Simon Evans’ new show The Work of the Devil comes with his usual vein of scrutinising identity politics and resurgent nationalism but ends in him doing a ‘big reveal’… (whatever that may be) which the Times has called ‘terrifically tender’. He draws on his past 21-year career to dwell on the big issues facing society today and admits to harbouring more tolerant views as the world shifts around him. We catch up with him about innovation, genetics, Brexit and progress.
Can you explain the meaning behind “The Work of the Devil’’?”
The title of the show-The Work of The Devil comes from my comedic hero, Douglas Adams. It’s from one of his unpublished, unfinished passages for Dirk Gently– a theory about the three different stages of progress in everyone’s life. Firstly, there’s what existed before you were born and until the age of about 12 or 13: with me, I grew up accepting that television, for instance, simply existed. Then there are things which are invented in our late teens and 20s which are exciting innovations that offer us opportunities to experience the thrills our parents never knew. For me, again, computers, digital watches, and arguably sandwich toasters. And then there are things which arrive from our mid-30s onwards, by which point we can no longer keep up with change and which we therefore denounce as the work of The Devil. Any innovation that arrives after that point leaves you are saying, ‘You mark my words-no good will come of this’.
The Work of the Devil refers to the phenomenon, whereby after a certain age, we become suspicious of innovation – innovation that the young all think is a wonderful boon!
I understand you had some personal revelations revealed and have used them to re-examine your 23-year career in comedy. Could you talk a little about this?
I don’t want to spoil what is an unusual twist in the final third of this show, but it is to do with ancestry and identity. Issues that I had long thought settled in my case!
What is your opinion of the modern world and how does this feature in your comedy?
The modern world is superficially very different from the one I was born into. But beneath the surface eternal forces are always at play. Signalling, projection, mimesis. It is fascinating watching how as a species we get lured into the same traps time and again.
What I’m gradually realising is that while my views may not have changed that much, the world has shifted underneath me and I’m now something of an outlier. There seems to be more of a political consensus among comedians than ever before, for want of a better word, and half the country is struggling to find their voice heard; what has happened of course is Brexit. It has polarised the nation and the overwhelming majority of comedians seem very comfortable expressing their remain views and I do feel that I’m getting an audience which is looking for a break from that. Not that I’m pro Brexit exactly but ironically I have preached a lot more tolerance for a wider range of views even though I’ve made my career in a character as the most intolerant old bugger you can imagine.
Can you elaborate on your “rueful attachment to traditionalism”?
I am sentimentally attached to tradition, yes. I like old stone, old logs on the fire, old wine in the glass, old friends around the table.
What is the message that comes out in the show?
It’s an unusual show for me in that regard because the message of the show– almost beyond my conscious control–has become one that is genuinely heart-warming and uplifting, rather than just another weary sigh at society’s collapsing values and so on. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier. The subject matter, the show itself and audience reaction to it– it’s no exaggeration to say that it had a positive effect on my mental health, just performing it every night.
What is your scepticism towards the claimed achievements of progressive politics and modernist aesthetics?
I wouldn’t want anyone to think I am overly exercised by these issues. But I do wonder whether progress is something achieved by intellectuals and political measures, or more by hard working innovators, inventors, and individuals taking responsibility for their own happiness. I am not sure that the current show is overly dogmatic on this issue though!
What can we expect from “The Work of the Devil”?
Two hours of great comedy and a good deal more emotional heft than any of my previous shows have packed!
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