Mark Steel reveals why everything is going to be alright
As the NHS starts stockpiling body bags for a doomsday scenario Brexit and the supermarket shelves are denuded of tinned peaches by shoppers filling their pantries to survive the inevitable end of civilisation, comedian Mark Steel has some words of comfort.
His latest show is called Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be Alright, and he has decided to laugh in the face of every absurd news bombshell rather than head into the nearest bunker.
Mark started touring with this show at the beginning of last year, but surely he never expected things to become so much worse that he would have to dramatically rewrite it?
“I don’t know if things have got worse,” he says. “They have got more wild, more peculiar, but I’m starting to find that a bit more amusing, really. Every time you look at the news there's some mad thing. I think it is quite entertaining. What’s next? MPs dressed as clowns? Grizzly bears in the House of Commons? Discovering we’re now in a customs union with the Jungle Book?
“It is so extraordinarily bonkers and incompetent of them, with people promising things and then promising the exact opposite five minutes later. They are the most useless people. The first people in charge of Brexit were David Davis and Boris Johnson - it’s like if you found an unexploded bomb in your house and they sent round Paul Gascgoigne and a kangaroo. I think it will be alright, though, even if we are all eating grubs are killing each other soon.”
However, he won’t be banging on about politics too seriously. “Don’t ask me questions about whether Labour will get into power in the next election - you might as well just ask a random person in the pub. I’m not doing the tour on those lines - I don’t want to be a Times journalist on tour or Andrew Marr giving his thoughts on the current state of Britain.”
And in spite of the madness that has taken over the political landscape in the past three years, Mark still refuses to give up hope that basic decency will remain.
“I think, generally, there is a human spirit that persists,” he says.”Whenever the world goes in a direction of being all about selfishness and about big business and people saying nothing has a right to exist unless it is making someone some money, then that runs up against the other side of human nature. We are not all like that. We still go and see if our neighbours are alright and we do see if we can help mums lift a buggy up the steps to the station. Most people aren’t going to rob you and if you leave your car unlocked, most people are not going to take it. What you see on the news is such a skewed version of reality - and if you took your view of humanity from the extreme end of Twitter and Facebook then you would welcome in the first nuclear bomb, wouldn't you?”
What keeps his spirits up more than anything is touring around the country for his BBC Radio 4 show Mark Steel’s in Town and meeting friendly locals bursting with funny stories about their home turf.
“I have not yet been to a town where there isn't a big bunch of people willing to take you round who are hugely enthusiastic about the little quirks and the uniqueness and individuality of their town,” he says. “They are passionate in a funny way, not in a pompous way. That makes me really hopeful.
“In the last series I visited Hastings and it was just such a funny, lively place, you would never have expected it. Someone in the crowd said there are a lot of homeless people in Hastings but a bloke in the crowd said yeah we are proud of that because we attract the homeless, they would rather be homeless here than somewhere else. I thought that was brilliant.
“I have been to Cambridge many times. The brilliant thing is everywhere is unique. Cambridge has peculiar people riding about on bikes between gothic buildings and there’s the town as well and there’s a marvellous tension between them.”
He will also be doing a date at nearby Huntingdon, which he hasn’t visited before. “I’ll enjoy looking round there and getting to know it," he says.
Although Brexit and reflections on the peculiar turn politics has taken recently make up quite a few of the gags in the show, Mark will also look at his personal life and delve into some aspects of his recent divorce after 11 years of marriage.
“I won’t be moaning about the specifics of my divorce but the process of it, which I think is all mad,” he says. “They try to make it as difficult as possible,”
For instance, he reserves much of his bile for divorce mediators. “I hate those people - they are useless and they make everything worse. I say in the show you would be much better off going down to the nearest Wetherspoons and getting hold of the first person you see and letting them sort it out. That would be better. Buy them a curry night meal afterwards. Most people I speak to who have been through divorce say mediators are the worst. I had one of those ‘thank you for coming’ people and I really didn't make much of a connection with them.”
He has also just lost his best friend of 25 years, the comedian and BBC Radio 4 star Jeremy Hardy. Mark says: “He was a really close mate for a very long time and I'm going to miss him enormously. You know when people get two kittens and they grow up and spend all their time together and then one of them dies and they get old and the other one is slightly perplexed about where the other one has gone? I feel a bit like that really. Obviously in the last month he was really ill but I will miss the most just not being able to go out for a laugh. He was always brilliantly outrageous, so mischievously outrageous, and capable of saying the most extraordinary wrong thing but at the same time always being really funny. I had to write his obituary for a newspaper on the day he died, which was very hard.”
The name of the show, which now seems extremely upbeat given the sad circumstances of the past year, was inspired by something that happened at a football match - one of Mark’s greatest passions.
Mark says: “There was one night when I was feeling quite gloomy I went to the football and Palace beat Arsenal; that is not something that happens often. In fact, it might have been the only time it has ever happened. And the crowd started singing ‘every little thing is gonna be alright,’ and I thought that would be a good name for the show.
"I had already thought about calling the show that because everything seemed quite gloomy, and when I heard it at the football I thought they are telling me something here.”
Cambridge Junction, Saturday, May 11. Tickets £17 from Junction.co.uk.