About 15 years ago, one of Britain’s best stand ups dropped the word “comedy” from his TV show, the Mark Thomas Comedy Product.
Tackling such weighty subjects as international arms deals and tax evasion it was a clear reflection that the left wing activist was changing his priorities.
Since then he has attempted to juggle his passionate politics with actually being funny, and it hasn’t always worked.
There’s no such problem with his latest show though, which finally strikes the perfect balance between humour and human rights.
In fact Extreme Rambling – Walking The Wall may well be the finest work of his 20-year career. It tells of his efforts to walk the length of Israel’s notorious Separation Barrier – the 470-mile barbed wire fence that separates Israel from Palestine.
You might think this would make for some pretty humourless material – far from it. It’s a real tour de force as Thomas effortlessly switches between comic and touching, slapstick and sensitivity. Powered along at a breakneck pace with an impressively physical performance, it shows a master of his trade at work.
In two hours he throws in unlikely references to everything from pianist Richard Clayderman to Travelodge.
He even squeezes in a great phone hacking gag and a bit about clown shoes. Yet there’s so much more to it than “just” being funny.
Thomas proves he’s a real master of language, with beautifully descriptive prose that suggests the book of his journey is worth a read. And every now and again he slows his pace to a fragile whisper, as he reveals one of the many heartbreaking tragedies that have been created by this seemingly endless conflict.
While he does begin by condemning the suicide bombings that led to the wall’s creation, he unsurprisingly has a pro-Palestinian perspective.
Of course he’s preaching to the converted but he powerfully drives the point home that this barrier does nothing to solve the problems between Palestine and Israel, and in many ways just creates more. Essential viewing.