Edinburgh Fringe Comedian and Former Wannabe Stuntman Chris Stokes talks to Vegan Life Magazine about using his comedy to subvert stereotypes
With a hilarious and erudite turn of phrase, award winning comedian Chris Stokes plays on social misconceptions, dismantling them both on stage and on the page via gag-packed first-hand anecdotes, told with a charming and offbeat sincerity. Performing professionally since 2009, he has supported the likes of Milton Jones and Pete Firman on UK tours, shown up on Dave’s One Night Stand and taken four critically acclaimed solo shows to the Edinburgh Fringe.
“I’ve always liked comedy, who hasn’t? I’m not sure I’ve really met anyone who has flat out said they don’t enjoy laughing,” Chris told Vegan Life. “So, I’ve always loved it as a thing but I don’t think I really appreciated it for the artform it can be until I was in my late teens. That was when I discovered things which really resonated beyond just the primary instinct to laugh and I realised how broad a church it was.
“My big epiphany was that comedy is such a vast playground that there’s room for pretty much everything. Ever since then I was addicted to the process of it, even if something wasn’t especially to my personal tastes I was still fascinated by the workings of it and could still appreciate it on some level.”
Growing up with an appreciation for comedy, it wasn’t until later in life that Chris made the decision to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. He said: “When I was growing up I wanted to be a stuntman, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. I think because I grew up watching James Bond films and Roger Moore’s stuntmen were so obviously not him that I came away thinking they were doing the cool stuff instead of actual James Bond. When I got a bit older I wanted to be a writer and not long after that I got into watching loads of stand-up.
“Not only was a lot of it hilarious but I also realised that it was the most effective and economical way of having whatever you’ve written put in front of an audience. There is very little messing around. You can think of something, write it and present it in the way you think it should be. It was as if a light came on in my head and I didn’t necessarily think I would definitely become a comedian but I definitely knew I had to at least try.”
Preferring to use comedy to highlight things he feels passionate about, as a vegan for 10 years Chris regularly features the topic of veganism in his stand-up performances. He says: “I try not to talk about veganism in a way that would reinforce any stereotypes that people may have or in a way that might make an audience feel patronised or judged because I truly don’t believe that sort of approach does vegans or veganism any favours whatsoever. I try to make it about subverting these stereotypes and preconceptions that some people may have so that they do find the jokes but also hopefully see that, as vegans, we’re not the humourless sanctimonious curmudgeons that they might think we are and also, perhaps, maybe see where we’re coming from.
“Obviously veganism is something I care a great deal about so I am keen to discuss it but I really believe that humour is one of the very best communication tools we’ve got and to bypass it when talking about veganism seems like a huge missed opportunity. It’s not to say I don’t take veganism seriously because of course I do and my reasons for being vegan weren’t taken lightly but I find people respond to jokes more so than criticism and to talk about being vegan in my stand-up means that the idea is reaching audiences it may not usually do in a way that seems quite palatable to them.”
Upon mentioning his veganism, has Chris had any unusual reactions from fellow comics and the public? “All the time, as I’m sure we all have. Most, if not all, vegans will have been asked the stock hypothetical questions like, “What would you do if you were on a desert island?” and so on. This one is a bit of a cliché but it is such a good example of people burying their head in the sand. Asking us to put ourselves in a ludicrously unlikely scenario to prove their point instead of taking in the very real scenario they are actually living in to ignore ours.
“I also once got asked if I could eat rhubarb. It turns out that person had a reputation of being gullible and years before had been told that a rhubarb was a fish and had spent years believing that.”
With more and more vegan comics appearing on the comedy scene, veganism as a topic is gradually getting more coverage in the world of comedy according to Chris. “I wouldn’t say it has a huge amount of coverage but it definitely gets spoken about. There are seemingly more and more vegan comics around who tend to talk about it, which is great. As a topic of conversation I think veganism is gaining more traction, with things like Veganuary and so on, so it isn’t unusual for it to become more spoken about on stage.”
Describing his own comedy as ‘true-life stories and observations borne out of the everyday which deal in social misconceptions and then go some way to dismantling them’, Chris admires other comics that remain true to their voice. “I admire those who have achieved a great deal while not necessarily taking the easiest path. People like Daniel Kitson, Stewart Lee, Louis CK and Sara Pascoe (also vegan) have all managed to attain considerable success without having to compromise on certain elements of their styles of acts and by just pursuing what they want to do.”
As well as supporting Milton Jones once again on his upcoming UK tour which starts in September, Chris will be cropping up at club gigs around the country. “I’m also performing my latest show ‘The Man Delusion’ at the Soho Theatre in London on June 6 and 7, which is an hour of stand-up about a man’s own warped perception of itself as a species. There’s a fair bit of stuff about veganism in the show as well. I’ve also just written a very short film for BBC Three on the subject of the sort of things people say to vegans which should be released in the coming months.”