Comedian, journalist and political satirist Mark Thomas rings in at the beginning of his tour of 50 Things About Us – the new show which falls halfway between theatre and stand-up – to discuss his genre of comedy and how love impacts the world of politics, on the day we all learnt of the December general election.
How have the first few gigs gone?
Alright, thank you very much. A gentleman passed out in one of them and we had to call the ambulance. But other than that, they've gone well.
Because your comedy is mostly politically charged, do you find it difficult to keep it light-hearted?
Sometimes you don’t want it to be light-hearted, sometimes you just want to be like, ‘look, this is what it is and we need to deal with this.’ You can play once you’ve done that, but there are times when you don’t need to make it funny. Absurdity and insanity go hand-in-hand with comedy, so you don’t need to be light-hearted about the insanity of where we are as a nation.
What are your opinions on the upcoming UK general election?
The election is the last thing I’ve got to have an opinion on, there’s everything else that’s happened! I think it’s really interesting that all of this isn’t just a singular political event. It is an attack on migrants and foreigners which has gone on for decades, in fact definitely before that. It’s just a new phase. One of the things about Britain is that we’ve got so many different identities here. Rather than celebrating that we’ve decided to penalise it.
50 Things About Us is about national identity, isn’t it?
Yeah, well, the theme is about who we think we are and who we are. Do you know how many inhabited islands make up the British Isles? 136. That doesn’t even include the British independent overseas territories which exist from the Falklands, all the way up the Ascension Island, turning into the West Indies, all the way up to Gibraltar, down to the Indian Ocean and out to the Pitcairn Islands which are to the right of Tasmania. We’re calling out for people to understand and respect our various identities, but we haven’t got a clue where we are, let alone who we are.
How did you come to settle on that theme?
It was just looking at Brexit. I’m a reluctant Remainer, in that I voted Remain because I thought a vote to leave would encourage the far right and spread more racism. So, I couldn’t, with any conscience, vote for Leave. I’m not a particular fan of the EU and not a particular fan of the Remain cause. I think this dreadful tribalism has crept in. I actually don’t belong to any tribe so it’s quite interesting saying, ‘I don’t fit into anywhere.’
Do you think comedy has changed an awful lot since you first started?
For a start, I’ve changed, so the stuff I do has changed. The way in which the circuit works has changed, the amount of money you can make has changed so the career prospect of it has changed. Some of it is for the better and some of it isn’t. Everything changes all the time, that’s the one certainty we’ve got.
Are there any comedians in particular that you enjoy at the moment?
Were you influenced by anyone in particular when you were growing up?
Dave Allen. Just a genius comic. Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrott came out of the folk circuit tradition, but Dave Allen came out of the clubs. He was smart as a whip and really funny. A brilliant storyteller and very political yet would never describe himself so.
To what extend does love infiltrate into your work and field?
Any comic worth their salt, deals in love. Whenever you look at something and go, ‘this is nuts, it shouldn't be like this’, you're saying that there's a better way, that we all deserve better. That means we care. If you see people who have died on a lorry trying to get to this country, just as a problem, a political thing, or as something to make a point on, rather than reaching out and feeling compassion for the sorrow and grief of the loved ones who have lost people… that is incredibly emotional, how can it not be? If you look at the NHS, it was built from the principle that everyone could afford to get care. My grandmother used to talk about how they would save money in a cup to pay for the doctor, and when a child was ill in the family, there was a discussion over whether they were ill enough to call the doctor or whether they should wait until someone was worse. When the NHS works well, it is brilliant, and it’s got loads of reasons to be loved. It has care in its heart. Care is at the centre and is the nearest the state can get to love. I would argue that all of politics is wrapped in how we see each other, how we see the problems that face us, and what we do to actually help who’s most in need and how we organise around that.
50 Things About Us is coming to the North Wall on 25 April 2020 8pm.
Book your tickets here