Exposed Meets Mark Thomas – On The Mark
Mark Thomas is committing 100 acts of minor dissent in a year. If he fails? He’s pledged to donate £1000 to UKIP. That’s one hell of a motivator for the comedian and activist, who’s completed 44 of these acts when I speak to him.
“We did an LGBT gig outside the Russian consulate,” he enthuses. “Five or six hundred people showed up and we had bicycle-powered generators.” Mark’s commitment to grassroots activism sets him apart from even the most stridently political stand-ups, and for him comedy and activism go hand in hand. This is a man who recently ran around Hyde Park in a wolf costume in a giant game of What’s The Time Mr Wolf? Not out of boredom, but in protest to the Royal Parks’ unchecked decision to start charging for certain sporting activities. “We’re still fighting them in court,” explains Mark. “I should stop landing people in court cases!”
Most of these tiny acts of rebellion have no such legal ramifications, so I wonder whether Mark sees value in mischief for mischief’s sake. “Mischief’s good for the soul,” he explains, telling me the story of a date-pitter – as in someone whose job was to remove the stones from dates. “She’d stuff the dates with messages, and was caught when someone bit into one and found that she’d scrawled: ‘Help I’m going out of my f***ing mind.’”
“Nothing happens without dissent,” he tells me. “Every change in the law comes about when someone says No.” His 100 Acts of Minor Dissent show comes to the City Hall on December 1, where he’ll regale us with tales of mayhem and hopefully get a few more ideas for future antics. “I tend to think them up with mates or sometimes on stage. It’s very much a joint project.” This collaborative and inclusive spirit runs through Mark’s work; he recently published The People’s Manifesto – made up of policies suggested and voted for by his audiences. This led to the campaign: Are Atos Fit For Work? So far hundreds of respondents have reported their hugely negative and unfair experiences of Atos’ fitness-for-work assessments. “We’re giving it to academics to unpack the results which we’ll then present to a select committee,” says Mark. “It’s quite exciting!”
This collaboration extends to Mark working with a range of artists, and should he complete his 100 acts by the time May comes around – and let’s hope for all our sakes that he does – he’ll put the artwork on display here in Sheffield. Why here? “The city of dissent!” Mark exclaims. “It was a very conscious decision.” I realise now I should have said “no it’s not,” but that’s why he’s the comedian and not me.
Comedy is perhaps the best way to challenge ideas, serving a crucially subversive role in society with an important sense of fun and irreverence. George Orwell said that: “Every joke is a tiny revolution.” Does Mark agree that comedy is necessarily rebellious? “It can be, but it can also be used to bully and reinforce stereotypes.”
“People say there are no Tory comedians, but all they mean is there are no comedians who’d share a platform with David Cameron. There are plenty of comics who are Tory and plenty who hate women and homosexuals.” This isn’t comedy for the sake of subversion, argues Mark, but for reinforcing the status quo.
“Every time you make a rape joke, do a lazy gag about a non-story or parrot the right-wing press, all you’re doing is being a part of that gang. But when it’s mocking the right ideas, I think comedy is incredibly subversive.”
Catch Mark at Sheffield City Hall on December 1. Tickets are £10, see www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk for more.
Words: Dan Meier