Moral of the story

Mar­cus Brig­stocke is play­ing with the devil

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Wayne Sav­age Š PHO­TOS: Andy Holling­worth

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.

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