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Mark Thomas' Latest Comedy Product

I spoke to Mark (who sounds uncannily like film director Alan Parker) about his act, influences and what happens when he's completed his 100 acts.

For many fans of alternative comedy, Mark Thomas has always been a maverick.

He blazed a trail on Channel 4's Friday Live, and Saturday Zoo before fronting his own show The Mark Thomas Comedy Product.

(He memorably bet the budget for one episode on a Doncaster horse race, filming the show from a house when the horse came last).

After his award-winning show Bravo Figaro, comes his latest UK tour, 100 Acts of Minor Dissent.

Prior to it reaching Junction Goole, I spoke to Mark (who sounds uncannily like film director Alan Parker) about his act, influences and what happens when he's completed his 100 acts.

How would you describe your work for newcomers?

My work sort of changes all the time, which is one of the nice things about it I think. For me it means what I'm doing changes slightly from year to year.

I started out as a stand-up and became increasingly political.

I love the ideas of telling stories. Actually, that's what I do best.

Who is your leading comedy inspiration?

All the stuff I do is about telling stories, and it's no accident that my idol is Dave Allen, who was THE storyteller.

I've always been quite cross that he's been so under rated on the alternative circuit, because he was a man who was groundbreaking and subversive, and intelligent and witty and just always had that look of devilment on his face.

All my big heroes are people who just like stories.

Photo: Steve Ullathorne

What influences you?

Politically the two things that have influenced me more than anything else are art and the miner's strike, and all the things, whether it is punk and whether it is New Wave music that came through; whether it is Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League or Crass and Clash and all the lyrics and content of their albums, or whether it's Iggy Pop and that wonderful sense of just being rebellious and creative.

Those people affected me more than an iconic comic like Lenny Bruce. And actually the thing that changed my mind about art and performance and all that was Bertholt Brecht.

Any particular Brecht work?

I went to see Caucasian Chalk Circle when I was 15 or 16 years old. And I was stunned that you could go into a theatre thinking one thing and come out thinking another, and that's always informed the stuff that I've done. So all the things I've done I think have been about stories.

For a beginner's guide I would say if you get a fan of Bertholt Brecht, situationism, the avant-garde, the Fluxus art movement, Crass and Clash, mix it all together and put on stage - essentially a bloke who likes going around causing trouble and then coming back and telling stories about it, that is how you would describe what I do.

Photo: Steve Ullathorne

Any plans to return to TV?

I actually prefer working in theatres now.

I have made a decision not to do telly stuff and telly has made a decision to honour my word (laughs). So we have a kind of mutual contempt and ambivalence toward each other. We're not really interested in each other. And after all the stuff we did on telly... it was a treadmill towards the end, and you felt like somebody's pocket rebel that would be sort of brought out to be shown at dinner parties, and that drove me insane.

What's the driving force behind these gigs?

What I'm interested in is dragging people in and showing them the process and talking to people about the stuff we've done so far; the stuff we hope to do; what we've achieved; what we haven't achieved; asking questions, and actually encouraging people to join in and do stuff.

What happens at the end of your 12 months of acts?

What I love is the fact that when the show will be at its height of its powers, after one year when we'll have worked out what it is we have done, I'm going to do one performance and one performance only where we document all 100 acts.

The show will last for five hours. I'm going to cook tea for the audience, and that is it. The show finishes that night. Nothing from it will ever exist again.

And I like that idea because what I like saying is the importance is in the moment between the audience and the performer, about how we relate.

All of this stuff is transigent in the fact that it's not meant to be recorded. It's our relationships with live audiences. You know they are really amazingly individual moments where we create communities out of nothing, and that's thrilling. Why would we devalue that?

Mark Thomas: 100 Acts of Minor Dissent can be seen around the UK and at Junction Goole on Saturday, November 23.

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