Idealist vs Realist: Liam Williams talks politics ahead of Glasgow Comedy Festival
An uncomfortable coalition of hope and apathy formed the backdrop for Liam Williams' 2014 Fringe show Capitalism, which returns to Scotland this month at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival
In the run up to May's general election we'll see any number of comedians take on all sides of the political spectrum. Liam Williams' show Capitalism scooped up a Foster's nomination for Best Show in Edinburgh last year while focusing on an often overlooked player in the game of politics: voters.
Probably undecided, possibly first-time voters, and potentially disillusioned twenty-somethings like Williams himself, many of us are in full knowledge that we should probably become more involved and interested in politics, but lack the energy to do so.
"In 2010, 2011, I got half-heartedly involved in protesting, and that's when I started reading about politics,” Williams explains, describing the current coalition government’s installment as “the catalyst that kind of started the show.”
Williams' act – whether as part of sketch troupe Sheeps, his award-nominated solo debut from 2013, or this year's offering – is characterised by a hyper-aware protagonist constantly interrupting and second-guessing himself; half liberal idealist, half grounded realist: "One of the themes of the show is being divided between these two personalities and not being able to be myself. Not being able to know what's my real opinion if I think completely different things at different times."
This nihilistic style of comedy has meant that his praise hasn't been universal, and such pointed asides would perhaps not be for everyone, but they do make for an incisive exploration of the mind of any would-be politico, leftie idealist, or perhaps just of Williams himself. Catalyst or not, Williams admits, “I don’t really find myself talking about party politics,” and instead turns in on the decision-making processes of those of us filling the streets and, hopefully, the polling booths.
Both a product of the system and part of it, Williams voices inner battles that are probably going on in the head of any middle-class voter wondering about their place in the world. To a certain extent, these battles will continue being fought up until 7 May and beyond. Half a year away from when the show first came to Scotland, has he seen any improvements in the political world? "I feel compelled to answer questions like 'is the world getting better?' and realise it's quite impossible to answer. The long and short of it is that I don't really know. For some people it's getting better and for some it's getting worse, so who should you believe?"
A major problem with modern politics, and perhaps another trigger for the show, is that it doesn't interest as many people as it impacts. Few people will sit down with their pals of a Friday night and pop on First Minister's Question Time, but they will go see a comedy show. As Williams puts it: "If you're relatively competent [as a comedian] you can slip into stuff that perhaps the mainstream media makes quite boring and complicated."
Comedy can certainly tackle the boring elements of politics, while still appreciating the complications. "Politics is about communities and people gathering together and sharing and debating," Williams says, "and comedy is quite good for that. You're not just on your sofa reading your iPad and isolated; as an individual you're aware of your place in something bigger."
What this place is, exactly, and how it should be used, is still anyone's guess, and the conflicting rights and responsibilities of living in a first world democracy come out in Williams' frenzied introspective asides. "I'm stuck on this wealth and inequality and guilt and ideas about my position in society and the world." Such topics, understandably, have led to a gloomy style of comedy and quite a po-faced show. Was this a conscious decision to move towards the serious end of the spectrum? Williams hesitates. "I'll just be myself."