Arts

Comedian Mark Thomas gambles on the future

Comedian and activist Mark Thomas brings A Show That Gambles on The Future to Belfast next month. He spoke to David Roy about how some of his audiences' seemingly unlikely predictions have already beaten the bookies and why his next tour could be one of his most important to date

Mark Thomas returns to the Black Box in Belfast next month with A Show That Gambles on The Future Picture: Jane Hobson

IT'S hard enough to even keep up with current events in these uncertain times, but comedian and activist Mark Thomas is currently making bold assertions about our future – and taking money from the bookies as a result.

The Londoner's current tour A Show That Gambles on The Future finds him doing exactly that, with a little help from audiences who supply him with their often surprising written predictions of coming events.

"The shows have been great fun, because they're never the same," Thomas enthuses of the tour, which will arrive at Belfast's Black Box for two nights on December 7 and 8.

"I get people to write down their predictions and then we chat about them, so you don't know what type of person is going to join in or what they're going to say."

"Some of the conversations are immensely funny and [the show] moves all the time from topic to topic: one night we were discussing Noam Chomsky and media ownership and, literally within a minute, we were having a group sing-song of Bohemian Rhapsody.

"Another night we had the most intense discussion with one bloke about how his neighbour had stolen his cat and was now considering suing him.

"Other nights we go through Trump and May and Boris and all that kind of stuff. So it's constantly surprising."

According to Thomas, some of his audiences' predictions are fuelled by a pretty bleak outlook – unsurprisingly, really, given the current political unrest in Westminster and Washington and the gloomy state of world affairs in general.

However, he's also detected encouraging signs of positivity.

"Obviously there's lots of stuff about 'there'll be a nuclear war', 'plastic will overtake us' and what's going to happen with Trump, which is fun to play around with," says Thomas.

"People are angry and not optimistic about the immediate future whether that's Brexit, the economy or the Tory government just completely collapsing in its own a**e of stupidity.

"But actually, there's lots of 'we're going to change this' and 'we're going to do that', 'this is going to happen' as well. So it's a very mixed bag."

At the end of each show, the audience vote for the predictions they want Thomas to take to the bookies and place bets on with stakes funded by their own donations.

Impressively, they've already picked a couple of winners.

"We've actually started to win," the comedian confirms.

"I did some warm-up shows before the election and the audience voted that Jeremy Corbyn would still be Labour leader in 2018 – which wasn't a very popular thought at the time.

"However, nearly all of the audiences predicted he would do a lot better than the polls suggested. We got amazing odds, so in seven or eight weeks time we are due for about £1,000. We're having a big vote on where the winnings will go."

The current Brexit-fuelled crisis within the Tory government that's currently being propped-up by our own DUP is in some obvious ways a boon for comedians.

Yet such haplessness coupled to the harsh realities of austerity is also a source of great anger for the politically and socially engaged Thomas, who memorably describes the government's current Brexit 'strategy' as "like watching a children's recorder band trying to improvise a Thelonious Monk jazz piece."

"You look at [the government] and think, 'are you kidding me – is this really what we've ended up with? A bunch of f***ing halfwits?' It's absolutely stunning," he marvels.

"And of course The DUP [and Teresa May's promised extra £1 billion spend in Northern Ireland in exchange for their continued political support] is very interesting. The fact is, every bit of [the UK] needs money and investment. Austerity is starting to affect the life-expectancy in this country, which is beginning to go down.

"Hospitals and A&E have become the stop-gap for a failure in welfare and social policy, whether it's drugs, housing, homelessness, gang violence or mental health. All these things are failing to be addressed."

He adds: "God knows, Northern Ireland needs money like everywhere else – but The DUP? With the creationist health minister? Seriously?"

Anyone who agrees can make their feelings easily read by purchasing one of his 'F*** The DUP' badges. These were produced in solidarity with LGBTQ-rights supporter Ellie Evans, arrested last month after a DUP councillor complained about the slogan appearing on her banner at Belfast Pride.

"They've been selling well – I've ordered a big bag of them to bring over to Belfast," he tells me mischievously.

Unusually, the comedian has already announced his next Belfast date: Thomas will perform Showtime From The Frontline at The MAC next March with the help of Faisal Abualheja and Alaa Shehada, two Palestinian comedians he met while running a comedy club and workshop at a theatre in a Jenin refugee camp.

"Me and my old mate Sam Beale designed a course for some of the kids there," he says of the project, which has been running since 2009.

"We ran these comedy nights which were really exciting. I thought it was going to be a way for them to talk about their experience in the occupation, but actually they wanted to talk about all sorts of different things – about gender, sexuality, leadership and the state of Palestine.

"Now we've got two of the guys coming over and we're going to write a show about what it was like to put on that club."

:: Tickets on sale now via Blackboxbelfast.com and MACLive.com.

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