Simon Brodkin: why I chose to prank Britain's Got Talent
"By getting through as a ridiculous contestant, I was trying to highlight that while Britain does indeed have talent, you certainly don’t need it to progress on that programme"
My name’s Simon Brodkin. I used to be a medical doctor but now I play pranks on people. My mother is so proud.
In the past, I’ve joined the England football team as they flew to the World Cup, rapped with Kanye West at Glastonbury, and thrown hundreds of dollars over Sepp Blatter.
So why the hell would a comedian want to spend their time doing that? Have I not heard of Mock The Week? Or if pranks are what I’m after, why not disguise myself as a bush and jump out at unsuspecting members of the public?
Well, until recently, I could claim that it was just a self-funded hobby. All for my own amusement and the odd day out in court. But then last year Channel 4 asked if their cameras could follow my every move, as I planned and executed my stunts. And their first question was, “why do you do them?”
First and foremost, I’m a comedian – best known for my dimwitted alter ego Lee Nelson - and doing stunts is a way of making people laugh. Secondly, and increasingly importantly, I care about what's going on around me. It strikes me there are are people, companies and institutions that could do with being brought back down to earth a little bit. Targets who if I burst their bubble, may well result in me receiving a few high-fives. So, why not ruffle a few of those highly preened feathers?
Of course, there’s no such thing as a new idea. Think of Chris Morris getting celebrities to condemn the new (imaginary) drug ‘cake’, or Sacha Baron Cohen asking politicians whether they used to get caned at school. But whatever the starting point, pranking those in the public eye tends to have the same aim: to dent the credibility of those who are most deserving.
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I don’t randomly select people to target. A great deal of thought goes into who I want to prank and whether I can justify pranking them. They are people who act as if they are untouchable - the rich and infamous, the great and not so good. They are always big, always powerful. I would never pick on the little guy – that would be bullying.
Simon Brodkin on Britain's Greatest Hoaxer
So why, for this show, did I target Sir Philip Green, Simon Cowell on Britain’s Got Talent and Donald Trump? Well, Green’s handling of BHS and Trump’s demagoguery make both choices straightforward. By comparison Britain’s Got Talent is definitely is a less virtuous target, but by getting through as a ridiculous contestant, I was trying to highlight that while Britain does indeed have talent, you certainly don’t need it to progress on that programme. Indeed I recently wondered whether Honey G had stolen my thunder.
Of course there’s always the hope that my stunts could even make a real difference. But then again… Philip Green hasn’t put a penny back into the BHS pension fund and is still Sir Philip Green. Simon Cowell’s about to kick off an 11th series of Britain’s Got Talent. And Donald Trump’s just become leader of the free world.
So it’s safe to say I’ve made absolutely no difference whatsoever. But that’s because very little does. Especially when it comes to the rich and the famous, the big and the powerful.
In fact maybe that should be the acid test as to who’s a valid target. If they’re unlikely to be affected in any way by a stunt, then they’re definitely worth stunting.
But did I make people laugh? I’ll find out when the show goes out on 7th February. Was there any point? I think so. But you may well disagree.
So comedy probably doesn’t change the world but at least I got to have fun trying. And I hope you’ll have fun watching me trying to try. Until then, I might just get that bush disguise out.
Britain’s Greatest Hoaxer’ is on Channel 4’ Fake News Week at 10pm on 7th Feb. Simon is also on a UK stand-up tour as Lee Nelson with from 22nd Feb.