Mark Thomas has inspired me to become a "domestic extremist” as he has been defined by the Met. His police file also refers to him as a “general rabble rouser and alleged comedian” but I would quibble with the “alleged” on the basis of the laughter at his stand-up show at the Cornerstone on Friday.
There were clearly many people in the packed auditorium who had seen Mark’s earlier shows but those of us who had not were soon up to speed with his recent stand-up and campaigns as he spent the first half of the show bringing everyone up to speed with the latest developments from Manifesto. Each audience on this earlier tour had drawn up their own manifesto many local, some absurd and at least one brilliant idea – a national maximum wage for which I shall be campaigning. Moving on from Manifesto from May 2013 to May 2014 Mark pledged to commit “100 Acts of Minor Dissent” - he achieved 104 summarized in his book of the same name - I particularly liked tutting at the gates of Buckingham Palace as a republican protest.
Tutting as it turns out is endemic of Thomas’s style both as a comedian and as a left-wing political protester. He did touch briefly on the rise of Corbynism but like many from this political background, and indeed Corbyn himself, appears still to have a little of the rabbit in the headlights look of shock at the current situation. The previous show on this tour had been in Chipping Norton where, instead of gales of laughter, many jokes went down to a tirade of tuts and Mark did relish jokes about Cameron’s porcine adventures. However, he was at his most vitriolic and hilarious when denouncing fox-hunting – one Manifesto suggestion had been to dress cheetahs up in fox onesies in order to worry the gentry.
The second half of the show focussed on Mark’s latest campaign Trespass born first as a reaction to the gentrification and corporatisation of his home in South London. Initially his attention was focused on the Thames Path through London and restrictions placed on access by gated communities and waterside based corporations. Mark is fortunate that he has a number of friends who are legal eagles who he can consult about his legal rights of access and his campaigns have included a number of court cases, some of which are on-going and which he anticipates may end up being decided in the European Court of Human Rights. (Note to any aspiring domestic extremists - cultivate friends in the legal profession).
All this sounds very dry and unentertaining but the audience were regaled with amusing stories of tow path protests – Mark took particular exception to a “No Loitering” sign and grew a local community of protesting loiterers which included tea and cake in its regular towpath meetings. Recently his attention has been drawn to attempts by Chester City Council (my home town) to ban lying down in the city centre – something which I have frequently been guilty of myself for which I could now be criminalised if this PSPO (public spaces protection order) is passed – so he organised a sleep-a-thon in the city. I was also appalled to learn during the show of Oxford City Council’s attempts to curb rough sleepers, buskers, pavement artists and even pigeon activity in the city boundaries and was highly amused by the protest Mark organised which resulted in Broad Street being covered in lines saying “I must not chalk on the pavement”. The City Council has subsequently backed down but not completely withdrawn these plans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOV2M42e85o
Using humour to make a point or to ridicule the status quo is a powerful weapon when wielded as proficiently as Mark Thomas manages to during his stand-up show. Whilst ridicule and derision are comic tools he uses frequently, they are not on the most part pointed at individuals but rather the ridiculous way in which the law is frequently used to limit individual rights and sweep social injustice under the carpet. Mark Thomas uses laughter to deride these stupidities and to demonstrate hilariously that the law can be an ass. See the show, have a laugh, be inspired and commit acts of domestic extremism before censorship diminishes criticism and political correctness stifles derision of our rulers.