Tell us about ‘Extreme Rambling’…
Well, I did a walk. I walked the length of the Israeli barrier in the West Bank. And it was in the great English tradition of going for a ramble. You know, there have been plenty of people who have done stuff like this in the past. You go off and do things, find out about things, it’s really exciting. And the West Bank is an amazing place.
What surprised you about the place?
You know, it surprised me how beautiful it is. It really does blind-side you, it’s stunningly beautiful. You expect it to be a desert but it’s this incredibly fertile place. We’d be walking with our guide and he’d be talking about refugees or oppression and then suddenly he’d go, “oh look, wild asparagus”. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s a very beautiful place. And it changes all the time, different terrains, different weather.
How did you prepare for the walk?
Well, physically, I live in London so I would walk to work instead of taking the tube. But there’s nothing much that can really prepare you for it. For example, we went to West Jerusalem to meet up with people to see if we could do the walk and we get tear gassed. It was on the wrecking mission that this happens. So it’s like, okay, there are going to be some exciting things.
Or you could say scary things…
Well, the thing is, people live with that sort of stuff all the time and without being blasé about it, it’s kind of inevitable.
What scares you most in life then?
Well you know, I think that there are occasions when you are genuinely scared on trips like that, but the times that they occur are so intense. For instance we got stoned by a bunch of Palestinians and we got arrested by the army. We were actually blasé about the army, they only seem scary in retrospect, because when it’s happening you just kind of get on with it.
What is it about walking that you love?
We’re made for it, that is one of our great defining features, being a biped. And when you’re trying to figure out things like identity and land, I think walking and talking is a good way to go about it. You see a load of stuff that you wouldn’t normally see. There was one section we walked through where we just picked green almonds and ate them. I think walking means you experience the whole thing.
You don’t miss anything…
Exactly. I think the first three months when I got back, if someone showed me a picture of the wall, I reckon I could say, I know where that is. And when you walk, you bump into people along the way and they want to tell you their stories. Palestinians especially are so hospitable, one night I ended up having three dinners with three different families. It was dreadful but you can’t turn it down. So those sorts of things, when strangers take you in, it’s special.
Is there a moment that stands out?
There was a lovely bit, on top of a hill quite early in the morning when this old woman came out with a big hot pot of tea and you sit there with hot black tea and she produces homemade bread straight out of the oven and homemade goat’s milk butter and olives, and you just sit there and think, this is just incredibly unique.
And the not so lovely?
Well you have other times when you’re just walking along and suddenly the hill is completely on fire. And you realise it’s a rubbish dump on fire. That’s where people burn bits of cars and coaches with metal as a way of getting rid of the plastic and getting to the metal. It’s highly toxic and highly dangerous and highly illegal but there’s this thriving scrap metal industry and it’s in the middle of nowhere. And then two minutes later another car comes past driven by kids with two other kids sitting on the bonnet – and no one bats an eyelid.
You took on Coke a few years back. Is there another brand you’d like target?
Off the top of my head, no, but let’s put it this way – I am never going to be short of material.
Do you get compared to Michael Moore?
I do on occasion. He’s a good guy. I did some benefits in the run-up to the Iraq invasion and he helped out. On one hand I wish people would be a bit more creative, but on the other hand I think, well that’s okay, if you’re going to be compared to someone. I personally think I am a slimmer version of Michael Moore.
Catch Mark Thomas during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Until Apr 22. comedyfestival.com.au