Rich Peppiatt, a former journalist at the Daily Star, talks to The Journalism Foundation about his popular Edinburgh Festival show. For the performance, the former tabloid journalist turned his investigative skills on former employers, doorstepping senior executives to give them a taste of their own medicine. As the show prepares to tour the country, Peppiatt talks about what motivated his move into comedy.
It’s fair to say that 18 or so months ago when I publicly resigned as a reporter from the Daily Star I never imagined I’d end up on stage performing a comedy show at the Edinburgh Festival. But then neither did I imagine Britain’s biggest selling tabloid would close, or a public inquiry would lay bare the fetid underbelly of my former industry, or that for the first time ever there would exist a public appetite to peer behind Fleet Street’s headlines.
My show One Rogue Reporter has been an attempt to volley back some of the aggression exhibited by the tabloids at those who have spoken out against them. It is also a reaction to the refusal by those who have brought the industry to the cliff face – the tabloid executives themselves – to play a serious part in the public dialogue over where the line should lie between public interest, privacy and freedom of speech.The vast majority of debating panels on which I’ve sat have struggled for tabloid representation, and when the likes of Paul Dacre have spoken, it is in the form of stroppy diatribes, certainly with no allowance for rebuttals and questions.
But while it is beyond my powers to force them to be active participants, it is beyond their powers to stop themselves being used as passive ones. And so I set out earlier this year to use tabloid editors and executives as the crash test dummies for a comic exploration of what is acceptable journalistic behaviour.
To achieve this I sometimes took things a step beyond what some would consider reasonable in order to provoke the audience into reflecting just where, for them, the line lies. It feels to me that tabloids have for many years got away with some appalling behavior precisely because the public have allowed the ethical line to be prescribed for them by organisations with a commercial interest in setting it as low as possible.
It is also a show about power, or more precisely the mirage of power. Tabloid editors are recognised by society as powerful individuals. Ask any celebrity or politician. But power is a matter of perspective. For someone like me, who has already hit the eject button on this tabloid career, who is not famous or newsworthy, their power is redundant. When confronted, alone, and forced to operate off the back foot they in fact appear desperately vulnerable. I almost felt sorry for them. Almost.
I can give the show a serious philosophical underpinning, but I appreciate some will see it simply as an act of eye-for-an-eye vengeance, albeit a satisfying vengeance against some richly deserving targets. There is truth in that interpretation too – which is why the person who suffers the show’s most brutal assassination is me, myself and I. The first part of the show is dedicated to my failure to be a journalist in anything but name. It is a necessary existential dissection. No one wants to be lectured about press ethics by a washed-up Daily Star hack (and certainly not pay for the privilege…) and it is only by positioning myself as lowly as possible that I earn the right to make some serious points amid the comedic terrorising of Fleet Street’s great and not-so-good.
What I love about live performance is the unpredictability. One night I had a crowd literally baying for me to show them a video of a newspaper executive in flagrante, then the next night a (inebriated) woman stood up from the third row to tell me I was “a c**t like the rest of them”.
“That is true, Ma’am,” I responded, “but at least I’m now a c**t facing the right way”.
One Rogue Reporter will be touring. Dates to be announced. see oneroguereporter.com