The Satire Sensation Making Us Laugh

Rosie Holt, Satire Sensation, set to speak at Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival

Actor, writer and comedian Rosie Holt is set to hit the Harrogate stage on Friday 20 October at Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival. She is best known for her spoof internet videos that first went viral during the pandemic.

From an MP desperately defending government policy to a left-winger wanting to say the right thing but scared of getting it wrong, Rosie’s characters offer a satirical take on the political landscape.

How did your spoof online videos come about?

When Covid started I went back to live with my parents for a bit. Like everyone I was going a bit stir crazy during lockdown and during the Black Lives Matter protests I was reading twitter and saw a post from Sadiq Khan saying they were going to take down a statue and in the comments section underneath people were saying things like ‘you’re erasing history’ and ‘this isn’t democracy, it’s a dictatorship’.

They were so extreme I found them really funny so I had this idea of putting up a video of a woman voicing all these opinions and following them through. So she said, ‘it’s erasing history just like Stalin did, who, incidentally, I have a statue of in my garden.’

I put that up (I had about 3,000 followers on Twitter at the time) and it went nuts. Usually when I posted something it might get a hundred likes if it did well, and this one got half a million views in just a few days. A lot of people thought it was funny but there was also a lot of people who thought it was real and I had people telling me to take down my statue of Stalin.

Were you surprised when it went viral?

It was a bit surreal. I was surprised by some people thinking it was real. Now I know that’s going to happen and I play up to it a bit, but that definitely was a surprising aspect of the whole thing.

Is anyone fair game in politics and do you take the mickey out of people on the Left and the Right?

I sometimes get accused of not having a pop at the Left more, but the way I see it is I’m less interested in that because they’re not in power, whereas the Conservatives are defending policies they’ve put forward. The idea of the MP [character] came from watching so many interviews with ministers who looked like they were improvising. If Labour gets in then I hope people are critical of them because that’s what you need in a healthy democracy.

Have you had much reaction from politicians about your online videos?

I’ve got some quite high profile Tory ministers who follow me on Twitter but they’ve never interacted with me. I think Nadine Dorries did once and she made a little joke. But what’s very funny with my MP character is I have had MPs think she’s real. I’ve had that happen a few times where they tweet ‘this is appalling’ and then they realise and a few minutes later they’ve deleted their tweet.

How do you make a video go viral, or is it out of your hands?

When my first one went viral there was no one really big following me but there were a few comedians with 30-plus thousand followers and when they liked it they amplified it and it snowballed from there. So it certainly helps if you’ve got a bit of a network, but in terms of things going viral I didn’t wake up one day and think ‘I’d like to do a viral video.’ I think with comedy, or anything creative, you just have to do what you want and what you find funny and hope that people agree with you.

You went to drama school so how did you end up doing comedy?

I never wanted to be a comedian. There seemed nothing attractive about it at all. I’d seen one or two comedy performances and thought it seemed really laddish and not for me. I wanted to be an actor since I was 16 but when I left drama school I was struggling to get acting work and creatively it was really frustrating, because as an actor you’re really dependent on other people giving you work.

So I wrote a comedy sketch and sent it to a few people I’d been with at drama school and asked them what they thought including Mark Ravenhill who said it was really funny and I should keep at it. I then started doing stand-up and what appealed to me about this was you could have an idea and find an open mic night and go and try something out. You were the agent of your own ideas and that suddenly seemed really exciting to me. What’s great about doing what I am at the moment is being able to not just act, but write and be fully in the driving seat.

Is there a difference between what works online and what works on stage?

They’re very different mediums. I’m so glad I had that stage training because the first Edinburgh Festival I did last year I found really nerve-wracking because I knew there’d be lots of people coming who had only seen my online work. I also was aware I hadn’t put any of those characters on stage before. So although I had done a lot of straight stand-up I wasn’t well versed in putting those characters on stage so that felt like a scary leap.

Since then I’ve been going around comedy clubs performing as my MP so I know she can work very well in that setting and I know how to improvise with her, but it’s very different doing it on stage compared to putting up a two-minute clip. Part of the appeal of the online work for people is it’s very underplayed and quite realistic, but if you’re too underplayed on stage people can miss it. So it’s finding humour in the character while also keeping it rooted in reality.

Is political satire harder to do these days?

Because things have got so extreme it means people have become more engaged than perhaps they were. I think Brexit for a lot of people was a real kick up the arse and now they are engaged in politics in a way they weren’t before. So yes, there are some ridiculous characters and there is a joy for people being able to recognise that in comedy. But it is a fine line. Sometimes I watch things and I think ‘well, you can’t parody this, it’s a joke in itself.’

Behind the Screen with Rosie Holt is on Friday 20 October at 5.30pm, at The Crown, Harrogate. Book online here or call the box office on 01423 562 303.