Mark Steel is probably my favourite contemporary comic. In these days of social homogeneity; a climate where apathy rules over any kind of satire, Mark Steel dares to be angry – and to channel that anger into a humour that is both accessible and human.
It’s profoundly unhip to be Marxist these days, yet somehow Steel manages to carry it off in a way that’s almost impossible to dislike. He’s been a member of the Socialist Workers Party for-virtually-ever which should turn the kind of audiences that were at Greenwich Theatre last night right off (fewer students than I expected; rather more suits – and ties – than he had expected.) But his humour isn’t the kind of in-yer-face-kill-the-bastards violent variety. This guy really wants to understand the world we live in today where, as he pointed out, even the leader of the British Army is politically left of Tony Blair.
What makes his material work, even for people who don’t necessarily agree with him, is his unique way of combining his modern stuff with a real in-depth knowledge of historical events.
Last night was loosely (very loosely) based around The French Revolution, and resembled closely his wonderful Mark Steel Lecture series. The OU took quite a leap of faith getting him to present these – but they are a tour-de-force – light years away from beardy blokes in sandals and jazzy shirts standing in front of graphs. The lectures are hardly PhD level, but contain the enthusiasm and spark that can hook a potential scholar – a fantastic introduction to the subject.
He manages to draw out the quirky stuff, the things that make the people involved human beings rather than Historical Figures, and then, with a final flourish, create modern parallels which make you think.
I don’t get hatred from Mark Steel. He wants to understand the people who do things he disagrees with, and if he’s angry, it’s with systems, not individuals. He adores human frailty and gets great fun from finding the wonderfully contradictory facets of human nature. He was on (almost) home territory in Greenwich (he’s from Swanley, which he admits gets a cheap laugh every time from London audiences.) He was clearly using well-honed material throughout, and the Sarf London gags, I suspect, were also not on their first outing, but who cares when it’s so confidently delivered? Lots of jokes about antique markets and Maze Hill, these age-buffed Greenwich gags rubbed shoulders effortlessly with off-the-cuff things that came to him on the spot. That kind of delivery only comes from years on the coalface of comedy.
There’s comedy on all week at Greenwich Theatre, but I can’t see anything eclipsing Mark Steel’s amiable Angry Man. Let me know if you see anyone else…