Politically-charged comedian and campaigner Mark Thomas will be touring the UK later this year with his new show “A Show that Gambles on the Future”. After seeing a preview of the show at this year’s Latitude Festival, I had a quick chat with Mark to discuss festivals, his new show, politics (of course!), campaigning and the future of Britain:
Hi Mark. So I saw you at Latitude once again last Friday. What brings you back to the festival? And how do you feel the festival audience differs to your normal crowd?
It was great. Latitude, because of the nature and timing of the Festival, is one you use to judge how the show is going, before you go up to Edinburgh. Certainly with [previous shows] Bravo Figaro, Cuckooed, and The Red Shed, it was useful. With shows like A Show that Gambles on the Future, you have to remember these people are at a festival, they can’t predict where they’re gonna be in an hour and a half. Also, there are people popping in and out. They haven’t paid to come and specifically see you, they’re seeing things all day long. So, the event is the thing, rather than your show. It can make the show more difficult sometimes, more challenging, but while there’s a structure to this one to get me where I need to go, part of the fun is that element of being different every time, because of the public participation.
Your new show asks the audience to make predictions about the future, one of which you will put money on coming true. After Latitude, did you genuinely bet on Trump coming to the UK, falling off Southend Pier and getting eaten by a giant kraken? If so, what odds did you get?
No! Turns out no one will give us odds on the Trump thing. It’s actually created quite a quandary, in terms of what we do with the money. We might use it to put another bet on, we might just give it away. Although, there are academic websites looking at forecasting who might take it. They’ll work the odds, so we’re looking at talking to them on the whole Trump-Kraken Potential.
What would predictions do you have for the future? What does the future look like in your opinion? Do you think we’ll still have the NHS as we recognise it five years from now? What about privacy?
What you have in times of great flux are moments for change. Me, I don’t want the status quo any more. I don’t want austerity, I don’t want partial privatisation of the health service. I think there’s been a fundamental shift in politics, which the Tories haven’t understood, and which has put them outside. Which is why May called the election.
It’s difficult to say if there’s going to be an NHS, or privacy or any of that stuff, that’s down to lots of factors, but what might be predictable is this – within two years, there’s gonna be another general election, simply based on by-election rates. If that happens within two years, and if things continue as they are, you’re looking at a Labour majority – it’s quite likely that the SNP will fall back further, Scottish Labour make will inroads, Scottish Tory numbers will go down, it’s uncertain if the DUP thing holds. Places like Hastings, Amber Rudd’s constituency, where it was really close this time, those are the new marginals. So I predict Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister within two years. What happened before was a lot of people liked the manifesto, but said ‘But he could never be Prime Minister.’ What they forgot, or what they never understood, is what Corbyn does brilliantly – he’s a brilliant campaigner. So now, they’re thinking ‘Oh, actually, he could be Prime Minister.’
Is your view of people optimistic or pessimistic? And to what extent has that been coloured by the forces you fight in your activism, and the people who fight them with you?
Optimistic, always. I’m working at the minute on projects looking at how artists are supporting the people affected by the Grenfell disaster. And they’re brilliant people, organising summer provision for kids. They’re not doing it for anything beyond the fact it’s their natural instinct towards compassion, towards caring. That’s what’s shifted in this country. A few years ago, you could have Nigel Farage on Question Time, saying ‘Red tape prevents businesses from doing this and that.’ If he tried to say that nowadays, he’d be dead in the water. People are realising you can have red tape or you can have blue-and-white tape. So I’m always optimistic, because if you don’t fight, you don’t win. If you do fight, there’s a chance, and sometimes you win. And more and more people are willing to have a go at just saying no, we don’t want this separation, this atomisation of humanity. That’s not who we are. We’re built to care for each other – we’re social, caring creatures. So, optimistic, always.
A lot of your comedy in recent years has been based on your work and the work of others in political activism, or at the very least resistance to the expected norm. What sort of activist projects are you involved in at the minute?
I’m doing that work with artists supporting Grenfell, and I’ve been working with refugees. And I’m also doing some work with the firefighters’ union over low wages.
Do you know while you’re doing these things which of them might be comedically useful in the future, or are you just focused on the good that your actions can do in themselves?
Sometimes you know. I mean, sometimes, you can’t not know. I’ll tell you – I was stopped and searched a few years back, and the police have to write you up for it, have to give you a form to say this is why you were stopped and searched. And on it, as the reason for the stop and search, the police officer had written ‘Mr Thomas was looking excessively confident.’ And I thought ‘Thank you very much, you’re in the show.’
A Show that Gambles on the Future is based on the idea that no-one predicted the events of the last few years.
Ah, but some people did.
Should more people have?
Yeah, some things were predictable. For instance, if you look at the forces that got Trump into power, what you see is that the American white population is set to become a minority in the next few years. So in part, there’s a bellicose reaction to that in. Globalisation hasn’t worked and people are angry about that too, so you get the conditions for the rise of someone like Trump. Trump’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Similarly, I forecast that we’d leave the EU. I bet my wife we would and theoretically won a hundred quid. She hasn’t paid yet, mind. But the thing is, you could tell we were heading that way by looking at the raw data, and you could tell by going up and down the country. What happened were all the polls were adjusted, based on voting likelihood and other factors. So they said ‘No, we’re not leaving,’ and then around the country you’d see Leave signs, just loads and loads of them. The raw data’s one of the most interesting things to look at from the last few years. And it’s also interesting that Survation, the people who came closest to predicting the Corbyn result, are the people who didn’t adjust their data.
Finally, in the interest of political balance, can you say something nice about Theresa May?
Brevity. Brevity is the nicest thing about Theresa May. She won’t be here for long.