Marxist comedian Mark Thomas: ‘London has become a hollowed-out playground for the rich’

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas - Credit: Archant

For a man intent on bringing down the establishment, Mark Thomas is an exceptionally gracious interviewee.

The performer who once described himself as a “Marxist Victor Meldrew” was conversely labelled by the Metropolitan Police as a “general rabble-rouser” and more insultingly, an “alleged comedian”.

Catching up in a train station waiting lounge in Lancaster – on his way to perform that night in Glasgow - the multi-award winning comic and professional trouble maker genially apologises (more than once) - he’s late: a mere seven minutes.

The life of a stand-up is inexorably tied to the road, but from April 25, Thomas brings his new show Trespass to his native London for a three-week residency at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn.

“It’s the usual mix,” he says, “comedy, politics, a dash of journalism and of course, mayhem.”

A sell out at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the show examines the corporate takeover of the UK and London in particular; in turn railing against the creeping privatisation of public spaces and asking the important question: what would the ramblers do?

If this last part seems slightly baffling, Thomas is keen to point out that it was ramblers - of whom he is proud to consider himself a tribal-member - that through an act of rebellion in the 1930s helped establish the right to walk across common land.

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“London is my city, I have a sense of ownership, but it’s changing in really big ways. We’re seeing the conclusion of a horrible and decades-long experiment of privatisation. There are places we should be able to play in, claim as our own but now we’re told we can’t go,” he says.

And playing is what Thomas does best. He loitered in front of “No Loitering” signs posted outside gated communities offering passers-by cake to entice them to join in; drew sketches on the pavement outside the RBS building, now part of an exclusion zone; he even organised a particularly blue rendition of Frère Jacques, sung gutsily by audience members outside a gig in Salford, where the council have attempted to impose fines for public swearing.

“I never ask myself, what would a Marxist committee do; I just go off and have adventures and then get on stage and tell people stories. It’s a real delight – and hopefully if you’re having fun, the audience will,” he explains.

But as fans of his C4 television show, The Mark Thomas Product, will know, this is comedy with an agenda. It is consequently intriguing to discover during our conversation that this often evangelical comedian is the son of a lay preacher and the grandson of a Non-Conformist Baptist minister. Coincidentally his sister is a vicar.

“I narrowly missed the family calling. But I reckon I’m the naughty version,” he says.

Born in Clapham, where he still lives, Thomas knew early on what he wanted to do. Working for his builder father during the week, he soon made a name for himself on the emerging 80s comedy circuit.

But now he fears for his city: “It’s becoming this hollowed-out, rarefied playground for the f****** rich and the poor are just being pushed out. If you can’t be moved by that, well…” he tails off.

I ask if he’s ever considered joining the likes of fellow comedians Eddie Izzard and Sandi Toksvig and going into politics. “Oh god, I’d be useless,” he says amid deep belly laughs, “I’d probably end up stealing all the money and spending it all on call girls”.

So somewhere between the pulpit and the political hustings is where you’ll find him – a passionate but genial voice of dissent.