Rachel and I recently enjoyed a terrific evening being entertained (and more than occasionally challenged) by the terrific stand-up comedy of Marcus Brigstocke. During more than two hours on stage, he makes a point of encouraging interaction with the audience; he coaxes and even goads us into getting involved. During the show, I responded aloud to three of his questions with the following answers…
“Release the hounds”
“Is it Tuesday?”
You can find out what the questions were later…
I’ve liked Marcus Brigstocke for several years; his all-round righteous anger during guest appearances on The Now Show, his more eclectic turns on the CBBC sketch show “Sorry I’ve Got No Head”, and his hapless character Giles Wemmbley-Hogg. He’s definitely posh, a similar age to me, probably less bleeding-heart but definitely liberal.
His show The Brig Society takes on David Cameron’s supposed ‘project’ that supposedly aims to roll-back the role of Government in our day-to-day lives, replacing it (somehow) with individuals and volunteers spontaneously coming together to fill that void.
Brigstocke is clearly sceptical about both the actual progress made by the government on this, but also about the UK population’s willingness to get involved in performing tasks previously undertaken by the State. So the central thread of the show is his attempt to engage his audience in towns all around the country into actually doing something, or at least having ideas as to what they might do. In between this, he relates jovial anecdotes from Leeds or Nottingham or Chorley or Scotland to reassure his audience that they can’t be as insane as a previous town. He also intersperses the present-day discussion with tales from his childhood and everyday observations about our society today.
He clearly understood Cirencester and its middle-class conservative heartland, full of quiet reserve. But just as he lulled us into a deceptively comfortable place, chuckling along with his stories from Boarding School, he erupted with proper rage, getting very sweary and seriously challenging as he repeatedly decried George Osborne’s comparison of the murderous Mick Philpott with all Benefits Claimants as “F***ING UNACCEPTABLE”. The audience didn’t know whether they should laugh, applaud or just take a long hard look at themselves…
Throughout the evening he asked for volunteers to serve as Cabinet Ministers in his Brig Society, asking them for their policies. We had
- Chancellor: John, a teacher from North Swindon, who wanted to hunt down personal and corporate tax evaders
- Health: Mary, a health visitor, who wanted to recruit more front-line staff for the NHS to improve standards of care
- Education: Amy & George, both teachers, wanted to hire more teachers to help keep class sizes down
- Transport: Rob, a train driver, who wanted to simplify the ticketing process for travelling around the country, and longer trains to improve the customer experience at peak times
- The Elderly: er, that was me. Eventually my loudly vocal interjections got noticed, and he picked on me for putting my head above the parapet…
However, having made such an impression that he called me “a very funny man” (among my proudest moments!), I then seemed to freeze. I had no idea what policies I might employ for The Elderly, whether funny or serious. I wish I might have said something along the lines of free toffees or designated ‘slow-lanes’ in supermarkets or on pavements. In the end I tried to be serious and claim that young people are in more need of help than the elderly. Luckily he realised quickly that he should move on, but thankfully he chose not to mock my dullness.
What that embarrassing 90 seconds brought home to me is that while I might be capable of a solid one-liner retort, I’m much less good at being spontaneously funny…
What was also clear from the policies on offer was that his audience, even in the compact-but-bijoux Sundial Theatre in Cirencester, seem not to share the world-view of the Tories. We seemed to want the government to take the lead in running the country and providing public services.
Perhaps the highlight sequence in the show was when he brought the Banking Crisis to life, walking among the audience, taking money from their hands and pretending to lend it to others, paying off credit agencies for giving AAA ratings, taking insurance both for and against the borrowers defaulting, then demanding the money back from them at a second’s notice. Most compelling and hard-hitting was the conclusion in which (acting the role of the bankers) he blamed his customer’s greed for wanting a home loan, all the while pocketing the money he had gleefully accepted from both other people and the government. Most amusing was watching several audience members squirm as he seemed to ignore any suggestions that he might actually return their actual money…
For a combination of self-deprecating tangents, good-humoured rants and observations about the world, and genuine anger at the hypocrisy and paucity of thinking within the Tory Government, I Reckon you could do a lot worse than Marcus Brigstocke.
And for those of you who’ve read this far, the questions that inspired my interjections…
“What is acceptable to find hanging from a railing?” (Michael Gove)
“How would you deal with the tax-evaders?” (release the hounds)
“What would you do to support the elderly, who’ve worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes…” (is it Tuesday?)