Marcus Brigstocke‘s new show, Devil May Care, comes to Omnibus Theatre in July ahead of Edinburgh Festival and a national tour. We got a chance to sit down with the multi-award-winning comedian before it all kicks off.
OMNIBUS THEATRE: What is Devil May Care about?
MARCUS BRIGSTOCKE: Yes, Exactly! As soon as it’s written, then we’ll all know. I’m doing it now. I am Lucifer, Milton’s version of Lucifer, the fallen angel. I think when people think of the devil, they think of the lurking in dark places trying to get you to do evil. But Milton’s version of Lucifer is this fallen angel thrown down into the pit by god for leading a small rebellion in the Kingdom of heaven. Lucifer is this self-pitying, self-aggrandizing, regretful, mournful character and his revenge on god is the fall of man. Not because he’s fundamentally evil, he wants something from God. He can’t win in an all-out war, he won’t accept his punishment, so he goes into the Garden of Eden and destroys mankind.
OT: Sounds hilarious
MB: I know right, fun times! I’m interested in that character particularly because we divide each other up very quickly now into good and evil. ‘You support Jeremy Corbyn? You evil prick, you are the reason Labour won’t win, you are a naïve utopian dreamer. Point to the one place on Earth in the history of mankind where his kind of socialism has worked. Can’t, can you? So you’re willing to throw the rest of us under a bus, you evil prick.’ ‘You vote Tory? You fucking Nazi bastard, you don’t care about anyone.’ Social media has amplified this experience. It used to be you could sit around, learn a bit about each other. You say what you think, I say what I think, and we might go, “Ah I don’t know, I’m not on board with that”. But there wouldn’t be mudslinging in the same way, because we can see each other. Social media has just blown that shit up. So, I’m really interested in that.
OT: What do you think comedy’s role is right now, in the climate which you just talked about?
MB: Well I think comedy’s role always is to speak truth to power where it can. You know comedy’s role, actually, is to make people laugh. That’s it. Nothing else. But the stuff I like the best tries to punch up, speak truth to power, challenge ideas that are false, point at things that are absurd.
“‘Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.’ What could sum up Brexit better than that?”
OT: Is it difficult to point out things that are absurd as more and more things are absurd?
MB: Ha! Yes, you’ve nailed it. You will notice an extraordinary absence is a good material about Donald Trump. He’s been president for how long now?
OT: Over a year.
MB: Over a year. Who’s done the best Donald Trump routine?
OT: SNL does pretty good stuff? Seth Meyers?
MB: Sure, but what have they done with it? All they’ve done is say what he did. I mean, that’s undermining how much work they put in and it is good, but no one’s slayed him. There was a comic I saw the other day who compared the Trump presidency to someone letting a horse into hospital. Have you seen it?
OT: Yes, that’s John Mulaney!
MB: Is that his name? It’s such a great routine. That for me has nailed it. Because he’s talking about the absurdity of it. Those who let the horse in the hospital go, “Well why did you let a horse in a hospital?” and they went, “The hospital was inefficient”. It’s very difficult to find some crazy beyond the crazy that there is. The realms of fantasy the Brexiteers have now gone into, where they’ve actually genuinely convinced themselves, ‘well, if we lost Northern Ireland because of this, if we just threw the protestants in Northern Ireland under that particular bus, it would be a price worth paying’. Like holy shit you guys are nuts. There’s not a lot of operating room hence I don’t want to be me in this stand-up show. I want to be someone else. I want to be the devil. Because the devil is in a great place to look at this stuff.
OT: Is this your first character driven show?
MB: I’ve done lots and lots character stuff but this is the first stand- up show I’ve done as a character.
OT: And for what reason?
MB: Because the place the world’s in. Well there are a couple of reasons. One, I’m a straight white male. There’s a lot of us. There’re a lot of us with a lot of opinions. We have so much privilege. I’m not going to not be a performer anymore because of that privilege, but I think that if I can step outside of the position that I hold as a straight, white, entitled, privately educated, home-owning, south London living male, that might be a more good interesting thing.
“I’m a straight white male. There’s a lot of us. There’re a lot of us with a lot of opinions. We have so much privilege.”
OT: What was your first experience with Milton’s Lucifer? How did you become familiar with it?
MB: I read [Paradise Lost] in 1994. It was just in a raft of books I thought I should probably read. I didn’t think much of it. It was too hard for me. It was too difficult. The copy that I have now has a very long introduction written by Philip Pullman, who I’m a massive, massive fan of. He explained a number of things. One is, if you’re going to read it, read it out loud. That’s how it was written. If you try read Paradise Lost in your head, you’ll struggle. Or at least you won’t get as much from it as you would if you read it loud. I like the character a lot. He’s pretty fucking great.
OT: I’m not familiar with the text.
MB: Well there’s two sentences you’ll be familiar with. One is, “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.” What could sum up Brexit better than that? And also “The mind is its own place, it could make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.” The other theme in the show which I’m really interested in is how we probably re-lose paradise every day. Your lives and my life are pretty great. The reason I know that, I know I met you seconds ago, is the fact that you’re sitting out here in the sunshine with a laptop, your own phone, wearing clothes, with enough to eat and talking about art. You’re definitely okay. And I wonder whether we don’t re-lose paradise within our own minds every single day.
OT: These seem like some really heavy subjects.
MB: That’s my thing, I like that. I’m not interested any more in waiting to see what’s funny and putting it in my show. I’d much rather take a thing which I find fascinating and then go right, my job now is to make it funny. If you just talk about what you know is funny, it can be brilliant. You look at Jason Byrne. Jason Byrne is just a richly funny man. It just pours out of him, right? Lee Mack. Lee Mack’s a great example. Lee lives and breathes what’s funny, still works very hard at what he does but he’s just very good at what’s funny. And then there’s people like Andrew Maxwell, a comedian friend of mine who I admire massively. He has the same approach I do. What’s interesting? And then make it funny.
OT: And is there a method to that?
MB: Yeah, tear your hair out. Regret it. Shout at yourself. Do it slowly. Get it wrong. And then keep doing it until it’s right.
“I think that places like this are of a value that’s absolutely unquantifiable. That this government, and their opposition, have no clue about. No clue at all.”
OT: Do you prefer talking about wider topics like the state of the world on stage, to talking about yourself?
MB: Well I’ve done a few shows about myself just recently. For years I didn’t. You know I was in rehab when I was 17, I halved my body weight in under seven months, I’ve never had a legal drink in my life, I’ve been sober and drug free for twenty-eight years, I was a podium dancer, I worked on an oil rig. So there’s some stories there and eventually I was like, yes actually I will talk about this, so I did. I did a load of stuff about myself, but I’ve always felt that comedians talking primarily about themselves is not that interesting. It can be, but it’s not always. This show will still fundamentally be about me, it’s about my battles between the things that I think are good and the things that I think are bad. We make shitty selfish decisions all day long by pretending we don’t know the consequences. ‘Oh this drink’s got a plastic straw in it, but it’s only one.’
OT: Finally we’d just like to ask you about Omnibus, your feelings about fringe theatre and the importance of that.
MB: Well look, I live here [points] just over there, so [Omnibus Theatre] is hugely valuable to me. I happen to love the space, I think it’s really cool. I think the seats are too big and too comfortable. For comedy I think it’s better if people are uncomfortable and packed in. But I think it’s a really great use of a space that was a public resource and has remained so. People who live round here, there’s so much money here. Like, you can point in any direction and be pointing at a person who has £1m minimum of assets. Whoever lives [points] there has £1m and whoever lives [points] there has £1m. They ought, in my opinion, to come out and spend twelve quid to make sure that places like this never ever disappear. And they should involve their children. My daughter’s been part of the drama group here for the last two/three years. People who live round here, if this goes some of them won’t notice. ‘Oh was there a theatre? Oh. What was it before? Oh. What is it now? Oh.’ And it won’t mean anything but you will feel a loss. You will fundamentally feel a loss because for every weekend where children come and learn to do drama here, they’re doing something great and creative and that affects everything else that they do. I am a bit on my high horse about this stuff, but I think that places like this are of a value that’s absolutely unquantifiable. That this government, and their opposition, have no clue about. No clue at all.
Marcus Brigstocke: Devil May Care is at Omnibus Theatre from 24 – 29 July 2018 – grab your tickets HERE