Moral of the story
Marcus Brigstocke is playing with the devil
There used to be seven deadly sins, now there are seven million. Commandments like thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ox replaced by thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s trampoline. And Lucifer, well, he’s had enough.
“He’s come up from Hell to say ‘Oi, stop it. I’m sick of dealing with your minor, self-pitying, guiltridden nonsense’,” says comedian, actor and writer Marcus Brigstocke. “‘I run Hell. There’s plenty of sin, plenty of really bad stuff going on, so start being a bit nicer to each other and give me the real baddies to deal with.’ Now – and this is me talking, not Lucifer – would be time better spend fighting what I think of as real injustice, real persecution, real cruelty.”
Marcus’ new show,
Devil May Care, his first character stand-up, is about how we navigate good and bad in the modern world. “Evolution has led us, effectively, to have a total of, I think, 25 friends. That’s what the human mind is capable of registering.
“Most of us have got 400-500 friends across Facebook and, whatever else, we’re not really built for the world we’re living in. I think that’s part of the reason why we feel fractured and so inclined to condemn each other.”
We live in politically and socially divisive times, says Marcus. There’s a lot of bitterness being flung in all directions politically. There are divisions within the left, Corbynistas versus everybody else, the Liberals somewhere in the middle. The Conservatives are being torn in two by those trying to retain traditional attitudes to business and prosperity in the country, and those determined to deliver Brexit at any cost.
“Whether you voted for it or not, it’s all the way through the looking glass. You only have to say the word and it causes pain for everyone who hears it. Leavers are in agony because they’re not getting the unicorns they were promised. Remainers are in agony because we’re going ‘we told you this would happen and now look’.
“The people in between who were a bit ‘this was complicated, how was I supposed to form an opinion’ are now being forced to have one on something they were like, ‘well, I don’t know do I? This is years of 28 countries working together, it’s hard to assess’. And now they’re the victims of what’s going on.”
Social media, which Marcus finds mostly a corrosive, toxic and frightening place, has enabled us to communicate with each other in new ways you’d hope would’ve led to better understanding and a more amicable, prosperous world. It’s also emboldened a lot of people to be extremely unpleasant and very hostile to each other.
“It’ll take you 30 seconds to find someone expressing what I think is a fairly moderate or even a strong opinion and you’ll find immediately afterwards someone who’s effectively written them off as evil.” Let’s not forget, in almost every respect, the human experience is better than it’s ever been. There are fewer people living in poverty, fewer mothers
and children dying in childbirth, less chronic disease taking lives in even the poorest parts of Africa, better cures for cancer.
“It’s kind of what the show’s about. It argues, at the end, you were just kicked out of a Centre Parcs for breaking one rule. There’s no paradise lost, this is paradise,” says Marcus. “Paradise
Lost says the mind is its own place, it can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven. How many times have you been somewhere and all you could concentrate on was the wasp buzzing around your ice cream, or the fact the incredible place you were staying had a slightly uncomfortable bed? Similarly you’re somewhere s**t but with mates and you’ve gone ‘Hey, this is alright’.”
Milton’s Lucifer in particular is a great character. People usually think of the devil as a wicked, fork-tongued leader unto temptation. That’s not what Marcus is doing. He’s using the fallen angel as a prism to look at these issues from the outside and actually have a sense of sympathy for the human state right now.
“So, as per usual, it’s a long rambling complicated set of ideas that swirl around in my head,” he laughs.
“Then I go ‘Right, that’s interesting enough for me to get my hooks into it’ and start the challenge of saying how do you take these ideas and make them funny. That’s very much what I do. I’ve done shows about heartbreak and depression, about theology and gratitude, about my addiction and my recovery. This is different from anything I’ve tried to do before, that’s always the challenge.” Christians and others who’ve seen the show – earning rave reviews at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe when we spoke – have given it their blessing, liking the basic Judeo Christian message of peace and goodwill to all men.
Marcus doesn’t subscribe to any such religious models.
“Unfortunately for them – and I do mean unfortunately – they’ve been caught up in a lot of rather silly rules that at the time were necessary. This is part of what I address in the show. Lucifer’s looking up at things that used to get you sent to Hell but no longer do. Thou shalt honour the Sabbath. Who do you know that honours the Sabbath for God, even really devout Christians? It’s important to say this isn’t an attack on God, on religion, on anyone who has faith in their lives. It’s nothing to do with any of that.”
In fact, some years ago Marcus had the opposite of a crisis of faith – he had a crisis of atheism. “I did a show and then wrote a book called God Collar. My best friend died and I had a feeling my atheism left me in a very cold, lonely place. Where I am with it now is that I do all sorts of things that probably only make sense to me and a few people very close to me. I pray, I meditate, I focus on bringing my attention into the present moment, and I absolutely believe there are powers in the universe far beyond my understanding and I’m glad they’re there. Whether you want to call that God or not I’d leave entirely up to you.”
There’s no overarching theme at work. Marcus is a pretty serious man, thinking carefully about everything he does, doing his research, studying, debating, working hard. At the end of the day, he considers himself a clown and that’s it.
“All I want is for people to find it funny. If beyond that they go,‘Oh, that’s interesting, morality’s complicated now isn’t it?’ then cool, that’s fine. But I haven’t done my job if they’re not laughing and you do that by pushing forward. The show’s the show and it’s funny. Turns out being the Devil is quite a laugh.” And, when his time comes, whichever gate he finds himself at? “I would very much hope if there were anything afterwards that my first sentence, if I saw people I knew and loved, would be, ‘Good to see you, what shall we do?’”
‘Milton’s Lucifer in particular is a great character. People usually think of the devil as a wicked, fork-tongued leader unto temptation’
See Marcus Brigstocke’s Devil May Care at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, October 4.