Interview: Mark Thomas

mark thomas interview indexMark Thomas has been one of Britain’s greatest and most critically acclaimed comedians for well over three decades now, but more impressively than that is the myriad of important causes he’s highlighted and helped, from human rights violations to the state of the NHS, the corruption of major political figures and the depressingly disgraceful behaviour of major corporations, and though much of this has been bleak to learn he’s always managed to make it pointedly funny stuff. Winner of many an award and praised by pretty much every publication you can imagine, we’re extremely fortunate to have been given the chance to interview Mark via email, and here he talks about the forthcoming shows that are being live streamed in aid of the Trussel Trust, the podcasts he’s currently working on, his experiences making the Mark Thomas Comedy Product, and his thoughts on the way the Government has handled the pandemic, including how he believes Boris Johnson is a man-baby-Brexit-clown who is excellent at plotting but has no inclination to work or be prepared.

Comedy To Watch: You’ve raised a fantastic amount of money due to your involvement with GoFasterStripe, but how did live streaming your shows come about in the first place?

Mark: I chatted to Chris at Go Faster Stripe, lovely man who I have known for years, I asked him if we could do the NHS show as a download to raise money for the TT. Once it kicked off, I asked if we could get other comics on board and Chris was on for it. Basically I thought of the idea and Chris did all the leg work organising other comics to offer their work for a donation to the TT. Salut! to all the comics who did that. Why chose to get donations for the download? Well it was the only we could do it remotely.

I draw a clear distinction between the fund raising for Trussell Trust and the Lockdown Livestream shows. The Lockdown Live shows are to keep the team together, to keep talking and working with friends and theatres, to get everyone, including me, a bit of cash AND try and create a fun, cheap, distinct night out. Having a BSL interpreter for the live chat and captions for the show become very important for us to do. We had to do this right.

I love the chat on YouTube and the Q and As at the end of the show. Last one we did we had my comedy comrades Alaa and Faisal from Showtime From The Frontline linking up from Palestine. Man I was buzzing when we finished. I have very good friends who will natter with me until 2am in the morning.

CTW: And what was it about the Trussell Trust that made you want to support the charity?

Mark: As soon as the stores started to run out of stuff you just knew that those with least were going to get even less. It is madness that we should see food poverty now. Utter madness.

CTW: The next show you’ll be introducing is Serious Organised Criminal, how would you sell the show to someone somehow previously unaware of your work?

Mark: All my work is based on ‘going away, having an adventure, coming back and telling the story”. This show is me showing how a bit of creativity can be used in imaginative and effect ways to play with bad laws.

If people don’t know my work jump in and give it a go. Some of you won’t like it but it is my stuff and my style. Having said that , I love this show and it is funny as hell!

CTW: And is this the final show, or do you hope to stream others in the future?

Mark: There are plans to do more. Some surprises too.

CTW: You’ve also recently begun creating a new podcast, The Things About Us, can you tell us more about it, and your plans for it?

Mark: The podcast is out and about. It was done because I became obsessed with how our country got to thinking it was ‘exceptional’ about Britain was different and better than everywhere else buy virtue of being born on a rainy island. This was my attempt at working out who we think we are.

CTW: How has the lockdown been for you, and do you think it’ll change the way you approach comedy in the future?

Mark: I have spent the lockdown with my 84 year old mum and so I have been her carer for much of this. Cook, chef and bottle washer. I have tried to put work in between these duties. I have hated not gigging. And I have proper jags about not working live. But I have enjoyed doing a weekly column for The London Economic. I have enjoyed the lockdown live. I am working on a new podcast with the Welcome Archive called Mark Thomas: What’s Up Doc? There is a lot to do but I really miss the live stuff. Ha it changed the way I will work. Yes, I think it has. It has made me think more about comedy communities and how important they are. Not just friends but audiences. I definitely think I will do more stuff online when this is done.

And when we can gig again…I am definitely going to save some money for the next time this happens.

CTW: And how do you feel about the way the Government has handled the pandemic?

Mark: The results speak for themselves. Johnson is a man-baby-Brexit-clown. He is excellent at plotting but has no inclination to work or be prepared. We were under prepared. We have worked at being under prepared for 15 years. From under funding the NHS, depleting and not bothering with PPE which was totally neglected, to running down local public health services. We did nearly everything wrong. Because we believed that what happened in Italy couldn’t happen to us, we were special, exceptional.

We went into lockdown at least a week too late. Cheltenham and Liverpool Atheltico helped spread the virus.

Test and Trace wasn’t even planned for initially. AND it still doesn’t work! The testing and tracing has been a disaster. Too little too late and an undermined service to deliver it.

The use of private sector for the tests is pathetic.

Not including loss of sense of smell and taste as part of the symptoms caused more problems.

The briefings were a joke, more concerned with managing the PR rather than sharing a truth and a community plan where we all knew the data and could see and understand the decisions.

Care homes were a fucking disgrace.

Cummings; Fucked the lockdown. Saving him the government lost credibility and trust and Bournemouth beach bears this out. Worst thing he could have done.
Messaging was shite. No one understood exactly what was going on.

Cabinet 2nd rate bunch of chancers and brevity sociopaths.

I would give Johnson 2/10 but only because I want to appear reasonable.

CTW: We were big fans of The Mark Thomas Comedy Product (and were fortunate to see it recorded in Balham). What were your fondest memories of making the show?

Mark: Hah. That lovely old warhorse! We did have some top times with it. I think the things we changed were probably my favourite bits, the Yusafeli dam project and AMEC, exposing corruption within the ECGD, getting Nestle to change their packaging, changing the lawn tax. All those things were great fun. If I had to compile a top 5 – 1) pretending to be a PR company at an arms fair to help arms dealers with their PR problems. 2) Building an ice dam in the corporate headquarters of AMEC and then abandoning it 3) The Conditionally Exempt works of art playing about was great fun. 4) Flying a hotter balloon over a secret US spy base in Yorkshire to film from above. 5) Having the blueprints for GCHQ as a backdrop for an entire series and then asking the government and the D Notice committee if it was OK in retrospect.

CTW: Was there ever anything that Channel 4 wouldn’t allow you to do?

Mark: Man I have not got room to round down all the things. Most stuff they were good with and the lawyers there were excellent. But they would not let me take a teddy bear to Iraq to show how the UN sanctions were really hurting ordinary Iraqis. The bear would have been illegal to take and all that but what a court case…

CTW: Which other comedy series do you like?

Mark: The Revolution Will Be Televised was great fun and I like Jolyon and Heydon. There is lots of good stuff out there Man like Mobeen is fabulous, This Country is amazing. Very different from my stuff yes but brilliantly done.

CTW: What one piece of underrated comedy do you wish more people knew about?

Mark: I really like comics like Shazia Mirza, Bridget Christie, Josie Long , Johnnie and the Baptists there are some great great comics working and these ones are well known. I would urge people when this is all over go to clubs, take a chance and try something you don’t know about.

CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?

Mark: Why did you burn so many bridges with TV companies, publishers, agents and sometimes friends? I like the smell of woodsmoke.

Related Links:
You can watch the live stream of Serious Organised Criminal on July 9th for just £5, with Mark introducing and hosting a Q&A afterwards, and tickets can be bought here.
You can find out more about The Trussell Trust here.
While you can check out Mark’s Official Site here.

Alex Finch. Photograph (c) Steve Ullathorne.
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