The Fringe welcomes all manner of different performers, but few are as intriguing as mild-mannered Indian gent, Mark Silcox. We first encountered him in the early days of his 2015 show, No Woman, Plenty of Cry, when the show didn’t really happen and we ended up talking to him about life. Then, we saw the finished article, during which a conga line of fellow performers spontaneously rushed the stage to hug him. Then last year, another unconventionally and possibly unintentionally funny show, Helping Aamer, won him a nomination for our Fringe Experience Award. Every Silcox show is an experience, he’ll always make you a mid-show cuppa, and when we saw he was back with a new show, the boastfully titled I Can Cure, we just had to speak to him. Meet the only performer on the Fringe who finds the experience “very relaxing”…
What have you been up to since last year’s Fringe?
I have been busy doing my day job.
Which is what? You’re a very educated man, so tell us a little about your background.
Thank you. I think I am expert in passing exams and terrible in social situations. In India I did a Masters in Chemistry and worked as a lecturer.
After coming here in 1990, I worked in IT at an American University in South Kensington. Then I charmed my way onto a PhD in Analytical Chemistry at Imperial College. I did a couple of Post Doc projects, here in London and in Germany, published a few research papers in International Journals with the help of dedicated colleagues, but I fell short of many skills. Instead of being carried in the job I thought I will do what I can do best without long term commitments, responsibilities and full flexibility. So I came back to London and became a supply teacher.
You bring that scientific approach to your shows. Do you find science and comedy a good mix?
It is indeed a perfect combination. My no nonsense and minimalist approach helps me to focus on an idea that I follow through with 100% commitment regardless. Which makes me look crazy and that’s where laughs, I guess, come in my comedy.
I have to ask: your show is called I Can Cure and appears to be about homosexuality. At face value, this might, shall we say, raise a few eyebrows. Can you reassure us you have not just created the most controversial ultra-right-wing show in the history of the Fringe?
My show starts with a disclaimer that it has two clearly separated parts. The show title is for the first part in which I share my acquired knowledge and understanding of the cough and how I cure it using only fresh ginger and aspirin. The idea came to me when the sales staff at the chemist counter in my local Asda convinced my wife to buy an expensive pain killer and cough syrup and I felt my PhD and knowledge of Analytical Chemistry was wasted.
In the second part of my show, I make hydrogen gas from aluminium foil in a balloon. Hydrogen was the first ever element formed just after the Big Bang. From this element, life formed in a single cell. Then I briefly cover the whole journey from single cell to the current form of human life. I want to break apart all the jigsaw pieces of being human and discuss the importance of each piece. I also throw into the mix Professor Marshal Rosenberg‘s (late American clinical psychologist) needs and non violent communication to explore what it is to be human.
And can you reassure us there’s nothing controversial?
Definitely. My aloof comedy character and my past shows clearly establish my misplaced logic approach to comedy. I am a very low status comedian and the bigger the claim I make, the funnier they sound. I am not in any power position to harm anyone in any way. The subtext of my character is to show how good things are here in the UK. We are living in a very democratic and liberal society. Material progress comes to those who choose a side, gain all the presentation skills and spend all their energy building connections and networks. As a minimalist, I enjoy the freedom of pointing out anything I see is wrong, regardless of who the target is.
I think it has worked. Aamer has not tweeted a single tweet about Iggy Azalea and his tweets after terrorist attacks are neutral. I am keeping an eye on his social media activities. He has not contacted me but Nazeem Hussain (Aamer’s other half from Fear of a Brown Planet) saw me in Pleasance Courtyard, recognised me and shouted in strong Australian accent, “Mark, I will come to your show!” I replied, “You are very welcome.” Then he disappeared into the crowd. He never came to the show, but I did see couple of suspicious looking audience members, which I guess were sent by him or Aamer,
How do you find the Fringe experience? What do you do here when you’re not performing?
Very relaxing. As comedy is my hobby, I treat Edinburgh festival as my summer holiday. I have been lucky to find a platform through comedy where I feel that people actually listen to me without interruption. As a supply teacher in a classroom, I struggle to get a single word across with my accent. So I just give them worksheets and keep notes of their activities on a sheet of paper. That’s enough to scare them off.
When I am not performing, I hang around with other comedians, listen to their dreams and their detailed analysis of the comedy industry and admire their dedication. Sometimes I do guest spots to lure people to my show, play badminton. Edinburgh has a badminton academy and I have played with top quality players.
Will you be making your audience members a cup of tea again?
Definitely. This year, instead of boiled eggs, I will offer freshly boiled (in a kettle) chick peas with chopped coriander, chopped red onion, sprinkled with rock salt and some fresh lemon juice, which is way better than houmous and a great source of veg protein. This is the food school children in Indian towns eats after their school as they walk home. Here children eat sugary and high fat snacks because no-one is selling boiled chick peas (or boiled eggs) for hygiene reasons. Just another government excuse for stopping people to earn some casual money.
What’s your hope for this Fringe?
I have lots of respect and admiration for those who seek to earn their living through comedy, but I am just having fun. Thank you PBH Free Fringe for providing me the opportunity to enjoy my summer!