UK politics is more divisive and chaotic than ever before, with MPs who are simply too rich and too ignorant to give a “flying flamingo”. But could it all be down to one man and his headset? Punching Up PEEKS through the curtains (legally) at the man in The Room Next Door.
Comedian Michael Spicer found fame online, as the man behind the scenes of idiotic politicians’ car-crash speeches and interviews, in his satirical video series The Room Next Door.
“Nobody knew who I was before the age of 42,” he says. “Everything I was doing in my twenties and thirties fell on deaf ears.”
Michael went viral in 2020 – the last thing you’d want during a pandemic – and with more than 500,000 Twitter followers and nearly 23 million views on YouTube, his videos have certainly left their mark on the Internet.
Now 44, Michael has most notably called out Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Donald Trump.
And he doesn’t just go after the lowest hanging bags of dog shit in the tree. He has also taken aim at the Dalai Lama, and coma-inducing Sir Keir Starmer’s fence-sitting waffle about taxing the rich.
When Johnson begins rambling on about painting model buses, Michael’s character describes him as a “massive fart” – although Boris provides nowhere near the same relief.
That video racked up 380,000 views on YouTube alone, so Michael decided to turn The Room Next Door into a regular series.
“It was only until I got on Twitter and started making sketches by myself that I realised I could do more interesting things,” he recalls. “That’s when people took notice.
“In my twenties, I was copying my heroes and those who influenced me. I wasn’t finding my own voice.”
Michael’s comedy idols include Monty Python, Laurel and Hardy, and Steve Coogan, who he met at a star-studded Extinction Rebellion party shortly before the pandemic.
Writing satire in a post-satire world
Michael works alone to produce scathing satirical videos just hours after the stream of buzzword diarrhoea has left a politician’s mouth. But when modern politicians are caricatures of themselves, it gets difficult to make them into even more of a joke.
Armando Ianucci, creator of The Thick of It and Veep, says politics has moved beyond satire. How can you make comedy that punches up, in a world where the establishment itself is a joke?
Michael says, “The difference between me and Armando Ianucci is I’m playing a character who is just reacting to real things going on, whereas he’s trying to come up with it.
“I think things like Spitting Image are ill-conceived, because you can’t make a puppet out of Boris Johnson, who is himself a human Spitting Image puppet. He’s so full of contradictions and hypocrisy that he is almost impossible to lampoon.
“My character works because all I’m doing is sitting on my sofa, like we all are, and going, ‘wow, did he really say that?’”
The Room Next Door is an ingeniously simple format, as politicians humiliate themselves with their half-baked ideas, while their ‘assistant’ responds despairingly in, you guessed it, the room next door.
Before Next Door (incidentally, the name of his BBC Radio 4 series), Michael was a cast member on The Mash Report.
“There weren’t many things like it on at that time,” he says. “We came on when Brexit first happened, so it kind of reflected that change in the political landscape.”
The show was axed by the BBC in 2021 before being revived by Dave months later as Late Night Mash. It was then axed again in March this year.
economic comedic establishment
The Mash Report and its successor were consistently criticised for their “left-wing bias”. So, why does comedy attack the right wing?
Michael says, “I don’t fully understand why so much comedy is left-wing, but I suppose if you look at it in a broader sense, people who are conservative or right-leaning are more likely to be less creative and more inclined to want to make money.
“Creative people don’t really rely on that – and if they did, they’d be screwed.”
Daily Mail stories that complain about the “wokeness” of comics are “reactionary”, Michael says.
“The Mail has a core readership of completely potty people who believe immigrants are coming over the hill.
“What The Mail wants is a paper to be bought, so they can sell advertising. But they also want their journalists to write headlines that are controversial to the point of being ridiculous, so that left-leaning journalists react to it.
“It’s never anything to do with genuine political discourse. It’s ideology for sale.”
The media is supposed to hold politicians to account, but it could be argued that satirists and comedians are picking up the slack for the ideology-obsessed press, and act as the real scrutinisers.
Michael says, “I always count myself as a comedian first and a satirist second. I’m more of an accidental satirist. It’s just about whatever is taking up my creative brain space at that moment, such as the leader of the country.”
Putting your head above the political parapet and daring to criticise anyone in government can put a target on your head (see Nish Kumar), get your show cancelled (see Frankie Boyle’s New World Order), or throw you into a Twitter shitstorm (see Gary Lineker – who ironically shat his pants at the 1990 World Cup).
While it is tempting to fall into the Twitter trap, Michael prefers not to waste his time arguing with critics.
He says, “I get criticism all the time for things not being funny, but I ignore them. I don’t care – I’m not going to change their mind.
“Of course, I’d like to say, ‘fuck you’, but I’m not going to because there’s no point in it. If they attacked me, they wouldn’t really know who they were talking to because they don’t know who I am.
“The man in The Room Next Door isn’t me. Although it’s all coming from me, I’m not ‘comedy personality Michael Spicer’.”
Despite being in the public eye, comedy personality Michael Spicer is keen to keep his personal and family life private. That’s why he chooses not to take part in celebrity panel shows.
He adds, “I can’t ever be anyone else other than who I am, which is a very socially awkward, insular person who just sits at home all day, writing sketches.”
Beyond The Room Next Door
So, what’s next for Michael Spicer? The addition of an en-suite to The Room Next Door?
Later this year, Michael will appear as a Jimmy Fallon-style American talk show host in My Mother’s Wedding, a film starring ‘Black Widow’ Scarlett Johannson.
He is also set to appear in Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming miniseries Disclaimer for Apple TV, after being approached on Twitter by the Room Next Door fan.
However, Michael is still writing his own stuff at breakneck speed. In the last six months, he has written two films, two sitcoms and two dramas.
Avoiding dirty words
Unusually for most modern comics, Michael doesn’t swear in his comedy sketches, because he doesn’t need all that shit to be funny.
“I’ve imposed that rule on myself,” he says.
“I can swear if I want to, if I think it’s going to be funny. But for the most part I don’t, because it’s funnier to think of new things.”
So, it is possible to write good satire without resorting to offensive profanities. Now fuck off.