Chris Coltrane: Activism Is Fun

With a little help from Josie Long, Chris Coltrane is using comedy to fight the bad guys

Preview by Iain Gorman | 04 Aug 2012

Tell us about your show?

It's a political stand-up show where I try to convince people that if you get involved with fun protests, you can change the world. I talk about my involvement with UK Uncut, where we shut down tax dodging shops by sitting in the doorway; I talk about some pro-choice protests I went on, some anti-homeopathy protests, and the success we had. Also, there's stand-up about privatisation, workfare, Labour drifting to the right, and about staying passionate and happy even when things look rough. I hope it will make people smile, and be inspired to keep up the fight against the bad guys (David Cameron, Tony Blair, Mumm-Ra, Darth Vader, George Osborne etc).

In 5 words or less, why should we see it?

To properly smash the Tories.

How have your previews been going?

Really nicely. I've learnt so much about stand-up from having to dedicate to the discipline of an hour show. I've learned how to self-edit, how to be less precious about things, about how to take feedback and act on it. I feel now like I've got an hour of political jokes and stories that I'm excited and proud to tell people. People have been so kind afterwards, the feedback has been quite ego-stroking!

How significant was the direction of Josie Long?

Josie was such a wonderful help. She helped me to weave more of my personality into the show, to explain who I was and why the Tory cuts upset and affect me. She helped shape the narrative, and pointed out places where I should look for more jokes, but crucially she never told me what to do. Just a gentle guiding hand which helped me to find jokes and stories that I wouldn't have otherwise seen, teaching me how to drill deeper into a subject. I'm immensely grateful for her help.

What is your first Fringe memory?

Pretty much as soon as I got off the train in 2007, I saw Tim Vine pointing at a policeman's bulletproof vest, shouting "I've got a vested interest in that" repeatedly. He looked a bit manic, and quite red in the face. I couldn't tell if it was a publicity stunt or whether the stress was just getting to him, but in any case, it set the scene for a glorious week of comedy.

Do you have a guaranteed, sure-fire flyering technique?

I initially tried being racist, but when that didn't work I switched to being kind/sincere. I found I got a 400% larger audience that way, and also the type of person who came was very different. In retrospect, my initial strategy was awful, really quite terrible. But through trial and error, I've found that kindness works best for me.

What's your health regime for the Fringe?

I'm very strict on my calorie count. I refuse to drop below 2500 calories a day, and I mainly maintain that by eating Maltesers, Twixes and a variety of sweet chilli flavoured crisps. In addition to that, I've been trying to get strong and fit like athletes™ by eating only food made by Cadburys™, McDondalds™ and Coca Cola™, and avoiding all fruit and vegetables, which are not sponsoring the Olympics™ and are therefore unhealthy.

What's the worst mistake people make at the Fringe?

I once saw a bloke who had curtains on his fringe, and he looked a right state. Not sure if that's necessarily the biggest mistake someone could make though. Probably murder?

Last year's Fringe was all about the London riots. What major news event do you think will force you to hurriedly rewrite your 2012 show?

I'm quite fortunate to be friends with the team who write the news, so I know what's going to happen a couple of months ahead of the stories going to press. It's how I'm able to stay ahead of the game, and have all those sweet sweet punchlines at the ready before everyone else. I can't give too much away; let's just say that a certain "Prime Minister of the United Kingdom" is going to be very sorry when the "people of this country" start "taking to the street" and "overthrowing his government", if you know what I mean!!! ;) #secrets

You're a pretty prolific Tweeter. How important is the power of social media to political comedy?

On a personal level it's been hugely important. People have followed me (@chris_coltrane) either because of my jokes, or because of my tweeting live from protests and political events, and have stuck around to come and see me live. I run a political comedy club in Camden called Lolitics, and I'd say about 80% of the audience comes because they see my tweets about it. I'm extremely lucky for that. On a more general level I think the fact that people can instantly share mockery of the government is a wonderful thing for political comedy, and for democracy. Opinions are shared, facts are spread, the powerful are held to account. I like political comedy that exposes hypocrisy and that uses facts to prove people wrong, and Twitter has been a real hotbed of activity for that.

Do you pay your taxes?

I do not pay any tax on the money I earn from stand-up comedy. I am very much like Jimmy Carr in that respect. However, I have a clever tax avoidance scheme: I do it by not earning any money through stand-up comedy. It's a little industry secret; if you don't earn any money, they can't tax it!

What was your favourite joke when you were a kid?

Q) What is your sibling's daughter known as in her treehouse when she reveals a guy's sexuality?
A) Den-Neice Man-Outing! (Denise van Outen)

Who else are you hoping to see while you're in Edinburgh?

Oh, so many. Dirty Great Love Story is the most heart-warming comedy-poetry-play I've ever seen. Adam Hess's double-bill with Sean McLoughlin is going to be such a surreal and shambolic treat. Mark Thomas and Josie Long's shows, of course. One Rogue Reporter, by the journalist who spills the beans on why he quit The Daily Star. Holly Burn is an inspiration, a truly experimental mind. Jessie Cave's Bookworm. The solo shows by Stuart Black, Sam Simmonds and Rhys Darby. Thom Tuck in the Coalition play. And a hundred others!

Chris Coltrane: Activism Is Fun, The Globe, until 25 August (not 15), 14:15, Free