OVER THE past two decades Londoner Mark Thomas has been a comedian, television presenter, writer, social-commentator, political activist, and self-confessed pain in the arse. He currently holds the Guinness World Record for most political demonstrations in 24 hours.
In the early 1980s Thomas was organising benefit shows to raise funds for the striking miners and was a very vocal opponent of Thatcherism. When he became the resident compere at The Comedy Store in London in 1986 he met and worked with a galaxy of left-leaning alternative comedians such as Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton, and Adrian Edmondson.
The first series of The Mark Thomas Comedy Product was broadcast in 1996 on Channel 4 and through this vehicle he took on wealthy socialites avoiding inheritance tax, the international arms trade, and multi-national companies such as Nestle and Coca-Cola over their unethical practices.
He also wrote two books about his adventures: As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade and Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola.
Thomas brings his new show It’s The $tupid €c0nom¥ to the Radisson SAS Hotel on Saturday July 18 at 9pm as part of Galway Arts Festival. In the show he gets to grips with “the labyrinthine intricacies of hedge funds, quantitative easing and sub-prime mortgage markets” but with a unique comedy twist in the tale.
Mark Thomas did his first proper stand-up comedy gig in November 1985 and within a year he was a regular headliner at London’s legendary Comedy Store venue.
“When I started in The Comedy Store it was a great place to play,” Thomas tells me. “It was brilliant fun as a young performer because you were able to pretty much say whatever you wanted and they paid you afterwards for it!
“It was slightly underground in the early days so you’d have jugglers and street performers and all kinds of performers on stage on a typical night. I used to compere there from 1986 to 1989 and it was amazing to see all these great people coming through. I was working with my dad on a building site during the day and then I’d literally go down to the club straight after work.”
Thomas had a somewhat alternative upbringing and his parents were significantly influential on his later work as a political activist. His mother was a midwife and his father was a self-employed builder and lay preacher. Being the ‘son of a preacher man’ provided Thomas with an opportunity to perform in front of an audience from a very early age.
“It would be virtually impossible to deny that his work as a preacher didn’t have an impact,” says Thomas. “My first gig was in a church. When I was four years old I was reading AA Milne works from the pulpit. I had this incredible self-belief. I remember being on a radio show a couple of years ago and all the people on the panel their dads were preachers. I’ve found that anyone like that has turned out quirky and they also have a vague sense of duty.”
Part of that sense of duty has led Thomas to battle for the downtrodden in society. His new show is about empowering ordinary people to come up with innovative and entrepreneurial ideas during these adverse economic times.
“I am trying to create a People’s Manifesto and am looking for your help with this at the shows,” he states on his website www.markthomasinfo.com “It cannot have escaped your notice that we are up a Creek called S**t, economically, politically, and socially. So where are the great ideas, theories and visions to help us in our hour of need? Here is your chance to propose your policy or policies for the future.”
Recently Thomas has been appearing on British radio and television calling for a full transparent review into the scandal of MPs’ expenses and has threatened legal action against the Speaker of the House of Commons.
When I speak to him he’s planning a fundraising gig for a group who are currently squatting in the second home of a prominent MP and says “at least somebody is living in the house now”.
As he travels around bringing his show to each city and town Thomas has found that there is a new spirit of revolution among his audiences. It reminds him of his nights as a performer at The Comedy Store when the power of the people was to the forefront.
“People are actually discussing ideas that haven’t been discussed for 25 years,” he says. “Things like local currencies and the decentralisation of government have become very real alternatives to the systems we have presently.”
The comedian and political activist was a firm favourite at Galway Arts Festival two years ago and he is very much looking forward to coming back.
“I had a lovely time last time,” he says. “Galway is such great fun. When I was there you had that big row about the water and people were very well informed about the issues. I think the manifesto for Galway will prove to be quite interesting”
For tickets contact the Festival Box Office, Merchants Road, 091 - 566577. Tickets are also available through www.galwayartsfestival.com