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A Magazine for Sheffield

Mark Thomas "I often see myself as a left-wing Superman"

Comedian Mark Thomas talks politics, the "iconic" Leadmill and community resilience, ahead of his Black and White tour appearance in Sheffield.

Mark Thomas
Tony Pletts

In any normal week on any normal island, a brand-new prime minister would have been the sole topic of conversation with political comedian Mark Thomas, but this is neither a normal week nor a normal island.

We have a new monarch (“If I’m in a polite mood, he’ll be Mr. Windsor. Other than that, he can fuck right off.“), a new prime minister (“continuity Boris!“), and strikes are sweeping multiple industries. As his new tour dates approach (including shows in Sheffield, Salford and Sale), Mark sat down with Now Then to talk Starmer (“he’s shit”), the Leadmill (“an iconic venue”) and more.

I start by asking him about what he thinks of Liz Truss.

She rushes around committing outrages to remind people she’s still there.

Her pitch to the Tory right was to be more right-wing than Rishi Sunak, the richest man… richer than the dead Elizabeth.

On the Tories in general, he is scornful of the idea that having a more diverse Big Four is in any way progressive.

I find it very funny that the Tories go, ‘Look at how we’re breaking the mould for Britain by putting so many people of colour and so many women on the front bench and the Big Four! Look at this for diversity!’

That diversity doesn’t mean a thing unless the people doing it are actually creating more diversity. That’s the whole point of it.

Mark Thomas
Tony Pletts

When we move on to discuss the ongoing strikes, Mark Thomas says the fact that strikes are a working-class-led movement is “exciting”.

It’s absolutely brilliant - who wants a middle class-led movement? […] The point is if anyone is invested enough to fucking bring about changes in their conditions, it’s the people who are in them.

He is also charitable about many strikes being cancelled during this national mourning period.

People have different politics within a union, it’s not a monolith. And there will be people who are royalists, or people who are monarchists, to whatever degree, some might be passive monarchists, just ‘We need a head of state because she’s lovely’. It might even be ‘I like corgis’, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is the fact that there are people who would think that it was disrespectful to go ahead with a strike after the Queen dies, you cannot therefore be relying on the strength and solidarity of mass action if you’re splitting the people taking part in it.

For me, it’s not so much about the public perception, but rather, it’s about actually keeping the membership completely in line with the action that they’re going to take.

But for all his righteous criticism of the Tories, Thomas is not impressed by Labour leader Keir Starmer either.

What amazes me is that they have this attitude that actually the most important thing that Starmer can do is not frighten the horses.

That if he just keeps quiet and plods gently towards the prime ministership, he’ll get there.

And he will do anything to avoid upsetting people. And actually, it’s tough shit. Because we’ve been upset!

Mark Thomas wants Labour to put forward the popular campaign to renationalise utilities, which has wide support across the country. His frustration at the party’s lack of action is evident.

There is a massive attack, a continued attack upon the working class. And this idea that the way to get to stop the Tories is to just not say anything and keep plodding forward, it is a nonsense.

What can we do to resist?

Mark Thomas does not just do political rants – though he does them superbly – he is also all about action. When asked what we can do to push back against oppression, he is clear that community resilience “is really the name of the game”.

We’ve got a winter where people are going to die as a consequence of government policy and privatised utilities. And that’s nonsense. That’s an absolute outrage.

There’s a whole load of stuff. In London, you’ve got people fighting for justice for Chris Kaba, it’s really, really important. This is the Met that has got to be challenged - the right to protest, the right to demonstrate… all of those things need to take place.

When you can see the Met’s use of the anti-protest laws which came in through the Tories, it’s really exciting to be able to kind of go right okay, fuck this! Game on! Let’s challenge it!

It’s community, and it’s activism and it’s trade unionism. That’s the stuff that is going to win.

Speaking of community, we move onto the threat to the Leadmill. Mark is unequivocal: “I love the Leadmill. Obviously, you want to save it, it’s cultural heritage.”

When he did the final show for 100 Acts of Minor Dissent there, he went through each of the 100 acts with the audience to make sure he’d committed them all.

It went on for four hours. We had a play in the middle of it, we had Jonny & the Baptists playing live. I got everyone in the audience chips - we sent out for chips, it was great.

This is the kind of venue where you can do that kind of stuff. It’s a really exciting place. So for me, the Leadmill’s a brilliant venue, and it needs to be preserved.

Thomas’s upcoming Black and White shows promise “a kind of state-of-the-nation broadcast”. I ask him what audiences can expect.

It’s really funny. It’s really passionate.

There’ll be sing-songs. There’ll be mucking about. There’ll be me being vicious towards the people who deserve it and protecting the people who need it. And I mean that in a Superman way, in a kind of cape… I often see myself as a left-wing Superman.

And then, and with luck, we’ll have a small insurrection.

Learn more

Mark Thomas’s Black and White tour is showing at Memorial Hall in Sheffield on 10 October, Salford Quays Theatre on 11 October and Sale Waterside Arts on 22 November.

Full tour information:

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