Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

Date of birth: 11-04-1963

One of the few stand-ups still to carry the political standard of alternative comedy, Mark Thomas is essentially an observational comic – only his observations tend to revolve around the crusading anti-corporate, anti-greed investigations he undertakes.

He is best known for his campaigning Channel 4 series, in which he employed, Michael Moore-style, televisual stunts to get his message across. But his work also has a serious side: in one episode he got an Indonesian military chief to admit on camera that their government used torture.

Thomas has said his passion for politics was inherited from his father, a builder and lay preacher at Clapham's Nazarene Church, even if he didn’t inherit his Thatcherite beliefs.

He won a scholarship to Christ's Hospital public school, but he would frequently play truant, often to the theatre, before going on to study at Bretton Hall drama college in Wakefield.

There he began performing his own sketches and shows, doing benefit shows for the miners' strike while still a student. After college he worked for his father by day and did stand-up by night until he could turn pro.

In 1992, his Edinburgh show was nominated for the Perrier award – the same year the fizzy water brand was bought by Nestle, one of the corporations Thomas now campaigns against so vociferously.

Four years later, he launched his strident TV programme, which ran for seven years. To this day he continues to be involved in the political causes that so influence his comedy.

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© Jane Hobson

Mark Thomas: A Show That Gambles On The Future

Gig review by Steve Bennett at Leicester Square Theatre

We have, apparently, had enough of experts. Certainly, none of the informed commentariat saw the tumultuous political events of the past 18 months coming. Maybe now the ordinary person should be given a shot at predicting the future… which is why Mark Thomas is asking his audiences what they think might happen to the world in the short to the medium term.

His latest project is a follow-on from his People’s Manifesto shows, in which he crowdsourced ideas for acts that could improve the country, and tried to achieve as many as possible. Here we get to vote on which of our peer’s forecasts is most likely to come true, and the comic will place a bet on it happening. Well, if he can. Some of the suggestions have proved too niche even for Paddy Power’s ‘special bets’ department.

One of the easiest things to foresee is some of the topics that will come up. Trump (multiple, multiple times), Brexit, just how long Theresa May will cling onto her job, whether Jeremy Corbyn will become Prime Minister. All fertile ground for Thomas’s super-powered, passionate rants, his arms gesticulating wildly as he heaps inventively vicious opprobrium on the capitalists and the crooked, and fulsome praise on the actual socialist leading Labour.

The rise of Corbyn and the pathetic figure of an out-of-her-depth Premier put Thomas in a victorious mood, more excitable than even his usual default. Some of the diatribes against these predictable targets are probably higher on invective than precision-guided wit, but, my, does he sweep you up in them.

These presumably prepared segments – they are too florid in their insults to really be otherwise – sit alongside improvised badinage prompted by some of the audience’s more esoteric suggestions. One prediction involved the fidelity of a punter’s brother – Thomas seemed fine with the adultery as the evening momentarily went a bit Jeremy Kyle – another concerned the Saw film franchise.There’s no accounting for what will get people’s goats. One remarkably persistent idea was that guinea pigs might become ‘a thing’.

Thomas is skilled at creating running jokes from this good-natured banter, even if none of the generated ideas really shone. A larger sample size might have helped, the Leicester Square Theatre was barely a quarter full on this night.

There’s another strand to the show, too, and that’s Thomas’s relationship with his emotionally distant, brawler of a father. It’s a topic he’s successfully tackled before, primarily in the fantastic Bravo Figaro show, but here he has new anecdotes to contextualise his background. One thing you might not know is that Thomas Sr was a street preacher. He certainly handed down a powerhouse, evangelical fire-and-brimstone style that’s always been very evident in his son’s comedy.

These autobiographical vignettes shouldn’t really fit in with the other elements of the show, but Thomas has the sleight-of-hand to make  work in the moment, even if it later hits you that this was probably two half-shows in one.

But his passion and the sense of communion he brings are compelling, as he’s got to the stage where he and his audience share an intimacy, almost, not just political values.

In the cumbersomely-titled A Show That Gambles on the Future, he coasts on that a bit. But Thomas coasting is better than most comics full-throttle, which has to make this scathing night out worth a punt.

Mark Thomas is at the Leiester Square Theatre until October 28, then touring. Dates 

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Published: 19 Oct 2017

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