Geoff Norcott is lean, talkative, lightly bearded and intense. Britain’s first ‘openly Conservative’ comedian has benefited enormously from the Brexit vote and he’s popular with television producers who need a right-wing voice to balance out the left-leaning bias of most TV output. ‘It’s funny meeting TV types,’ he tells me. ‘They say, “We really want to hear alternative viewpoints.” And I’m thinking, “By alternative you mean majority,”’
Norcott, 41, was raised on a south London estate. ‘Both my parents were quite political. My dad was a trade unionist who got quite high up in the NEC [Labour’s national executive committee] and my mum ran as a Lib Dem councillor. So I completed the holy trinity.’
As a child he disapproved of ill-disciplined neighbours. ‘I was quite judgey about the kids that didn’t go to school and weren’t trying to better themselves. I remember one day particularly I came home from school and my mum was still in her dressing-gown, and I said, “For God’s sake! Get dressed! Achieve something with your day”, although she was a hardworking woman.’ He still has ‘a real issue’ with dressing-gowns worn during daylight hours. ‘Get up. Do something useful.’
For 15 years he played the club circuit without mentioning politics. ‘Then I wanted to do something in comedy that I hadn’t heard anyone else do. My wife said, “Well, you’re a Tory, that’s a bit weird, isn’t it.”’ It began to pay off after David Cameron’s surprise election victory in 2015. ‘People were angry. And it became the jeopardy element: can you force people who instinctively think you’re a terrible person to laugh at your jokes? There’s something quite addictive about reluctant laughter.’
He began performing in his mid-twenties while working as a sales executive. ‘For ITV. Quite big clients. Quite a boozy, laddish period, the late 1990s.’ He also trained as a teacher and specialised in the toughest end of the profession: supply teaching. He explains with some relish how he asserted himself in inner-city schools.
‘A classroom is a dangerous place. They’re young kids. Some of them throw stuff. They’re looking for an adult figure. I felt teenagers are quite basic creatures, they can be easily led. If they think you look sharp, they’ll give you a level of respect. So I always used to wear a good suit, tie, clean-shaven. And being a strict teacher, it made them happy, not initially, but once they’d bounced off you a couple of times, to see where the lines were, they just relaxed, you could see them relax, “OK, this guy’s going to control this environment.”’
He regrets the ‘democratisation’ of the school system. ‘The centrality of the student, the cult of the individual, it raised them up to an idea of themselves that teenagers aren’t able to handle. They really like boundaries and walls.’
Some teachers were inexplicably deferential towards ‘alpha male pupils’. He cites an example named ‘Bennie’. ‘When the teachers said his name, it was almost like they were in awe of him. “Where’s Bennie? What’s Bennie doing?” I thought, you’re not supposed to be his mate.’
He identifies a specific problem with pastoral care offered to pupils about to leave school. ‘There’s a pathological desire to keep kids in school, get them their GCSEs, [which] means that the pastoral element goes up towards the end. It peaks at Key Stage Four for the most troubled kids. The problem is that those kids are the most likely to go straight into the workplace. So they get jettisoned into a workplace that frankly doesn’t give a shit about what’s happening at home, or whether they have to pick up their little brother from school.’ His solution is to offer a ‘real world view’ that prepares school leavers for the harsher emotional habitat of work.
Has he been approached as a possible Conservative candidate? ‘I had a tap on the shoulder,’ he says, ‘from a nice guy, one of these behind-the-scenes guys, after I’d had a good outing on Question Time… There was a part of me that was wondering if they’re thinking, “Oh, we could do with one that sounds like him. Ooh, a working-class one, let’s get one of those in the ranks, we’ll push him out there to do statements on universal credit.”’
But he feels he lacks the temperament for politics.
‘I’d only want to do the glory bit. In my mind it’s either me delivering a home-run zinger against the leader of the opposition, or a firebrand speech as a backbencher. And how often do those come around in a political career?’ He wouldn’t relish the humdrum reality of parliamentary life. ‘Sitting in the surgery with someone wanging on about why the council paddling pool’s out of commission.’ And he’d resent the possibility that his career might be terminated by the misconduct of his colleagues.
‘It’s an absurd idea to me that you work your arse off to get [a seat in parliament] and then you lose it because someone couldn’t keep their dick in their pants.’ Clearly he’s thinking of the sleaze allegations that wrecked John Major’s administration in the 1990s. He attended Major’s alma mater, Rutlish School, in south London, and he recalls a visit from the then-prime minister, who came to deliver a pep talk to the boys. He’d expected a ‘shrunken gnome like the Spitting Image puppet’, but he was impressed by Major’s height and athletic presence. ‘He told us, “When I was here, I didn’t work much, I didn’t pass many exams, and now I’m prime minister.”’ This ironic speech went down well with the pupils. ‘But I remember the headmaster giving Major an “oh-thanks-a-lot” look.’
He’s surprisingly upbeat about the Conservatives’ prospects. He believes Labour is misdirecting its energies towards controlling the party rather than using the party to control the country. He evokes a petulant schoolboy ruining a football game. ‘I’ve got the ball. It doesn’t matter if we can never use it. I’ve got it.’ And he doesn’t share the widely held view that Mrs May is fatally wounded. ‘I watched her have her coughing fit [at the party conference in October] and everyone was saying, “The last thing you want is pity.” And I thought, “Why? Why is the last thing you want pity?”
In modern politics people want to feel something, more than anything. That’s true with Trump, true with Brexit. They just want to feel something, and maybe watching this woman who is trying to execute something very difficult, trying to hold together her cabinet, with all these things falling apart around her, I just have a hunch it might play out OK for her.’