The Museum Of Comedy, London, 17/03/2019.
Because I’m now a depressingly old man the first time I saw Mark Thomas perform live was over twenty years ago where I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for his tv show The Mark Thomas Product (the show having dropped the word Comedy from the title at this point despite still being very funny) and in a powerful performance Thomas ranted and raved about the fucked up world that we lived in. Two decades on and he’s still a force for good in this universe with his pointedly political shows and books, but in the second of his brand new podcast “Brit-ish” entitled “The Museum Of Stolen Things” he tackled a slightly lighter subject for once.
Not that it was free of a political element, I can’t ever imagine Thomas creating such a thing, and there were still references to Karl Marx, Socialism, the Labour Party in 1997 and how if MP’s want a second job it should be one which the public decide upon (leading to Thomas amusingly commenting that Michael Gove would definitely be given work cleaning toilets) but in this particular podcast he discussed stolen objects, with everyone in the audience told to bring something along that they’ve nicked or they wouldn’t be allowed in. This linked to a larger theme about how the British Museum has stolen cultural artefacts from many countries somewhat outrageously, with Dr Dan Hicks from Oxford University on hand to talk about this, but there was also a lot of discussion about the individual nature of each act of thievery.
So last night in one part of The Museum Of Comedy there were about thirty of us present, and having not seen the items previously an assistant came up throughout the show to offer Mark a new stolen item to discuss, with the audience member in question briefly explaining why they’d stolen the item and then Mark asked questions and riffed upon the audience’s stories, sometimes then chatting about them briefly with Dr Dan. The best stolen items included a sign from the Ministry of Defence, a woman who’d nicked a huge amount of lighters despite not being a smoker and having any use for them at all, an eleven year old boy’s collection of things he’d stolen from his friends, an order of the druids painting, a copy of one of Mark’s books, a cocktail glass and a sellotape dispenser, which may not sound that fascinating but the stories behind them were, and Thomas generated a lot of laughs from his random thoughts about them.
As with anything which involves a lot of audience interaction there were a few blander moments, and some people tended to like the sound of their own voices a little bit too much, but Thomas was normally able to create an interesting discussion out of something dull or just moved proceedings on quickly. He managed to sound genuinely interested in some of the blander pieces of theft too, and when it was something a bit odd (someone had just taken some sugar and salt from McDonald’s as well as a flower from the nearby Bloomsbury Square) he impressively made it funny stuff whereas other comedians might just have mocked the laziness of the pilfering.
The only real downsides were that Mark had us all arrested at the end of the night (fine, fine, that didn’t that actually happen) and at two hours and twenty minutes without a break it went on for a little too long. But I imagine the finished podcast will be edited down so that a couple of the more humdrum parts will be shorter and sharper, and otherwise it was a very different and quite unique night out, and also a very funny and fascinating one which suggests that this podcast will be an essential listen.
Mark’s Official Site.