Andy Zaltzman’s hit podcast The Bugle – a weekly satirical comedy show in which he co-stars with the New York-based British comedian John Oliver – has an international following of several hundred thousand regular listeners, but such adoration was less forthcoming in the early days.
“I had some gigs that suggested it would be a good idea to stop doing comedy, so on the advice of a couple of audiences I gave it up for a few years,” he said.
However, commuting up and down the Northern Line in order to write articles on European finance for a business publishing firm – a job that he “didn’t know anything about and didn’t care about” – soon focused the mind and he re-launched himself on the open mic circuit in London.
“I just thought I should have another go at it rather than cave in quite so easily,” he recalled.
His comeback gig was at the Comedy Café in Old Street in London.
“They had an open mic night, which could be nice and could be nasty. The first gig I did was on quite a nice night.”
And so he booked a few more open night gigs, and entered some competitions, and his career began to take off.
With John Oliver he’s co-written and starred in BBC Radio 4 shows The Department and Political Animal, and in 2009 he also wrote and appeared in his own Radio 4 series – Andy Zaltzman’s History of the Third Millennium.
He writes too, and performs, on Tonight With Rory Bremner – also on Radio 4 – and does a variety of programmes for BBC Radio 5Live.
He enjoys television less.
He said: “I’ve not really done much television. I have appeared but I’ve not really enjoyed much of what I have done. I don’t think it’s a medium which comes naturally to me.”
His first love is, of course, The Bugle – his and Oliver’s “perspective on global events laced with a cocktail of satire and bullshit.”
“It’s the thing I’ve enjoyed most in my comedy career as we’ve had complete editorial free rein. They’ve just let us get on with it and that’s a precious thing in comedy.”
But he also gets a buzz from performing live stand-up, and in a now relatively lengthy comedy career he’s notched up some intriguing gigs.
He said: “I did a couple of gigs last year in Bangladesh. There is one comedy club there called Naveed’s in Dhaka – set up by this guy who worked in America for 15 years, did some stand-up there, came back to Dhaka and basically established a comedy scene in Bangladesh.
“The club fits about 60 or 70 people and is essentially a storeroom in a block of flats, which he’s kitted out to look like a Manhattan stand-up club.”
Zaltzman got a great reception from the largely local audience when he performed there and would love to go again.
“It’s always interesting doing stand-up overseas and particularly fascinating doing gigs in non-English speaking countries.
“I think when people are listening in a second language, even if it’s one that they speak really well they tend to focus better, concentrate more, so you get a very attentive crowd.”
Unashamedly intellectual there have, however, been times where his political satire just hasn’t fitted the bill.
His highbrow global discussions don’t, for example, tend to cut the mustard with the office party crowd.
Remembering a particularly unappreciative audience he said: “A week before Christmas it was not what the crowd wanted and they made that abundantly and vocally clear. I think they had a point.”
Self-deprecating to a tee Andy Zaltzman, who was described by Time Out as ‘probably the best satirical comic we’ve produced in the last two decades’, brings his hit one-man show Armchair Revolutionary to Tring next week.
In a joke-packed performance that encompasses economic idiocy, political and social upheaval at home and around the globe, revolutions, the all-new Satiricax 3000 Radio, and some puns about dogs, Zaltzman ponders the state of the world with his trademark cocktail of political satire, flamboyant analogies and outright lies.
Andy Zaltzman – Armchair Revolutionary will be at the Court Theatre in Tring on Wednesday, October 10 at 8pm.