MARK STEEL INTERVIEW
Comedian and Independent columnist Mark Steel chats to Sam Pryce about divorce, Twitter trolls, the mystery of the Newport accent, and just how silly the Scilly Isles are.
Your tour is called Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be Alright – a surprisingly chirpy title for a show about divorce and politics.
When I first thought of the title, I thought it was quite funny because it’s about everything both globally and personally going down the plughole. But, in fact, it’s sort of come to be true in a way, because eventually everything does seem to turn out alright. Underneath all the chaos of your Trumps and the planet becoming uninhabitable, I think most people really are trying to be alright. Even divorce: once a couple of years goes by, you meet up, you have a bit of a giggle about it. I don’t want to get too serious about it – it’s supposed to be a load of jokes really.
But even though the end goal is obviously to make people laugh, you talk about your experience of divorce in a way that might be helpful to some people…
Well, maybe. I don’t really get particularly personal about it, because that would be tedious. You have to go to a mediator, when you get divorced, and these people are funny. They sit in front of you saying things like, ‘None of us are right or wrong… Let’s just put some ideas into the room and let them float.’ You’re really better off just letting people go at each other with sticks, I think.
You’re very active on Twitter – do you ever have trouble with trolls whose feathers you’ve ruffled?
Thousands of them! There’s nothing you can put on Twitter that wouldn’t upset someone, somewhere. You could put “I’m enjoying a delightful sunset in Dorset” and someone would reply: “Not so delightful if you suffer from sunset-aversion-in-Dorset, actually. Have a thought for SAD sufferers, please!”
In fact, once there was a Plaid Cymru MP on the news. I tweeted about how he must be the only MP with no vowels in his surname. Then I went to make a cup of tea and when I got back, Twitter was on fire with various Welsh nationalists saying that this was “typical of English imperialism” and how we “don’t understand the language” and “Y is a vowel in Welsh, you great stupid English typical idiot!” I started to think, ‘Am I not going to be allowed into Wales anymore?’ But of course, next time I went, I had a really lovely time. It must just be a few people that sit indoors all day knocking out these angry tirades. I put something about Trump being a psychopath and people sent me messages saying, “Please don’t add to the stigma against psychopaths.”
Your Radio 4 show Mark Steel’s in Town has been going for a decade now and there’s soon to be a new series. It seems quite demanding, coming up with new material for every town you visit. How do you decide where to go next? Are some towns funnier than others?
D’ya know what, I don’t think they are. I think every town is funny and I’ve learnt that doing the show. It’s brilliant fun thinking, ‘Where shall we go?’ We’ve been thinking about the Scilly Isles for a while. Someone I met recently was over from the Scilly Isles for Christmas, so I was asking her loads of questions, wondering if it was a good place to do. But equally, I really like going to Basingstoke and places like that, places where you think there’s nothing interesting – those places are just as much fun to do. There’ll always be some local character.
I really enjoyed the Aberystwyth episode. Do you have any plans for any other Welsh towns?
Either this series, or if not the next series. I’m quite keen on Newport. It’s probably seen as a bit of an outpost of east Cardiff, I suppose. I think Newport’s fascinating… It’s got a really distinct accent that I’ve got no idea if I can do, but I really fancy having a go at it. I’ll probably fail miserably.
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, Wed 4 Mar; Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Fri 13 Mar; Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl, Sat 14 Mar. Tickets: £15. Info: marksteelinfo.com