Interview: Marcus Brigstocke
Does this Big Society business really work? Are the government just fobbing us off? And can we do their job better than they can? In his first stand-up tour since 2009, political animal Marcus Brigstocke attempts to answer these questions and more in The Brig Society, a show that is “as much a safety valve to let off steam as it is a stand-up show.” Radio Teesdale’s Peter Dixon catches up with Marcus to talk about what’s getting up his nose (politically speaking), his love for Father Ted creator Graham Linehan and why the advent of Twitter means being a stand-up never stops.
PD: Hi Marcus. You’re on tour at the moment – how’s it going?
MB: Globally or on my tour? I think the world is looking pretty bleak; my tour’s going well though. I realised that I hadn’t written a new stand-up show since the coalition government formed, so it was either go on tour again or explode. I think it’s as much a safety valve to let off steam as it is a stand-up show…
PD: Your show’s called The Brig Society – was that a light-bulb moment?
MB: It was fairly soon after they launched this idea of The Big Society that I thought “That’ll come in handy.” Not as a proposal for the country, obviously, but as a show title. That is what the show’s about though. It’s about the idea, and what would happen if we did it. You know The Big Society idea of us running our own stuff – what if we actually take them at their word and go, “You’ve proved yourselves to be inept…”
I think we could run the country better, so in the show I appoint people in the audience ministers and give them responsibility for various things. There was a lady the other day – she was 71, probably the oldest audience member I’ve ever had – and I made her Minister for the Elderly. I said, “What policy would you like to introduce?” and she said, “I’d raise the age of consent to 47.” I asked her why, and she just said, “I just want to improve my odds.”
That already shows a greater level of understanding and humour than I hear coming out of Westminster. This show’s been really fun to do so far.
PD: Given you’re involving the audience a fair bit I suppose the show’s gradually changing as you go along then?
MB: Absolutely, it is. And what’s interesting for me is the way the show alters depending on where I am in the country. The austerity measures have bitten very hard in different places. They haven’t really bitten in most of the constituencies of people implementing the cuts, but if you go north – to the North East – you see a different picture. In some of the things I talk about the audience’s reaction goes through emotions of anger and outrage and then eventually laughter, we hope.
It’s very interesting what people suggest as policies too. We had a GP in the crowd last week, and I made her Minister for Health. She was a very softly spoken woman, and I said, “What policy would you introduce?” She said, “Well, I’ve been a GP for a long time, and my training took me a number of years; and I suppose as a doctor I would like to sever Andrew Lansley’s head using a biro.” Wow. Where did that come from?
PD: Are you collecting all these responses then? Is there a book coming after the tour?
MB: I’m tempted to do that, but it feels like a bit of a liberty expecting the audience to write my next book for me! I might do – I’m not ruling it out! If you have a political ideology in your show that’s all well and good, but your responsibility as a comedian is to make people laugh first. Anything else is a bonus. That’s what it is.
PD: You’ve got quite a varied background – TV, books, musicals… – is there a master plan behind all this? What’s driving you to do all this?
MB: You should’ve taken this interview straight to my agent! The master plan is that we wait and see what amazing opportunity I’m offered next. I’ve been so blessed in my career with the things I’ve been allowed to do, from appearing on serious programmes like Question Time, to Have I Got News For You, to appearing in movies with Kevin Spacey and Hugh Grant. The backbone for me has always been stand-up. It’s the most important aspect of what I do, first and foremost. There is no plan; I tumble from one experience to the next.
PD: I’ve been told you’re doing a live interview on Twitter after this one – do you enjoy that side of things? Do you see it as a form of writing?
MB: Stuff like Twitter is a way of being a stand-up all the time. And if people follow me they get a somewhat fragmented but permanent stand-up show, depending on how I’m feeling. There are days when I tweet a number of things that I realise afterwards are incredibly dull, but if you follow that kind of thing; Graham Linehan, who wrote Father Ted and Big Train and stuff, is just wonderful. I really enjoy his stuff.
I follow him, Chris Addison and lots of other funny comedians, so it’s also a nice way for me to keep up with all the stuff my mates are doing – and occasionally get into blinding rows with people about stuff like climate change and that kind of stuff. I find it quite difficult to argue in 140 characters or less…
PD: Certainly is. What’s next for you then? Any exciting plans you can let us in on?
MB: This tour runs until Christmas, but I’m on Have I Got News For You in a couple of weeks, which is always a pleasure. I’ll probably pick this tour up again next year; there are more places I’d like to visit, and I might even get a book out of it. Then assuming that things are all right financially then I’ll probably do another plan. You have to do a bit of financial planning to be in a play or a musical because they don’t really pay very much, so I guess that’s what I’d like to do next.
I’m writing a few TV scripts, but there is no plan really. Just try and enjoy yourself, right? And remember how fortunate you are – or how fortunate I am, anyway. Be grateful, happy and funny. That’s it.
Marcus Brigstocke: The Brig Society is at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle, tomorrow. Tickets are £15. For details, see: millvolvotynetheatre.co.uk