about made-up stories that are "vulgar and fanciful, but have enough elements of truth that it allows you to see the satirical mirror being held up to specific aspects of society," he explains.
"A lot of satire at the moment seems to be about mocking public figures and 'the establishment', but this is very often done by an establishment figure in an establishment voice. Ironically you end up with someone failing to critique arguably the thing in greatest need of critique: the voice of the establishment and the way discourse is framed (I think as a satirist you're always looking for where power truly lies, and we often forget that that is with the media far more so than politicians.)"
And so Berry the mock anchorman "doesn't actually represent what I think, he's more a mockery of journalists. I think having an anchor who often is the joke and not above criticism gets around the issue that sometimes satire shows suffer from, where the hosts think they are God. Incidentally, I do think I'm God, but I at least have the decency to pretend I don't."
The secret's out. Josh Berry, your Random 8 await.
What was your childhood career dream?
To be asked to take part in the British Comedy Guide's Random 8.
Which film or TV show would you love to have been in?
I would have liked to have been in The Trip, I think I have an interesting repertoire of impressions to add to those of Coogan and Brydon. I wouldn't want to replace either of them or be in every episode, maybe just appearing as an additional guest at one or two of the lunches... I think a young comedian desperate for the approval of two comedy legends would add an amusing dynamic.
The idea of me trying to play along with Coogan and Brydon and not being as good as them and feeling immensely self-conscious about it and Brydon amicably encouraging me with Coogan finding me actively irritating would be funny I think.
I feel like a lot of British comedy is about choreographed failure and so placing me with two of the greatest living British comedians with experience and abilities far greater than my own would be comedically fruitful.
Have you ever gatecrashed anything interesting?
I broke into a couple of Cambridge college balls. I think they'd invested heavily in the ball but not really in the security, so once I'd squeezed through some railings it was pretty easy from there. The breaking in was thrilling and the ball was great inside, but I didn't know anyone there which marred the experience somewhat.
It was rather like how I imagine getting into heaven only to find all your friends and loved ones had been consigned to hell would be.
Who are you most envious of?
I think probably Sacha Baron Cohen, he's the most technically impressive comedian I can think of. His writing is both shrewd and hilarious, as is the premise he hangs his work from; using grotesque caricatures to get people to inadvertently reveal their true selves.
His performance is just as good as his conceptual framework too, he can improvise effortlessly, take on a convincing range of accents in a range of characters realistic enough to be believable and fool his targets, but also exaggerated enough for us as an audience to find them funny. He strikes what Aristotle would call 'The Golden Mean' in so many areas, he is an expert and it makes me sick.
His Who Is America series in particular was phenomenal, especially his Dr Nira Cain-N'Degeocello character, a gender studies lecturer at Reed University who cycles across America to 'heal the divide' after 'the election was stolen from president Hillary Clinton'. It takes a very talented comedian to lance the left well because in my view the moral failings of the left are far less overt than the moral failings of the right.
Sacha Baron Cohen succeeds here where many others fail and it is for this reason, the ones I list above and indeed many others than I'm in awe and very envious of him.
Who's your ideal long-journey companion (loved ones excluded)?
Dominic Cummings. I think talking to him would be absolutely riveting. I've always been really interested in people the public malign and he is arguably the person most maligned by the British public since the summer.
I've watched a lot of his lectures on YouTube and he has a lot of very interesting opinions on British politics and the media, which are both areas my style of comedy is about commenting on. In talking to him I think I would learn a great deal; perhaps we might journey to Bernard Castle together...
What's your favourite shop, ever?
I certainly wouldn't say it's my favourite but I am in awe of the business model of Urban Outfitters in that I think it's very clever, if unpleasant... to take a bucket hat from a charity shop, effectively stealing it from the working classes, rebrand it as 'edgy' and then sell it to the middle classes for £50 so they can dress up as the working class and that people buy into that seems farcical to me.
It reminds me of a quote from Sacha Baron Cohen's Bruno who once said: 'We take the clothes from the homeless people and we sell them in the shops... jack up the price... and then the homeless people cannot buy them'.
Which low-key law would you introduce?
This is going to sound very Dominic Cummings (because it's one of his ideas). I think there ought to be some sort of compulsory additional education for politicians prior to taking office. So many walk straight from studying PPE at Oxford with a poor understanding of people, data and technology.
In my experience, PPE (the degree most politicians seem to hold) tends to make people very good at confidently blagging some sort of answer rather than competently looking at pragmatic solutions to problems. It's good for people like me in many respects because it means you end up with people like Matt Cock-in-his-Hands in big positions of authority who are very easy to mock... but I don't think it's very good for society.
Which place you've visited was the biggest anti-climax?
I feel like much of life is an anti-climax. Practically all places, physical or conceptual are anti-climactic once one is there because inevitably in reaching a destination one is always plagued with the question 'yes, but where now?'.
This is a perfect example. Since childhood I have dreamed of the moment I would finally be able to fill out a Random 8 questionnaire, but now I'm here I'm filled with existential emptiness. This reminds me very much of Albert Camus' essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe, where Sisyphus is tasked with pushing a boulder to the top of a hill only to return to the bottom of the hill to find that the boulder has rolled back down.
Why try and do anything? What's the point?