Stand-up comic Mark Steel is out to make Hackney hilarious

Mark Steel

Mark Steel - Credit: Archant

As a born and bred south Londoner, Mark Steel admits to being a bit allergic to most places north of the river.

Camden, Harsleden – name an area and the Radio 4 comedian will happily take it down a peg or two.

“A north Londoner never comes to a south Londoner do they?” he notes, musing on the cultural divide. “You always have to travel up to them, otherwise they’re like, ‘What, I have to get on a…train?’”

Steel does, however, harbour a soft spot for Hackney. Being “out on a limb”, with an awkward train service of its own, the area feels more like home.

Hopefully, that will bode well for when he arrives at Hackney Picturehouse on Monday to perform his celebrated stand-up, Mark Steel’s In Town.


Well-established after three series on Radio 4, the show traditionally sees Steel travelling the country and customising his routine for the towns he performs in.

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Having toured across the land, from Dumfries to Penzance, he admits that England’s capital city can often be a hard place to gather a sense of community.

“It’s a strange place London, in that no one ever really says, ‘I’m a Londoner’. Even the person who wrote that song – I don’t think couldn’t have been from here.

“You could never have a London football team, could you? It doesn’t have that collective identity.

“But within it, a place like Hackney can have a very distinctive feel and look back on a great history.”

That history will be explored by Steel shortly before his show, when he’ll come to visit local libraries and bookshops in the areafor inspiration.

The 53-year-old is also an advocate of the internet for research, though when he recently explored a Hackney online forum, he didn’t quite find the united spirit he was looking for.

“Someone had gone on this forum and posted the most innocuous thing –something like, ‘I went to Hackney City Farm for the kids, and they absolutely loved it. What a great day out’.

“Straight below it, the first comment read, ‘Well I went to the one near us and it beats your poncy Hackney farm hands down. It’s got more chickens, more lamas.’

“I mean it was such an innocent comment, but of course you have to get one nutter on the internet going, ‘You think your lamas are good? Our lamas s**t on your f***ing lamas, you stupid bastard.”

Lama lambasts aside, Steel is looking forward to his Hackney show.

In such a diverse area, the famously left-wing comedian says he doesn’t buy into the idea that political apathy is becoming more widespread amongst young people and thinks that in some cases activism is stronger than ever.

“I don’t remember a time when people thought there wasn’t political apathy. People don’t join parties as much nowadays, that’s true, but that’s true of all sorts of things.

“If you think about it, there are a lot of people very angry about things like the bedroom tax – they’re definitely not apathetic. If someone was really anti-gay you’d be very angry, so in that sense society’s got a hell of a lot better.”

n Mark Steel’s In Town comes to Hackney Picturehouse on Monday. For tickets, phone 0871 902 5734.

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