The QT

Monday 17 June 2024

Conspiring to find if the truth is out there

Dom Joly has been on international manoeuvres again and he’s now travelling the UK reporting back from the conspiracy theory frontline. Sam Wonfor talked to him. Or did she?
Dom Joly will be examining conspiracy theories on stage in the North East

If I had the mind of a conspiracy theorist, I may have tabled the notion among trusted and similarly paranoid pals that unseen forces were in play, doing everything they could to scupper my interview with Dom Joly.

Exhibit A: The copy of the comedian, broadcaster, film-maker and author’s latest book his publicist had kindly sent me two weeks before our scheduled chat was left on my doorstep just 90 minutes before our interview. 

Apparently a neighbour had forgotten they’d taken delivery of it. A likely story.

Exhibit B: As Dom dialled into the Zoom meeting I’d booked, I suddenly realised the record button which has been present and correct on my Zoom dashboard since April 2020 was nowhere to be seen. The work of Bill Gates, I wouldn’t wonder.

What Bill and his pals hadn’t planned for though, was the thoroughly helpful nature of my interview subject, who quickly offered to record the chat at his end and send me the sound file afterwards.

In your face, Gates.

My chat with Dom had been booked ahead of the North East dates of his Conspiracy Tour — which itself had been booked in support of the aforementioned book, The Conspiracy Tourist: Travels Through a Strange World.

From what I’ve learned, it seems to be that if you’re into one, you tend to drift. You tend to sort of be a believer in a lot of them,

Dom Joly

In it, the 56-year-old, who first found fame alongside a massive mobile phone on Trigger Happy TV at the turn of the 21st century, makes his way around various international locations, meeting people who have signed up to a variety of conspiracy theories.

“Conspiracies used to be quite fun, harmless stuff like ‘did we land on the moon?’, Bigfoots and that kind of stuff,” he says.

“But recently, conspiracy theories have kind of hit the mainstream, and have become quite dangerous in places. 

“The problem is in the past, whatever you disagreed with, we all kind of agreed on a basic truth,” he continues. 

“And I think what’s changed now is we can all have our own truths. And that’s really scary, especially with the advent of AI and things like that… I guess I really wanted to find out if there were people who truly believed in all this conspiracy stuff, or whether they were just doing it for clicks.”

Cue a research trip taking in places such as Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Glastonbury, Newfoundland and Finland —  the last of which was the first theory to be tested.

Dom says: “I found this amazing diagram which this student had done in Holland and it basically was a pyramid of conspiracies starting at the bottom with ones that might be true, and then kind of gradually getting more and more absolutely insane till you end up with a sort of satanic paedophiles and anti-semitic stuff at the top.

“The first one I saw on there was one that said ‘Finland does not exist’. Apparently it started on a Reddit thread as a joke — the theory being that in 1917, Russia and Japan, conspired to invent a country called Finland because they wanted the fishing rights to the sea there. 

“So I flew to Finland for three days to try and prove that it existed, which actually is harder than you might imagine, if you’ve got a conspiracy head on. 

“You land there, and say, ‘Where am I?’ – the passport guy says ‘you’re in Finland’… and I go, ‘but am I?’ and he goes, ‘Yes you are’. Then I go, ‘well, can you prove it?’ And he goes, ‘well look at your map on your phone’.Then I say ‘I mean, yeah, but who’s controlling the map…?’

“Then you realise that if you’ve got that mentality where you don’t trust anything, it’s very easy to go down those rabbit holes.”

Dom Joly is coming to The Customs House in South Shields and The Forum in Billingham

And then there’s the metaphorical carrots being served up by a network of algorithms, intent on keeping believers believing.

“I set up a fake Instagram page as a conspiracist and followed the usual suspects,” says Dom.

“The moment the algorithms spot that you’re interested, you just get inundated with this stuff. Consequently, my real Instagram page and the fake one might as well be in completely different universes, and that’s very frightening.

If you have anyone in your family, or friends that are showing an interest in crystals, they need to watch out. 

Dom Joly

“Social media can’t cope with nuance or any kind of fence sitting,” he continues. “You have to be sure, one side or the other. And in the end, you’re forced to join a team. And you just support whatever rubbish or truth your team is putting out.”

In the course of his travels, Dom met followers of QAnon, hunted for UFOs in Roswell, chased Alex Jones of InfoWars around Austin and took a flat-earther to the edge of the world.

I wondered whether he found that someone who puts their faith in one conspiracy theory is likely to follow another… or if someone who believes the world is flat looks with scorn on someone who refuses to believe in the existence of Finland.

“From what I’ve learned, it seems to be that if you’re into one, you tend to drift. You tend to sort of be a believer in a lot of them,” he says. 

“There was also a really interesting crossover Venn diagram between people that believed in conspiracies, and kind of New Age hippie stuff. So my joke is, if you have anyone in your family, or friends that are showing an interest in crystals, they need to watch out. 

“That’s a kind of gateway drug. Before you know it, they’ll be flat earthers.”

Dom is keen to point out that he’s not floating around on a Pollyanna cloud believing everyone in positions of power are doing their best for the common good.

“No-one’s saying that governments and corporations haven’t done bad things, but those are often crimes, not conspiracies,” he says.

“This idea that there’s this hidden hand, a deep state controlling everything has become more widespread. And it’s enticing because that idea offers a kind of order and a logic and also gives a feeling of power, you have the secret knowledge…”

Trigger Happy TV legacy: Dom still has people shouting ‘HELLO!’ at him in the street

And so we come to the live show element to this project, which will be at The Customs House in South Shields on March 14 and then Billingham Forum on March 21.

Exploring theories on whether Bill Gates is using vaccines to take control of our minds;  questioning if Denver Airport really is a massive panic room for the Illuminati; and wondering what the chance of UFOs being piloted by lizards… it’s fair to say there’s a lot to get through.

“It’s kind of how I do it. I write a book and then I tour it,” he says, “I do this thing called extreme powerpoint, which allows me to show all the photos and videos I’ve taken on my travels.

“My last book, when I walked across Lebanon (The Hezbollah Hiking Club), the whole show was about that.

The problem is in the past, whatever you disagreed with, we all kind of agreed on a basic truth

Dom Joly

“This one is different. The first half is about conspiracies, but because it’s such a controversial subject, I’ve invited one of Britain’s leading conspiracists Dr Julian Northcott to join me for the second half and I’m going to debate him.”

He sounds like quite the character.

“He wrote a book called Cows Britain’s Secret Killers in which he thinks 16,000 Ramblers a year are murdered by cows, and it’s all covered up by big farmers,” says Dom, maintaining a poker straight face. “I think it’s going to be quite tasty.”


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