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‘It’s about grief and love – two sides of the same coin’: musical comedians Jonny & the Baptists discuss their new show

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Musical-activist-comedians Jonny & the Baptists – Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gerversare – are taking their new show Dance Like It Never Happened around the UK, including a gig at the Junction in May.

Jonny & the Baptists. Picture: Matt Stronge
Jonny & the Baptists. Picture: Matt Stronge

The 30-something satirists’ seventh full-length show, hailed as their most honest and personal yet, is about grief and loss, but not how you’d expect. In 2019, Jonny and Paddy lost the election, their place in Europe and a friend they loved more than life itself.

This was followed by the year that was 2020, and with their decade-long system of dealing with grief – ignoring it, drinking heavily and making jokes – they finally broke. Dance Like It Never Happened sees the pair learning to accept and engage with their grief, telling the story of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance through their blend of silly songs, deadpan stand-up and riotous storytelling.

In short, this ultimately uplifting piece seeks to find meaning and humour in bereavement, one of the hardest parts of life. The Cambridge Independent caught up with the duo via Zoom in Plymouth, where they had done a show the night before. “Last night was cracking, thank you,” says Paddy. “We’re weeks into the tour at this stage.”

There was then some debate among the pair as to how many weeks exactly – they eventually concluded that it was three weeks, with a holiday break. “You can tell that we’re really on it,” joked Paddy, adding: “It’s been going very well so far; it’s funny to come back to it after a couple of years of not.”

Jonny and Paddy are regulars on BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show as well as on The Infinite Monkey Cage, Live from Television Centre and Sketchorama (BBC Radio 4). They have supported Mark Thomas on tour and appeared at major festivals including Latitude, Kaleidoscope, and Greenbelt, while their single Farage topped the iTunes comedy chart.

On how they first got together, Paddy says: “It’s a funny one... we met at a wedding. It was my brother’s wedding and I’m not a dance man. Jonny is a dance man.” Jonny says: “I love to dance; I have two moves and they’re both very big and dangerous. I love dancing, especially at weddings.

“I’m not a skilled dancer but I am a very active dancer, and the reason we met is I’d broken my foot so I was at a table at the wedding whilst everyone was up and dancing and I wasn’t able to dance. And Paddy, you are a reticent mover...” – “I’m a chair guy,” interjects Paddy.

“We ended up talking and Paddy was working as a musician for a hire, and I was a stand-up comic. We’d always wanted to do something involving both those things together and I’d been a singer in bands when I was younger and you had a sketch troupe and things like that.

“So we both had a history of that but we’d never really done it professionally and so we started the group. We got booked for a gig and at the end of the gig – at the Leicester Square Theatre in London – someone came up to us and said, ‘I really enjoyed your set, would you like to play a festival in Croatia?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, sure’ so we did, which was baffling.

“Essentially it was started as a side project but we kept doing gigs and getting booked to do another, and until eventually I was like, ‘Oh, this is our job’.” Paddy adds: “We were too polite to say no!”

As well as a shared love of music and comedy, Jonny and Paddy had other things in common. “We’ve got very similar politics,” explains Paddy. “On our first date we went to see Pulp, supported by Foals, at the Wireless Festival.”

Jonny, a father of two who cites French and Saunders and Lee and Herring as comedic influences, observes: “We have similar outlooks on life and then the comedy’s just sort of the natural outpouring of all of those things, rather than a happy accident, I guess.”

Previous shows the pair have put together tackled subjects such as the climate crisis, the wealth gap and what they see as a rise in far-right populism. “So we don’t shy away from the darker things to be funny and joyful about,” says Jonny, “but this show [Dance Like It Never Happened] we started writing it in 2019 and it was going to be entirely about grief and love.

“They’re two sides of the same coin, really. If you experience love, you are unfortunately going to experience grief because nothing is forever, and they are the price you pay for the other one. And we wanted to write a show about that because we lost a really dear friend who we absolutely loved and we were devastated by.

“And as left-wing comedians we were obviously devastated by Boris Johnson winning a general election, but I think everyone was – even the people who voted for him seemed immediately to regret it...

“That was what the show was going to be about and then obviously the lockdown happened and this idea of loss and grief just permeated not just through our show but through everything.

“So really the show is about taking on board those concepts but in a much more general way than we anticipated because we’re talking to a group of people who have been through a crisis, through something so emotionally hard and fraught, who have probably lost people themselves.

“We wanted to acknowledge that and deal with it and express our feelings about it – because I think that’s vital – but at the same time we wanted to make the most uplifting, joyful, warm piece of comedy theatre that you could see.”

Jonny & The Baptists will be performing at the Junction’s J3 on Saturday, May 14. For tickets, visit junction.co.uk. For more on the duo, go to jonnyandthebaptists.co.uk.

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