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Mark Thomas: “I’ve got 50:1 on ‘Trump to convert to Islam’”

1 October 2017 Will Rathbone

Mark Thomas, described by the Metropolitan Police as a “general rabble-rouser and alleged comedian”, is an award-winning writer, broadcaster and performer as well as a passionate, intelligent activist. As he embarks on a tour of the UK with ‘A Show That Gambles on the Future’, London Calling spoke to him about the production and his own hopes and predictions for things that have not yet come to pass.

London Calling: Morning Mark, thanks very much for speaking to us! Please could you start by telling us about A Show That Gambles on the Future?
 
MT: The show is very, very simple. I ask people to write down, on bits of paper, their forecasts for the coming years. I have roughly half an hour before the start of the show to get all those bits of paper in, and to create a structure for the show. Then I go on stage, and we discuss the forecasts that people have written down and vote on the forecast that we think is most likely to come true. At the end we have a collection, we put some money in a bucket and put that money on a bet for the forecast. Any money won then goes to charity.


Mark Thomas © Jane Hobson
 
LC: So are you improvising a lot?
 
MT: Yep, you could say that. You could say there’s a huge amount of improvisation if you’re creating a show out of suggestions from the audience! It’s really exciting because every night something different is going to happen. Every single night, something will happen that you don’t expect. Where comedy differs from theatrical performances – many, not all – is that if someone shouts at Hamlet, Hamlet will just trundle on. A couple of ushers will come along, there’ll be the small thud of a cosh and a whiff of ether and someone will get dragged out, but that’s about it. With stand-up, it relies on the audience reaction. It’s a conversation, a dialogue.
 
LC: How do you approach the concepts for your shows?
 
MT: You know, wouldn’t it be great if someone knocked on the door, disappeared, and then a letter appeared under the door with your instructions for the year. Wouldn’t that be great? I’m working on about four shows this year: The Red Shed, which we’ve just finished, The Show that Gambles on the Future, and two shows for next year. So what I actually do is look at something and think: “that’s great, let’s do that”. Then I think: “how can we fit this in, how does this work? What can I put in here? What’s interesting? What appeals to me?” Stand-up is a form where people say: “I like him, I like her, they’re great. I want to see them again, I want to see them do something different – but the same. I want new material, but the same thing.” But I like trying different things. I really enjoy the fact that I know the next two shows are completely weird and not what you’d expect!


Mark Thomas © Jane Hobson
 
LC: What are some of the best suggestions you’ve had from the show so far?
 
MT: “While Donald Trump is asleep, everyone in the White House will quietly leave”. That was voted as a forecast. I have been unable to put a bet on. “Trump to convert to Islam” I’ve got 50:1 on, but I don’t think we’re going to see it. We had a lot of predictions along the lines of “May to win by 20 or less”, and we won a lot of money on that. We’ve got quite a lot of money on Jeremy Corbyn being the leader of the Labour Party by 2018 – which is money just waiting to be turned over. Another favourite – and again, we couldn’t put a bet on, but we’re going to have a renewed assault – is that Freddo chocolate bars will increase in RRP from 30p to 35p in the course of a year. What I love about this is that there are sections of the internet that now use Freddo chocolate bars a measure of inflation. You have shrinkflation, which is the size of the chocolate bar being reduced, or inflation, which is the RRP. I love that.


Mark Thomas © Jane Hobson
 
LC: Do you feel we’re living in a particularly transitional, volatile time politically? Or do you think it always feels like that?
 
MT: We’re human beings, there’s human activity, there’s stuff happening all the time. What I do find exciting is that, in times of volatility, there are opportunities to make interventions that can lead to a change for the good. I think Corbyn is a part of that, and I genuinely think he will become Prime Minister. Neo-liberalism is a cuckoo project whose time is up, and we have to get rid of it and return to the idea of communal living. The idea that we can live and operate together is important. We’re not just individual consumers – we’re citizens, and we rely on each other.
 
LC: Did you manage to see much at the Festival? Anything you’d recommend?
 
MT: Yeah! I would recommend Garry McNair: Letters to Morrisey, Hot Brown Honey, No Show, The Believers Are But Brothers, Nassim, Mark Steele, Bilal Zafar, On Ice, Nina, Wild Bore, Palmeira and A Bombastic Declaration of Love. I made a pact that whenever I go to Edinburgh, no matter how much I’m rehearsing or performing, I see a minimum of 40 shows. I have kept that pledge ever since I started it.

Mark Thomas is touring the UK with A Show That Gambles On The Future from 3 October till 15 December, including dates at the Leicester Square Theatre from October 17-28. Tickets for the London dates are £15.
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