Mark Thomas is one of the funniest performers around. However, when asked to describe his comedy to someone that had never seen him, he said that he is not a comedian. This is true. To pigeonhole him as one would be to diminish the totality of his performances. This is a man who exposed the absurdity of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act by organising monthly mass lone protests (which netted him a world record), set up a PR firm at an arms fair and got a Major General to admit to ‘a bit of torture’ and protested the building of a dam by leaving an ice sculpture at the headquarters of the company that was going to build it. Funny? Absolutely. But so, so much more. After all, funny people aren’t normally placed under police surveillance for their investigative journalism.
A lot of students weren’t alive when Thomas’s show was a must see on Channel 4 (although, thankfully, the shows still exist on YouTube). For those of us that are old enough to remember it, Thomas’ singular ability to mix social justice, activism and comedy was, for a generation of children and teenagers, a nascent moment in their social awakening. To give you an idea of how he was perceived, he was allegedly described by MI5 as being a “Trotskyite sympathiser”.
He is no less fervent today and what stands out when you talk to him is his passion for the work he does. On more than one occasion he mentions wanting to ‘engage’ people and his previous work demonstrates this. Thomas has used people from the audience in his shows, whether getting them to act as different characters or leading an entire audience in a rousing rendition of an old trade unionist song.
Most comedians don’t normally have such an outward zest for social justice. The NHS has been something on the periphery of Thomas’s work for decades. He once rented an apartment for an NHS worker in Wimbledon and his father’s illness is covered in Bravo Figaro. In his latest show, he takes his inspiration from a month-long residency that he took at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust group of hospitals. The NHS recently turned 70 and Thomas’ latest show, Mark Thomas – Check Up: Our NHS at 70 review, has been described as taking the “temperature of universal healthcare and deliver[ing] a grave diagnosis”.
If you can get tickets to the show, do it. Thomas isn’t a comedian, he’s a performer. And he’s really rather good at it.
Check Up: Our NHS at 70 is on at Sheffield’s University Drama Studio, Tuesday 16 and Wednesday 17 April.
Featured Image Credit: Steve Ullathorn