From Toy Story to Tony Benn: the world of Chris Coltrane
You’re at the Edinburgh Fringe again this year. Tell us a bit about your show, ‘There’s no heroes left except all of us’…
Basically it’s an hour of world-class political stand-up for The Kids. The inspiration came because I was thinking about how we’ve lost heroes like Nelson Mandela and Tony Benn, and it can sometimes feel like there’s no-one to replace them. I wanted to write a show to remind people that this isn’t true. There are so many courageous and brilliant people still fighting for social justice. I’ve tried to write an hour of inspirational protest stories, mixed with some jokes that will make [British Prime Minister] David Cameron really question whether or not he’s a good man (He isn’t.) But as well as that, there’s lots of silliness and internet jokes, and about a fifth of the punchlines are about chocolate. It’s not for everyone, but the people who it is for really seem to like it!
Who or what inspires you?
My new show is mainly about me telling the stories of cool protests I’ve been on, and I’ve been particularly active this year because I’ve been reading up so much on [British Labour politician] Tony Benn. He was a powerhouse, and he seemed to tirelessly fight to make the world a better place. In an average day he probably did more to fight injustice than most people have done in an entire year. Losing him [he died in March] particularly moved me, and it’s been the fuel behind me getting back into activism.
What are you politically passionate about?
What I love about the tax justice movement is that it so perfectly and elegantly smashes every single argument for austerity
Fighting tax avoiders. In its early days I was heavily involved with UK Uncut. We take direct action against businesses that dodge tax, and what I love about the tax justice movement is that it so perfectly and elegantly smashes every single argument for austerity. ‘There’s no money left. We’re all in it together. We have to make difficult decisions.’ The fact that the ultra-rich are allowed to hide tens of billions of pounds a year overseas proves how utterly wrong those arguments are. It makes me so happy to see people fighting this rightwing ideology by putting on such fun, creative protests. Going into Boots [pharmacy] dressed as zombies to highlight National Health Service cuts, or highlighting school sports cuts by turning Top Shop into an egg-and-spoon race. Sometimes I do wonder if I like activism, or if I really just like fancy dress.
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what is the first law you would change, and why?
Oh god. The country’s got so many problems, how can I choose just one? Do I close tax loopholes? Overhaul the arms trade? Maybe the very first law I’d bring in is the living wage, because at least that immediately raises the lot of everyone. The living wage has the twin advantages of giving people the power to buy food, and simultaneously making a lot of Conservatives angry. And then in the afternoon I’d send everyone to labour camps, re-introduce the death penalty and make myself the supreme leader and president for life. Oh dear, have I really succumbed to corruption so quickly? This has all gone awfully wrong. I should never have entered the competition on the back of that cereal box to be Prime Minister for a day. It’s too much responsibility for me. How did Kellogg’s even get the right to put me in charge? Well, it’s too late now. The damage is done.
Can comedy be a tool for political and social change?
Of course! My fondest childhood TV memories were of watching Mark Thomas use his comedy programme to fight Nestlé, and arms dealers, and the Ilisu dam. He used comedy to not only teach us about those issues, but to protest against them – and he often won! That’s definitely been a big inspiration for me. Whenever I go on a protest, I’ve always got one eye on how I could tell the story in my stand-up, because it’s such a brilliant format for sharing those stories. If people are laughing, then they’re more likely to agree with you. In other words, I use comedy to brainwash people.
What do you love most about living in London?
Well, my rent is so high that I can barely afford to eat, and the air smells like actual poison. But, on any one night I can chose from hundreds of comedy shows, plays, music gigs, museums and talks. It’s literally impossible to be bored in London. Being surrounded by such joyful creativity, such an abundance of art, makes me constantly inspired to always work my hardest too. Other towns are cleaner and more peaceful. I’ve even heard that other towns won’t bankrupt you. But for all its faults, I couldn’t live anywhere else. Well, except for Brighton. Or Manchester. Or Edinburgh, or Glasgow, or Bristol, or most places in the US or Europe. Sorry, what was the question?
Who or what makes you laugh?
Politically, I’m a big fan of Mark Steel, Josie Long and Bridget Christie. I’m friends with two wonderful stand-ups Kate Smurthwaite and Joe Wells, who are some of the sharpest satirists on the circuit. Non-politically, I adore absurdism and intelligent nonsense. Holly Burn, John-Luke Roberts, The Mighty Boosh. If it’s weird, I love it.
When was the last time you cried?
Toy Story 3. Anyone who says they didn’t is lying.
What would you like your epitaph to be?
‘Take this gravestone to your nearest Burger King to get 20% off our Medium Fries. Offer ends 20/04/2016.’
Chris Coltrane is a regular columnist for New Internationalist. He is currently appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Visit the website for dates and details.
Follow Chris on Twitter: @chris_coltrane