Preview: Mark Steel’s In Town

Mark Steel tells Marissa Burgess why he’s making his comedy more bespoke

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In a previous interview with comedian Mark Steel, he confessed that he often likes to lie to journalists just for a laugh.

“Did I ever lie to you in post?” he ponders, “I might have done,” he teases. “No, I only lie about the question of how I first got started. Journalists ask and I’ll make something up like, ‘Oh you know, I wanted to be a professional footballer and I was having a trial for Carlisle – I used to be able to get away with kicking the opponents players if I told the referee a joke.’ It’s whatever comes into my head. That’s quite a good one, actually” he says making a mental note.

However having made his name touring as well as a broadcaster and writer, some of Steel’s tall tales now have a tendency to follow him around.

“These days you tell a lie and it might just hop onto the right website or something and someone copies it down and then it’s on Wikipedia. I’ve been on television programmes and have been introduced as someone who started out as a TV repair man and that’s not true. People insist ‘Yes it is true, it’s on the internet!’ Your memory is nowhere near as reliable as ‘it’s on the internet’,’” he laughs.

What is for certain is that Kent born Steel is a veteran of the circuit, starting out in 1982, and there are independent witnesses to verify that biographical fact. According to his autobiography, It’s Not A Runner Bean, his first taste of comedy was earlier than that, aged 14 on a family getaway at a holiday camp in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. These days, alongside the likes of Mark Thomas and Jeremy Hardy, he is one of the finest and funniest social commentators we have.

This year’s tour however is a little closer to home particularly for those fans in the audience. Using his skills as a quick thinker, or at least a swift writer, each show will be specifically tailored to the town in which he’s performing.

“I like doing stuff about the place that I’m in, doing a little bit about something that’s happened in the town and making the show a little bit distinct. Initially I wondered whether I had enough time to rehearse and research a whole show just about one place. So I did it. I suppose it’s not for me to say but it seemed to work and it seemed to be very popular. So that’s the idea of this show, Mark Steel’s In Town.”

The bespoke show has already been the focus of two series on Radio 4 and was originally conceived as a reaction against the increasing homogenisation of our towns and cities.

“It’s about how everywhere is being made to look identical but people really like to cling to the bits that make their place unique and distinct. It’s a little rebellion I think against ‘The Man’. It’s about standing up against those things that try to make the world exactly the same and rob everywhere of its identity and individuality. I think most people really like the fact that there’s something distinct and unique about their town and they would hate it if everywhere were exactly the same. That’s the idea anyway.”

Though it’s the predominately a show about local issues, the life-long Socialist is unlikely to be able to resist devoting some of his comic ire to the coalition government. But he’s not happy that the Tory majority provide such an easy target.

“It’s not a good thing is it? Economically it’s not going to work out for me given that I’ve got kids that are going to go to university, I’ll have to come up with a lot of material to compensate for the fact that I’m going to be eight million pounds worse off,” he bemoans.

If that wasn’t enough, in amongst the politics and the local humour there will also be some impressions of a little old Irish lady.

“I’m doing a character in this new show and it’s not even based on, it actually is, my neighbour. I haven’t even written anything, I just tell the story word for word about my adorable next door neighbour who’s 74, Doris. She’s Irish and she is the world swearing champion. She is absolutely magnificent.”

Topicality, a knowledge of geography and pensioner mimicry, what more could you possibly ask for?

Mark Steel’s In Town, 26 January, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield.

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