Mark Thomas asks in times of fear, where do we find our hope?
- Credit: Archant
Nobody could’ve predicted the events of 2016. Who knows what’s still to come. Comedian and activist Mark Thomas aims to find out and maybe make a few quid on the side with his latest show.
Q: A Show That Gambles on the Future, like your previous work, is about sharing ideas...
I think it is. For me, the great thing about it when people said “oh you know who could have predicted the outcome of Brexit, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn...” actually there’s lots of ways people could’ve seen what was happening and some people did. I’m fascinated by how we make our minds up, how we predict things, how we think we predict things.
I wanted to make a show about unpredictability, but had prediction at its heart. I get the audience to write down their forecasts for things they think will happen, we discuss them, choose our favourite forecast, then do a collection on the way out and put that money on a bet for that forecast. If we win, so far we’ve been giving the money to the theatres we’ve been working at because some of them lose their grants, building funds. Somebody goes “we’ve got this great tip on horse-racing” and of course the audience go “let’s put our money on that”. The ones we’ve lost on are always b****y horses.
Q: What kind of things have you won with...
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Theresa May not to get a majority, which was great... we win on the ones that are a little bit considered but considered slightly left-field at the time because she was going to win this whopping great majority... it’s very interesting because if you travel around you can see the disconnect between polls, especially on Brexit. The polls were saying Remain was going to win, but wherever you went there were leave posters, all the conversations were about leave. You talk to people and they’re saying “all my family are voting leave”. There’s a massive disconnect between what the polls are saying and what is actually going on.
What was happening, especially with the election, Theresa May calls a snap election thinking she’s going to trounce Jeremy Corbyn and she called it on wrong data... it’s nuts. This is the real amazing thing about the Tory Party, time and time again it puts the party before the country so you end up with a referendum in the first place, to placate the party. Then you end up with a snap election to beat the Labour Party and to win the Tory Party and, actually, what you end up with is a total mess with the Brexit negotiations - where it’s going to go now?
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Q: Everything seems to be falling apart...
There are reports which were delayed like the number of students who were over-staying after they’ve finished their studies which was inflated to this ridiculous number. In terms of unpredictability, there are times for great change. That was the interesting thing about the Corbyn vote, that so many people went for the manifesto of “yes, let’s get the railways back in public ownership, let’s get rid of tuition fees, let’s fund the NHS”. That’s a really popular socialist manifesto; not a draconian or a really full-blooded socialist manifesto, relatively kind of tame, in many respects.
That was really exciting, seeing all of that happen. We have fun during shows. In one we had a discussion about Noam Chomsky and climate change, in the same show we had a sing-song of Bohemian Rhapsody; having 150 people in this room in Edinburgh singing falsetto “is this this real life” was great.
Q: Have we become a more or less predictable nation...
The interesting thing is we’re now a group of nations, if you look at Scotland that’s very different from looking at England. Who would’ve thought the Tories would’ve got seats in Scotland? Ten years ago you’d say that was just unthinkable. It used to be the gag there are more pandas than Tories in Scotland. Now it’s like “b****y hell, do you realise how many pandas you’re going to have to get. That’s going to cost a fortune in bamboo alone”. The fault lines have emerged, so you got differences of poltical opinion in age...
Outside of David Cameron, UKIP and the press, I said two things were to blame for Brexit - the Queen and medical science. The Queen promotes this idea she’s uniquely special, we’re special because of her and Britain’s a plucky fighting nation that’s unique. Medical science means people are voting past the age they should be. People are living much longer. I phoned up my mum during the election and said “your granddaughter has just said to me she’s 16 and she can’t vote. Her whole life is based on this next election and you’re considerably older love”.
Q: Youngsters feel their future has been gambled away...
They’re right in a way. Their future has been changed dramatically... Because you’ve got such a s*** housing policy the chance of getting a house is really grim. The one side-effect of Brexit might be this crash in property prices, which will be a boon. What you need is more council houses. In answer to your question, have we become more predictable or less predictable... I go through thousands of bits of paper each week which have forecasts on it. To a certain degree we’ve become predictable in our apocalyptic vision of the world. What’s interesting is the number of people who still come forward and go “we’re going to re-nationalise the railways, Jeremy Corbyn’s going to win, tuition fees will get abolished” or people will talk about there will be advances on Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Q: The news is full of doomsday stories...
It’s like the season of the apocalypse, you turn on the telly and North Korea has dropped a nuke or there has been a massacre in Burma, Trump is threatening to bomb everyone, there are hurricanes ripping hell out of the place; it’s a fascinating time. In these times of fear where do people go, where do they find their hope. That’s really what the show’s about.
Q: Are forecasts more optimistic than pessimistic...
It depends whether you call the assassination of Donald Trump optimistic or pessimistic. There will be people who see it in different ways according to their belief systems... I tend to think the taking of human life is pretty bad, regardless of the fact the man’s a complete idiot and a draconian, authoritarian, racist frankly.
Q: The Simpsons predicted Trump’s presidency in 2000...
I’ve got a picture of two years ago of me having a demonstration outside the American consulate in Edinburgh with a banner that read “impeach President Trump” before he was elected so if you’re looking for precedence, it was me.
All sorts of stuff gets forecasted, sometimes they’re the forecasts that win which is always slightly problematic because then I have to put money on them. I walked into a bookies and tried to get odds on Donald Trump being found wandering dazed and confused in the Arizona desert by the end of the year. I haven’t got odds for that yet. We’ve got odds on him converting to Islam. I don’t think we’re going to win on that, it would be a pretty major shift.
Q: Until a few years ago he was a Democrat...
Trump is a dyed in the wool egotist, he’s remarkable. Here we’ve got a foreign secretary everyone thinks is a joke; he travels the world like some clown circus. The idea Boris Johnson has a shred of trustworthiness in his body is a complete joke.
The ideal thing was Brexit would nearly happen... Cameron would stay on for a year, Boris would be seen as the saviour of the right, he would unify the party because everyone loves him and then he would romp in as prime minister next time round. I always remember that picture from, I think it was Le Monde, of Boris hanging on the zip wire with his flags out. The headline after Brexit just read “Good Luck”. Trump looks like Caligula, like something from the Roman classics... Boris is this wonderful buffoon out of the Commedia dell’arte, who’ll do anything to advance himself.
Q: Have you been surprised or had your mind changed by forecasts...
There’s always something to learn from an audience. The thing that becomes more fixed in my mind is this notion our opinions are often hopes rather than factual-based analysis - and what masquerades as news is an opinion and hopes and fears.
• See Mark Thomas at Norwich Playhouse tonight, Colchester Arts Centre October 10, Cambridge Junction November 8, Southend’s Chalkwell Park Rooms November 17 and Diss Corn Hall December 1.