Brace yourself – Mark Steel’s in town

Mark Steel is the latest in the rich line of comics that Shetland has been treated to in recent months.
He has somehow found the time from recording his weekly radio show to appear at Mareel on Wednesday.

His “Mark Steel’s in Town” series of shows is based on a BBC Radio 4 series in which he writes a show centred around different towns across the UK.

Steel, who is hotfooting it from Glasgow after a performance there, is looking forward to his Shetland visit, never having been in the isles before.

He did once commit the cardinal sin of visiting Orkney, via its “charming” airport, and the Faroe Islands, which he loved and has always found fascinating, even though “there’s not much up there” apart from the women’s football cup final, and was in Stavanger a couple of weeks ago.

He’d ideally have liked to drive up from Glasgow to Orkney and take the ferry from there, but would have arrived about five days after his show.

Aware of the frequent rivalry between neighbouring islands, he recounted while in a visit to Guernsey about being told, very precisely, that the island was 21 miles from Jersey – “you cannot normally see it, but you could see it if it was burning”.

Another vicious if odd rivalry, which is particularly close to his heart, is between his team Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion – odd because Brighton is 50 miles from London.

One of his fondest memories is seeing Palace beat Brighton in the semi-finals of the play-offs two year ago at Brighton’s ground, an event whose glory will redound “for thousands of years to come”.

Steel recently performed in the old Lancashire fishing town of Fleetwood and likes to make a observations about the places he visits. He noted that a large sign on a spit of land bears the town motto “Onward”. The sign-bearing promontory is surrounded by the River Wyre on one side and the Irish Sea on the other, perhaps suggesting immigration is the best option.

Asked the question he is rumoured not to like answering, how did he get into stand-up comedy?, Steel explained that as a lad helping out on a pig-farm in his native Kent, he got into the business of de-stressing the notoriously sensitive porkers.

Pigs, as well as being highly strung, are very intuitive to the moods of their fellow humans. The best way to relax them was to tell jokes to his fellow farm hands and the pigs, picking up on the laughter cue, were soon put in better fettle. A slot at the local stand-up night in the local pub quickly followed, and the rest is history.

The account on Steel’s website makes no mention of the influential pigs, instead it says that Steel “started doing stand-up in 1982, around the circuit of bizarre gigs, going on after jugglers and escapologists and people that banged nails into their ear.

“Then came the Comedy Store and Jongleurs and getting bottled off at The Tunnel, and then a regular slot on Radio 4’s Loose Ends, where I met Joseph Heller, Christopher Lee and Gary Glitter.”

The affable Steel, almost as well known for his left-wing politics as his comedy, has had weekly columns in the Socialist Worker, the Guardian and the Independent.

He wrote a a book called Vive le Revolution, and has been on various panel shows like Have I Got News For You, QI and on Room 101.

“On Question Time“, his website states, “I got very confused when I insulted a member of the Tory shadow cabinet, and afterwards he said I was splendid and invited me for a drink.

“And I’ve spoken at lots of demonstrations and union meetings and protests, and appeared at quite a few benefits, and yet capitalism still seems to rule the world. Maybe I’m a jinx.”


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