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Culture, Comedy

Mark Thomas: Black and White

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Mark Thomas

Variously described as ‘the political godfather of UK comedy’ and ‘one of our oldest surviving alternative comics’, Mark Thomas is back in Oxford at the North Wall Arts Centre this month, doing what he does best.

What can we expect from the Black and White Tour? 

Lots of laughter, singsongs, mucking about, questions, quizzes and… just an attack on the class system and the way the economy is designed and a call that Boris Johnson should actually be permanently hung from a zip wire.

I like the way you say, ‘just an attack on the class system’. I think the Oxford audiences are a tough crowd, what do you make of them?

I often take the piss out of the audience at Oxford just because you know, you put a couple of classical Greek references in, make a gag about it and then tell the audience off for being one of the few places that can go ‘oh very good you got in classical references, we do appreciate that’.

We love that flattery.

It’s not quite flattering, the way I do it. 

I can imagine. 

The thing about audiences in Oxford is you can’t just say Oxford equals one audience. I remember doing gigs in Oxford years ago for Persimmon Press – you know Maxwell and the pensions and all that. Actually, North Wall is a good gig and Pegasus Theatre is a lovely gig. You’re spoiled for choice. 

I read something where you were reflecting on the walk you did along the wall between Palestine and Israel and you quoted Juliano Mer Khamis, the Israeli-Palestinian actor and director, saying ‘art is my weapon’. I was thinking about humour being your weapon…

I was doing a set last night and I said a gag about Liz Truss. When you [make that sort of joke] it is implicit that we deserve better. That’s the punch. For me, it’s always been political. Everything is political, but people ask me what came first the comedy or the ideas? You would never ask that of Jim Davidson; which is first, the comedy or the racism?

You’ve been on the circuit for years. How does your comedy translate with each new generation? 

I was made a doctor recently [Mark was awarded Honorary Doctor of Arts by the University of Kent]. Did you see the speech? You've got all the students going bloody nuts. I might not have same cultural references of clubs or bands or memes, but we've still got the same political and societal references.

Do you think our idea of class has changed?

Class has always related to money. There are other parts and dimensions to it, but the fact is we have 40% of people claiming universal credit in full time employment. I think what’s really interesting is people are becoming more aware of class and defining themselves as working class in far more profound ways. People in precarious employment are unionising, which is thrilling whether its McDonalds workers, Deliveroo drivers, sex workers – these are supposedly the isolated atomised work force – whatever, it’s absolutely thrilling to see this degree of activity.

I’m thrilled by Black Lives Matter; I’m thrilled by Extinction Rebellion – I find these movements brilliant. I find incredible strength in these things, like the Kill the Bill movement. I think the fact we have this growing awareness of trans issues, the fact that they have always been here but now they are present; I was having a chat with this young trans person who was serving coffee and I said you’re winning just by the very fact of being. We all have the right to happiness and the right to have a life without stress and worry and pain. 

Where do you find hope?

I think just the fact that we have communities is important. I’m an AFC Wimbledon supporter. Twenty-odd years ago Wimbledon had their club sold by the guy who owned the ground. Local people decided that this was still part of their community, and they formed AFC Wimbledon, a fan-owned club. We won Community Football Club of the Year from the English Football League for all the food collections we do, all the stuff we do with computers for schools, disability sports, pensioners access days – all of that that goes on within the club. These things are important; it’s the glue that holds us together. We got a choice we can either get out there and fight for our community or we can roll over. 

Mark Thomas: Black and White

Oxford North Walls Arts - 27-28 September

markthomasinfo.co.uk / thenorthwall.com

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