Topical political comedy can’t be the easiest of paths to be persuing in the current climate. With elections sprung from thin air, and the results seemingly just as unpredictable, it’s inevitably rendering jokes and even whole routines completely redundant. Mark Thomas, the man behind the long running “brilliantly ridiculous alternative to watchdog” Mark Thomas Comedy Product, and long-time stand-up comedian is no stranger to this unpredictability.
“Stand up, which is where I started, has always reacted to events in a very topical way.” Mark observes as we talk shortly after the general election result. “I was a founder member of cutting edge comedy show at the Comedy Store back in 1990 which was completely about topical comedy and political change. So reacting to unforeseen ain’t new to many of us.”
When asked how he deals with such unpredictability he has an obvious answer. “I wrote a show about it”. That show, Mark Thomas: A Show that Gambles on the Future, sets out to discover what the future has in store for us all by collecting and examining both his own predictions and those of his audiences, before gambling on their outcome. It feels completely perfect for this particular time. I ask if anything has surprised him with it’s accuracy? It turns out it has. “In every show leading up to the election, at least one person predicted a hung parliament”.
Mark is a self proclaimed ‘libertarian anarchist” and it’s clear that the last few years have not panned out as those of us with left leaning politics had perhaps hoped. Keeping a positive outlook is particularly challenging right now. “There is a profound mixture of rage, sorrow and optimism at large” Says Mark “but when you mention positive spin I think May’s depletion politically is positive, forcing Hammond to stop the NHS England charging women from NI for terminations in England is positive, no grammar schools is positive, no dementia tax is positive, potentially lifting the public sector wage cap is positive. Corbyn building a movement in the face of unrelenting smears is positive. A Labour manifesto which was hugely popular is positive. A feeling of hope, a visceral feeling of hope stalks us and it is mixed with rage and sorrow. We live with all of these feelings.”
Between The Comedy Product, Numerous Dispatches documentaries, his books and numerous other TV and radio appearances mark has spent twenty years taking on the establishment. His achievements in this regard are quantifiable, but I ask if there’s anything he regrets doing, or anyone he regrets taking on? “Yes, I regret I didn’t manage to win the fights I should have won but lost with Channel 4. I regret that I acquiesced to doing too many series (of The Mark Thomas Comedy Product) when we needed time to recoup and research. I regret some editorial decisions that were made, but by and large I can live with the vast majority of what the team and I did on the show. We changed UK law, we changed multinationals corporate practices, we got admissions of wrong doing, torture and corruption on a comedy show. That is not too fucking shabby.”
It really isn’t.