Thursday, 23 April 2009

Mark Thomas

We took a rare trip to "Beastly" last night to catch the campaigning comedian Mark Thomas at the Point. He's currently on his "It's The ^Stupid Economy Stupid" tour, with a sideline to promote his recent book about Coca Cola, Belching Out The Devil.

I've watched Mark Thomas on the TV for years, so was wondering what he'd be like in front of a live audience. With non-live TV, there's a lot of scope for post-hoc editing and for careful scripting of jokes. As it turns out, his live performance was largely the same as his appearances on TV. He's a good stand-up comedian, with lightning quick responses to audience feedback.

As it happens, this was especially important in this show which centres around audience participation to generate a manifesto for Thomas to campaign on. Basically, prior to the show, and during its interval, the audience is encouraged to submit manifesto ideas which Thomas then vets and discusses on stage. At the end of the evening, once all of the crazy ideas (some of which were brilliant) have been filtered out, the audience votes on a small subset, the winner from which is one that Thomas then picks up and runs with. Previous shows in this tour have selected ideas such as Thatcher paying for her own state funeral and a FTSE-style league table of MP performance metrics.

After an initial selection of about ten ideas, last night's proposals were whittled down to: 1) solar panels on all new-builds, 2) a maximum wage, and 3) a shortening of the period of time that government material can be held secret for. In the end, maximum wage won out (I actually voted for shortening the secrecy period), and this has been duly added to Thomas' list of proposals for his manifesto. Part of the show dealt with progress Thomas has already made on the proposals selected at other tour dates. On the Thatcher proposal, a downloadable standard letter has been prepared so that individuals can register their outrage (in various comedy fashions) with the Queen. On the MP league table, Thomas has hooked up with the New Economics Foundation to make use of already collated data to produce the tables.

Aside from the manifesto portion of the show, Thomas ranged over a number of campaigns that he's been involved with recently, as well as plugging his new book about Coca Cola. As with his TV show, this translated into a series of "sketches" about his adventures with the police (mostly), politicians and lawyers. Also much as with his TV show, these stories (illustrated by PowerPointed photographs) were quality items, and Thomas did a great job extracting maximum humour from tales of the destruction of his fingerprint record and his appearance in front of a House of Commons Select Committee. What he does especially well, and very playfully, is to use due process to expose absurdities in law or in enforcement agencies. And some of the examples are pretty absurd.

What I'd forgotten about Thomas is how infectious his enthusiasm for justice, fairness and equality is. By the end I was really stoked up by the issues he spoke about. Unfortunately, the decay term for my enthusiasm is dispiritingly high, but judging from the audience reaction, a lot of people left primed for direct action.

1 comment:

Deditos said...

I've seen him quite a bit over the years because he usually does unannounced warm-up gigs for these tours in a hall round the corner from my house. I don't recall seeing him do a bad show, although often not all the material is new. It sounds like there is quite a bit of recycling in his current show, judging by your synopsis. I guess one of the problems of being a campaigning comic is that, if you drop still unresolved topics, you can be accused of using other people's hardship to further your career, rather than being genuinely outraged.

He is a great story-teller live though. And I like that his shows make you feel a small part of a conspiracy, rather than being lamely confrontational like a lot of gag-telling comedians are.