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Interview: Marcus Brigstocke

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Marcus Brigstoke is a man of many talents. A stalwart of Radio Four comedy, he's also starred in several well received stand-up shows of his own and even bagged a cameo in Love Actually. Oh and he worked as a podium dancer at the Ministry of Sound for a while...

Marcus Brigstocke“It's not to be overstated!” He says. “Whilst it's true, it was brief and was never a career! It was just a thing I did to earn some money. I was at the Ministry of Sound every Saturday night and I got talent-spotted and asked if I'd go and be a podium dancer.”

So that's cleared that up, then.

Later this month he'll be on stage again, reprising the role he played in the touring production of Spamalot. The role of King Arthur will be split between himself and John Culshaw for a short run in the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre.

This new production of Spamalot, “lovingly ripped off” from cult-classic movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail is directed by Christopher Luscombe. Shorter, by some accounts funnier than the first incarnation and written by Pythons legend Eric Idle, Brigstocke describes it as the most stupid, joyful thing that he has ever done.

Later on he describes the musical as “beautifully silly” and his genuine enthusiasm for the show and Monty Python couldn't be clearer.

“I've been a big fan [of Monty Python] ever since I first saw their stuff. I sort of did it all backwards. I saw The Meaning of Life, then The Life of Brian, then The Holy Grail and then the TV shows. I was a huge fan.”

“I don't think I kind of connected up the idea of what they were doing with what I was doing, though, until I was asked to do Spamalot.”

This is a man who thrives off performance and is a fan of all of the performing arts, something clearly demonstrated in his eclectic resume. “I'm a collossal tart, I really am. I really enjoy performing, in whatever form. Being handed someone else's script, musical, whatever.”

“The reason I got into comedy in the first place is that it's a way of being on stage. If you are willing to spend the time creating material for yourself then you can go and perform as much as you like.”

Marcus says that comedy was what drove him to go to university, where he studied drama at Bristol University. He took full advantage of the creative experiences on offer, doing sketch shows and stand-up alike at every opportunity.

“When you go to uni, you can have a theatre if you want to and you can have it for nothing. And you can have people who want to light them and who want to produce what you're doing because that's the experience that they want to find.”

“That network within a university can be incredibly useful. And you have an audience that wants to be entertained for a couple of quid. It's amazing. The moment you step out of university, you realise just how blessed you've been having access to all that stuff.”

Marcus' comedy career took off after he left university, winning the BBC's New Comedian Of The Year in 1996. He's appeared on Live at the Apollo, Have I Got News For You and QI, as well as appearing as a panel member on Question Time, because of the political nature of much of his comedy.

Some of his most popular sketches are those centred on current affairs and his new stand-up show is called The Brig Society. Marcus says that he's proud of how optimistic and idealistic his brand of comedy is, compared to much of what's around today. “Yes, in terms of that I'm proud of my utopian ideals.”

“What's interesting to me is how when the more alternative comics came along in the 80s, guys like Alexi Sayle, jokes about disabled people, jokes where someone who's not earned or deserved criticism are entirely the butt of the joke, that kind of viciousness was really frowned upon, you know.”

“What had come before was racist, homophobic, sexist and all the rest of it, but all too often now, in the clubs, you'll find someone saying, 'Ooh, nice shirt mate, bit gay isn't it?' And that's the punchline. I'm like, 'Are you serious? In this day and age?' It blows me away the sort of casual misogyny, racism and homophobia that exists on the comedy scene.”

Another of Marcus' pet peeves is religion and he cites Monty Python's 'Every Sperm is Sacred' sketch which mocks Catholics & Protestants as one of his favourites. “But there was a long time between when I saw that sketch and when it chimed with any personal angst that I may have about religion. It just really makes me laugh.”

His antipathy towards religion (and David Blaine) is well documented in his stand-up work and he says that although most stand-up takes time and effort to hone, sometimes material comes along packaged and ready to go. “It's like, I just don't need to do anything here.”

“When they found the Higgs-Boson a load of creationists who hadn't done enough reading had read that they'd found the God particle and thought that meant they'd found proof of God. I shit you not. There was a tweet that said 'atheists nil, rest of the world, one.' Another one said “I heard they found the God particle... atheists must be shitting themselves.”

“Well, that just really, really served itself up”

So what's next for Marcus? He's in Spamalot at the Harold Pinter Theatre from July 25th until September 9th, interrupted by a 23 day run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. When Spamalot finishes its run he'll be taking The Brig Society on the road with a tour.

And does he enjoy what he does?

“I really don't consider that I even have a job for the most part. I just do fun things and if other people find them fun enough to give me money for them well... that's nice.”

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