A Titanic success: how Boris Johnson inspired my viral Brexit satire

Josh Pappenheim’s short film based on the blockbuster features Cameron, Johnson and Gove as the doomed ship’s crew

When the satirist Armando Iannucci was asked if he would make a Brexit version of his show The Thick Of It, he replied that there was no point, such was the absurdity of the reality.

Yet political satire still has its place – a fact that was underlined last week when an online comedy short sending up Brexit became a viral hit, racking up more than 10 million views.

Using footage from the 1997 Hollywood film Titanic, the sketch follows the demise of the passenger liner, this time captained by David Cameron with officers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and an impassive Jeremy Corbyn, who plays the violin as the vessel goes down.

Its creator, Josh Pappenheim, 29, said the inspiration was a gift from Johnson who, when foreign secretary, said: “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a Titanic success of it.”

Given the task of creating shorts that could “join bigger conversations”, Pappenheim, a writer and producer who was then working for the UK arm of US TV channel Comedy Central, said: “There was no bigger conversation than Brexit and as soon as Johnson said Titanic, he’d written the joke for us: it’s a perfect metaphor.”

Many agree. More than 3.3 million had already watched it on the Comedy Central UK site and last Wednesday a tweet kickstarted a viral spread that has so far attracted an additional four million views. When views from other platforms are counted, Brexit: A Titanic Disaster has collectively been watched more than 10 million times.

Yet despite its current popularity, the sketch, which took just a few days to put together, was actually launched 16 months ago, and Johnson made the original remark earlier still, in November 2016. “The fact is that it’s still relevant, probably more so now than ever,” said Pappenheim, who also credited the short's editor, Jack Hextall.

He said his favourite character from the short was Johnson, who at one point pretends to be a child so he can grab a place on a lifeboat.

Asked whether it was difficult to depict Corbyn dutifully playing his instrument as the deck disappears beneath the waves, Pappenheim said: “Choosing Corbyn for that role was easy.”

Brexit: A Titanic Disaster


Mark Townsend

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Brexit minister’s shock resignation leaves Boris Johnson reeling
Lord Frost’s frustrated exit is yet another blow for PM struggling for control of his government

Michael Savage and Toby Helm

18, Dec, 2021 @9:37 PM

Article image
Michel Barnier: blame Boris Johnson for a no-deal Brexit
EU’s chief negotiator issues warning to UK government as talks appear on brink of collapse

Jon Henley, Toby Helm and Michael Savage

05, Oct, 2019 @7:11 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson threatens to hold back Brexit ‘divorce’ payment to force a deal
Pledge comes as James Brokenshire backs former foreign secretary, while Ruth Davidson endorses Sajid Javid

David Connett

09, Jun, 2019 @8:19 AM

Article image
No-deal fears rise as Boris Johnson 'least willing to budge on Brexit'
The prime minister remains determined not to compromise over the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, say senior Whitehall sources

Michael Savage

15, Nov, 2020 @7:45 AM

Article image
Boris Johnson ‘whipping up riot fears to avoid Brexit extension’
Labour claims that PM is aiming to invoke emergency powers using the Civil Contingencies Act

Toby Helm and Michael Savage

28, Sep, 2019 @7:01 PM

Article image
Stop Boris Johnson campaign launched by Tory moderates opposed to no-deal Brexit
Former foreign secretary attacked as dishonest by leadership candidate Rory Stewart

Michael Savage, Jamie Doward and Toby Helm

25, May, 2019 @7:00 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson threatens Rishi Sunak’s bid to end deadlock over Brexit
Ex-PM will fight to save Northern Ireland protocol bill – while Labour vows to support No 10 if it can reach deal with EU

Michael Savage and Patrick Wintour

18, Feb, 2023 @10:00 PM

Article image
Q&A: Can Boris Johnson really force through a no-deal Brexit?
The Observer’s political editor looks at the options for the prime minister, parliament and the British people

Toby Helm

28, Jul, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Boris Johnson under pressure to avoid no-deal Brexit after Biden victory
Whitehall fears that failure to strike a deal with the EU would threaten the special relationship

Toby Helm, Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Lisa O'Carroll

08, Nov, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Boris Johnson ‘is turning security into Brexit trade talks bargaining chip’
UK government rejects ‘clunky institutional framework’ for foreign policy cooperation

Daniel Boffey and Mark Townsend

01, Mar, 2020 @9:15 AM