We caught up with award-winning stand up comedian Marcus Brigstocke to discuss using politics for comedy, that infamous Goldman Sachs routine and of course some beatboxing.
Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.
In conversation with Marcus Brigstocke
My comedy's changed a lot over the years, so when I first started, I just said everything. Anything I saw that struck me funny, and that's kind of the joy I think, of being a new comedian, it's why, when I look at new comedy now, new comedians, I'm like oh, they're so great, they can see things so easily.
And then when you've been doing it a long time, you get better at being a comedian, but you don't see everything in the same way. But to begin with, I did like stuff from the tele. I did impressions. I did little songs that I'd written and it was great. It was really good stuff. And I did well and I kind of worked my way up and I was headlining Jongleurs and getting encores every night, but truth be told, I reached a bit of a sticking point. I just started to feel like what am I doing? This is weird.
I've got this amazing thing that I've learned how to do. And I felt good at it, but I thought I'm not saying anything.
And then suddenly the world around me got very interesting, but Labor had been in power for a bit, but not enough had changed. And then it looked like we were going to war and I started talking about things that I felt mattered, and that sort of coincided with me starting to be a touring comedian. And then you have to talk about things, I think, you got to talk about something. And it kind of grew out from there.
Again, there was no plan. And I still love when something really stupid and trivial occurs to me, and it kind of comes out of nowhere.
Funnily enough actually, doing like corporates, you could call them more like events for one industry or company or whatever, it's funny, the weird stuff that comes up that you can't use it anywhere else. Sit and have dinner with someone and sit and listen to what their issues are and what they're talking about, and then go up on stage, you have to be honest with the audience.
I don't know what I'm talking about, but here's what I see. Here's what I think.
And there's these little moments that exist along the way, and you can never use them again. They're really fun. They're really weirdly interesting and fun. I enjoy that part of it. But I'm always just trying to make the next thing and see what's interesting.
Is your job as a satirist getting harder?
It's a funny one. The world that we live in right now, the political leaders that we've got, and the big influences, social influences, political influences, business influences, and all the rest of it are quite mad. They're quite absurd, and sometimes it's hard to find that space beyond where they are that's like a parody of what they are. It's hard to find the metaphor about Trump. Trump's like, well, he's like Trump, isn't he? Right? There's not much there. And it's the same with Brexit, this kind of lightning rod divisive subject always.
You can find on social media every day, a gif or a meme or a picture or a sentence and people go that's Brexit.
Yeah, it kind of is, but there are a million metaphors every day for these things, so in some respects, it's difficult while the world at least feels like it's going crazy to find those little nuggets of something funny and truthful. But it's a good challenge.
And I do think it's important actually, because now I see more people unhappy about the state of global politics than I think I've ever seen before. And that may not be true for everybody. It's just what I see. And I think that comedy plays a role in going yeah, look, we do all know these issues are pressing down on us. Here's a funny way through. That's nice, isn't it? It's good, it's a relief, and it always was.
I mean in relatively recent history, if you look at the second world war, going into it all the way through it, and immediately afterwards, it was fertile ground and people wrote a lot of songs. People wrote a lot of poetry, people wrote a lot of comedy and my job's not that important. It's important to me, but we do need that collectively. Mercifully, I love comedy, right? I love making comedy, but I love comedy. I love what my friends do. So I go and see a lot of comedy, and I do think it's really important when the world feels like it's nuts.
How can you turn a dry and heavy political topic into a funny routine?
The trick has always been for me, I might be really interested in something and I want to make it funny. Well, how am I going to do it? How am I going to tell you about something that I find interesting?
So there was a weird story. I wrote this routine about how Greece ended up part of the single European currency. How boring is this? Astonishingly dull, trust me all other stand ups are going what? And I wrote this routine, I was like, I don't know whether this is ever going to work. Never going to work.
And I went out and I did a preview and I was just talking to the audience, right? And basically Greece got into the Euro, Goldman Sachs hid their sovereign debt. There were rules for entry, Goldman Sachs hid their sovereign debt and snuck them in.
And I'm talking to the audience and I went, ‘does anyone here work in financial services’, and no one will say yes to that at a normal gig, right? Now I play to whole audiences that do, and this bloke went “yeah", like this, and I went, ‘okay, cool. Who'd you work for?’ He went “Goldman Sachs”, and I hadn't done the routine and I went, ‘oh, alright, okay. How long you been there?’ And he went, “oh, I've been there for maybe three years.”
And I went, ‘is that an accent I can hear? Where are you from man?’ He went, [Greek accent] “I'm from Greece.” And I was like, oh my God. And then I launched into this routine.
And that audience on that night must have thought I was the cleverest comedian in the history of the world, because I go into this routine, and the way I did it is it was like Greece wanted to get into a nightclub, but they couldn't get in because they were too young. And they didn't, and France were on the door, and France said, [French accent] you can't come in here. You are too young, [own accent] but Greece were outside and they could hear this [beatbox].
And they’re like, [Greek accent] hey, I want to get into the night club. [Own accent] And France, [French accent] no you cannot come in here. Look at you. You're wearing curly slippers. Get out of here. [Own accent] And Goldman Sachs gave them their fake ID and snuck them in through the back door. And the Greeks were inside the club now. They're inside the club and they're, [Greek accent] I'm in the club now, ooh ohh.
[Own accent] And that's when they realised the club has a German DJ.
And that's when things started to get scary for Greece when they heard [German accent] ya, das is my euro sound. [beatbox][Own accent] And then the Greeks were trying to keep up going, [Greek accent] ah, please, will you slow the music down? [German accent] No, das is my Euro house [beatboxes]. [Own accent] And then the Greeks are, long routines, so fun to do. The Greeks are slumped in. They're going [Greek accent] please, I was hoping we were playing, it's too fast.
[Own accent] And they get flung out, so I found this way of incorporating accents that I do, beatboxing, and a weird nerdy interest in the European situation and why a great idea gets ruined. So that's like a great example for me of the smashing together of the silliest things that I do, with the most serious mundane thing.
And that's always, frankly, what I'm looking for, is to find the ways of bringing those worlds together. It's good fun that. It's good fun, painting with a big brush, and what's really fun with that routine as well is that I've played it to a lot of audiences and they really like it. When I go out on tour, I've played that to a touring audience. They're like that's a great bit of stuff.
But when I play it to audiences involved in finance who have the deeper understanding and know the backstory and know that it's true and know the repercussions for Greece of being stuck in the Euro when they can't afford to, and they've got all this hidden sovereign debt and all the rest of it, those audiences are like, oh my God, this is amazing.
I went to Hong Kong and I did a huge financial services thing over there and it was going well, it was nice but difficult because people from all over Southeast Asia, and then I did that and the whole room was just, like ah, not least because those who were struggling with the language could enjoy the beatboxing bits.
What do you most enjoy about corporate bookings?
Well, I used to be quite sniffy about corporates. Comedians don't talk about corporates. It's the secret. We'll occasionally get together and be like how's things? Yeah, pretty good actually, did a few corporates this month, it's good. But we don't talk about it. No one does. It's the secret, because they are private bookings. So I used to be a bit sniffy about them.
They were a bit of a, should you? Dah, dah, dah. And then I did a few and you learn pretty quick. And the thing about doing them is, if you remember that you have an opportunity to be, oh, here goes the ego. You have an opportunity to be the best thing that happens that night.
So a lot of the time people come out for a corporate and it's a bit of a duty invite. The company says, you've got to go. It's an award, so you might win, you might not. You've been at work all day, it's your industry doo. Or the flip of that is, you work your ass off and then this one event comes up and it's your one moment in the year, and you might be nominated for award or your company might be supporting an award or whatever. And once we figured out, actually, as the host, you have the opportunity to be the best thing that happens that night.
To really make them laugh and really be part of, hey, you did a really great job. You are a winner of the thing for the job that you did. And for a lot of people, not in the advertising industry obviously, they have to pretend they're too cool to care.
But for a lot of people, winning that prize is brilliant. So I've come to really enjoy it. And there are times when I guess the audience is too conscious of the fact that you just don't really know what they do. Their industry is complicated and nuanced and you are there as their jester for the night.
But even with those ones, you can always bring something to it, even if it's your own bafflement. It's a funny thing, but honestly, even when I know very well what an audience does, I'll often get up at the beginning and go, good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I've no idea what you do, but you've clearly done it very well, because some of you are up for a prize. And people weirdly love that. They're, yeah, brilliant, because half of us don't know what we are doing, because that's the world, right? Everybody's like that. So I've come to really enjoy them.
Can you gain the same reactions from corporate events as your own tour?
Yeah, totally. You can storm a corporate gig. Absolutely. You can have people doubled over crying with laughter at a corporate gig. And sometimes, if you're in a room with a lot of people who are all in the same industry who either do or don't know each other, and you find the right seam of comedy, then yeah. I mean you can tear the roof off it, to the extent that you're like why aren't there reviewers at these?
I'd say once you get into giving out awards, the focus is different and you need to be willing as a comedian to remember you might have really blown a gig up, right? Just to have the best time when you're doing your standup, that bit's not about you, the awards bit. It's about them.
So you need to keep those who have not just won a prize on board, keep them laughing, keep them interested, keep them supporting each other through the giving awards and all of that business. But that bit's not about you. Make it about them.
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