South Londoner Mark Thomas is a comic with an agenda. His jokes will make you laugh, but his show also aims to make you angry.
Perhaps his tendency towards thought-provoking comedy that does not give up its laughs easily explains the empty seats at Mareel on Friday night. This is a shame, because Thomas put on a show to remember.
His performance was split into two segments. In the first hour he warmed the crowd up, explaining a little about himself – he has been called a “domestic extremist”, “general rabble rouser” and “alleged comedian” by government forces paranoid by his comical activism.
He talked a little bit about his previous show, 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, in which he vowed to perform 100 rebellious acts in a year or else suffer the forfeit of donating £1,000 to Ukip.
This segment helped to introduce the crowd members unfamiliar with his work to the playful mischief that is key to his comedy.
Some of the acts of minor dissent included “book heckling” in hotel Bibles (“Thanks for your continued support – Jesus”) to acts more political in meaning.
After discovering that LoveFilm refused to subtitle films for the hard of hearing Thomas and a friend donned hi-vis jackets and visited their London headquarters with a ladder and a banner reading “LoveFilm hates deaf people”. The company changed their policy later that day.
Hi-vis jackets are a recurring motif in his political pranks. He explains that nobody questions someone in a hi-vis jacket.
“The irony of hi-vis is that it makes you invisible.”
Thomas also used his opening hour to try out some humour about Shetland. Many of the attempts fell flat but that was understandable given that he only arrived in the isles four hours before appearing on stage.
One moment of Shetland-based humour that succeeded was a jab at MP Alistair Carmichael. Laying a cardboard box down at the front of the stage he joked that this was a collection box for Mr Carmichael’s legal fees. “I’ve started with a nacho.”
Thomas later that night tweeted a picture of the rather lacklustre returns.
Lerwick collection for Alistair Carmichael MP, he’s still to find funds to cover his court case. Hope this helps. pic.twitter.com/BLkB4o7K0Y
— Mark Thomas (@markthomasinfo) March 25, 2016
After a short interval Thomas returned to the stage to perform the half of the show from which this tour gets its name – Trespass.
In that segment he discussed an issue which angers and saddens him – the privatisation of public spaces.
To highlight this troubling development he talked of three walks he and friends undertook around the UK in order to highlight the issue.
Thomas discussed an incident of planned loitering near a gated community which had displayed signs prohibiting the act. In order to entice passers-by to join in the loitering he and his friends brought cake to hand out.
One particularly amusing encounter saw a cyclist pull over and ask him “Is this about those fascist f**king signs?” before she happily joined his protest.
Another walk saw him drawing an eight-mile chalk outline around an area of Oxford which had attempted to ban the act, alongside begging, busking and being homeless.
Trespass culminated with Thomas discussing a show he performed in Salford. In that upmarket area of Salford the local council had chosen to ban swearing – which in his view was simply an attempt to criminalise being poor and walking through a posh area.
He sent a letter to the local council which listed over 400 swear words he might use during the course of the show, asking which he could say and which he could not. He was not surprised when he received a letter back saying that he might use whichever he wished – he was an artist and not a poor kid after all.
In discussing this interaction Thomas joyfully read the 400-plus list of swear words at machine-gun pace, to the sound of raucous laughter. He then showed the audience a video of that night, in which he took the crowd outside and conducted them in a swear-filled rendition of Frère Jacques on the streets of Salford.
Mark Thomas is a comedian who is not always funny, but will always provoke you to think. He can make you laugh but he can also make you feel righteous and indignant.
There is no denying that his unique brand of comedy will not be for everyone – it aims for a particularly left-wing crowd. But those who fit the bill will no doubt enjoy his comically expressive way of talking politics and dissent.