He showered Fifa supremo Sepp Blatter with cash, handed Theresa May a P45 during a memorably calamitous conference speech, joined a headlining Kanye West onstage at Glastonbury and drove a pre-president Trump mad as he launched his new course at Turnberry. All in a day’s work for prankster number one Simon Brodkin.
Best known on the stand-up circuit as his happy-go-lucky chav character Lee Nelson, for the last few years Brodkin has specialised in bringing the mighty and powerful down a peg or two.
Pranks started small. Lee Nelson was arrested after stealing a copy of his own DVD from HMV. In 2013, as spoof footballer Jason Bent, Brodkin sneaked on to the pitch to join the Manchester City squad as they trained at Goodison Park. The following year he got the call-up – or at least he pretended he did – mingling with the England squad at London Luton Airport before the team flew out to the World Cup in Brazil.
But then his targets became a little less benign.
“You want to be punching up otherwise it’s not funny,” Brodkin says. “A good sign of whether something’s a valid target is whether they would actually be affected by your stunt. If they’re such a monstrosity or unstoppable thing and no matter what you do [they] keep ploughing ahead… Targeting the likes of Philip Green, you just have to look at what he’s done and how he’s affected people’s lives. You go, yip, he’s valid.”
— 100% Simon Brodkin (@simonbrodkin) July 23, 2019
Brodkin piloted a speedboat that attached a banner to Green’s superyacht in Monaco changing the name from ‘Lionheart’ to ‘BHS Destroyer’.
When it’s near impossible to hold the rich and powerful to account for their actions, is pranking them the way we enact justice?
“It hits a chord and they’re valid targets,” Brodkin says. “I’m not a political protester, I’m a comedian but I think the perfect stunts are where these things collide.”
In June 2016, Brodkin set his sights on his biggest target yet. Donald Trump was running for office, but also running his vast global business empire. Brodkin snuck into the relaunch of his Turnberry resort and rolled dozens of Swastika-emblazoned golf balls around Trump’s feet.
The stunt, of course, didn’t change the subsequent election result, so what was Brodkin’s aim?
“The aim was to get on the golf course close enough to one of the most protected men in the world and secondly not to get shot,” he says.
“It’s to make people laugh, isn’t it?” Brodkin continues. “Otherwise I might as well hold a placard saying what I think politically. Yes, it becomes political when you go for politicians but it’s not a political act in its own right.”
In a world where Trump is President and, oh my, the thought of writing these words for the first time: Boris Johnson is Prime Minister; it feels like we are all the victims of a big giant prankster.
“I don’t think they’re doing it first and foremost for laughs,” Brodkin says.
After his Trump stunt, things got very serious. Leader of the KKK David Duke outed Brodkin as Jewish online.
There are still people who care about the colour of people’s skin. It baffles me that this is still an issue in 2019.
“To be honest, I already knew,” Brodkin deadpans. “He put three brackets around my name. That is their secret signal. If you’re going to get hate you might as well go to the top. It might as well come from the head of the organisation.
“The torrent of abuse that came my way, just awful antisemitic stuff, ‘gas the Jew Brodkin’, that kind of thing – which is a slightly less secretive way of letting the world know you’re Jewish.
“The hate elicited was really interesting and pertinent to what is going on. It pervades so many aspects – the anger out there, the mistrust and vitriol online.
“People who have something wrong with how they view the world, something a little screwy with their brain, they see religion, ethnicity. There are still people who care about the colour of people’s skin. It baffles me that this is still an issue in 2019. You’d hope as humans we’d have gotten over that by now.
“The devastating thing is it seems to be a growing issue. It is deeply sad these divisions are being reignited and stoked and growing.”
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
The good news is that Brodkin is able to laugh about it all, and make audiences laugh too. Unsheathed of his characters for the first time, he is taking to the stage as himself, tackling the big issues he cares about such as antisemitism in the Labour party, the NHS (Brodkin used to be a doctor) and, of course, what it’s like to be targeted by a Grand Wizard.
“Out of that I’ve come up with a big part of my Edinburgh show,” Brodkin says. “So David Duke, thank you very much.”
100% Simon Brodkin is at the Pleasance Baby Grand from July 31-August 24;