Martin Besserman runs the long-established Monkey Business Comedy Club in London. He has decided to give profits from four of his shows to a charity…
MARTIN: Everyone knows about the bush fires in Australia – it’s been a bit deflected by other news stories like Donald Trump and the potentiality of World War III, but…
JOHN: Yes, I mean, the smoke from Australia has reached down to New Zealand – That’s about 1,500 miles away!
MARTIN: I have a sister who lives in Australia, so I hear about it first hand. It’s an absolute catastrophe. The fires are burning out of control. Many animals are seriously injured, burnt. Not just kangaroos and koala bears: all the other wildlife and birds too. It’s on such a huge level it’s going to be very challenging to recover from that. With global warming, there could be this issue every single year now.
I think it’s the responsibility of every individual to try whatever they can to help defenceless animals. Greta Thunberg is absolutely right; I think she’s an incredible young lady. Some very articulate, persuasive people have tried to trivialise her arguments – to bully her and suggest that she should be a ‘happy’ girl. But this is all fake because she’s a thinker. I think young people can sometimes be more perceptive getting it right, whereas many of the older generation have got their comforts and a lot of their behaviour is selfish.
As she points out, economic growth is not sustainable. There should be another system where we are not competing with each other.
JOHN: Why is economic growth not sustainable?
MARTIN: Because of the result of continuing to dry up our resources. We are seeing it now with, for example, the meat industry. It’s not sustainable because all those animals create so much pollution in addition to the cruelty aspect. There’s the issue of the animals being injected with antibiotics in the industrial meat industry now. That’s the reason why people are becoming immune to antibiotics and getting very sick.
JOHN: That doesn’t affect economic being sustainable or not though, does it?
MARTIN: Well, a limited amount of economic growth is healthy. But the way it’s going on, obviously, is not. We are seeing catastrophes all over the world. Floods and fires. We can’t continue like this. We rely, for example on Bangladeshi workers but, inevitably, Bangladesh might not operate with the way things are going. It’s a flat country and they have many natural disasters.
JOHN: Well, Bangladesh is a terrible place to have a country. You look at it on a map and it’s basically a delta. When I landed at Dacca Airport, I thought the whole area had been hit by terrible floods – all the fields were flooded and there was water lapping the edge of the runway – but I was told this was normal!
Surely you can’t stop economic growth?
The Chinese are never going to sign up for that.
MARTIN: Well, yes, the Chinese don’t care and Australia, in fact, is one of the largest polluters in the world.
JOHN: All that matters is how China and India develop.
MARTIN: But unless we actually stop to digest what’s going on and consider having less ‘stuff’ in our life – less stuff connected with capitalism and things we don’t really need, especially plastics – we will suffer in the end and we are already seeing it. These are the very early stages of what could be a world catastrophe and it will be a lot more expensive to put it right in the future than to put things right now.
JOHN: But try telling that to the poor in China and India.
MARTIN: That’s obviously very, very hard, especially when you’ve got somebody like Trump in power. Because nobody really rules the world, do they? But, coming back to the issues in Australia…
I’m a huge animal lover, as you know. I was furious when I heard the New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Sydney was costing £3 million – for 30 minutes of excitement and fun!
I personally think all fireworks should be banned all over the world. A lot of animals are very frightened of the noise and really do suffer. It’s very selfish. Man just does not care. It’s something I could never condone. £3 million could have been used to fight the fires or assist more animals.
JOHN: But, in reality, it wouldn’t have been, would it?
MARTIN: Well, you can never tell if money is going to go to the right cause. It does require a bit of research. That’s why, before making this decision to donate 100% of these Monkey Business gigs’ profits, I looked into reputable organisations and several people, including my sister, recommended Wires, an animal help organisation in Australia who are going round rescuing and treating animals. They’re very active, reputable and totally dedicated.
JOHN: Which are the shows that are raising money?
MARTIN: Last Saturday’s, tomorrow’s (Thursday) which is a new act night, Friday which is a cabaret night and Saturday which has big names. 100% of all profits will go to Wires.
JOHN: Surely suffering people should get precedence over animals?
MARTIN: I don’t buy that argument. I’m disillusioned with people.
JOHN: Human beings have been a great disappointment to me.
MARTIN: There are nice people. But there are many not-nice people. With animals… Some people say: “Well, animals eat other animals”. But they only do it for survival and that does not include all animals. The reality is that animals have benefitted Man in many many ways. Dogs and cats are now taken to hospitals to be with people who are terminally ill. Dogs help the blind; they can sniff out cancers; I think we underestimate their value. They give life some meaning and it’s important we don’t only think of ourselves.
JOHN: So you would donate to an animal charity, but you would not give money to cancer research for humans…?
MARTIN: No, no. Definitely not. Some cancer research involves torturing animals. I could never condone that.
JOHN: But if you don’t try out the cures on animals, then you might release drugs that might damage human beings.
MARTIN: I don’t buy that argument at all. There are many good alternatives. Why not use volunteers from prisons if they are prepared to volunteer for shorter sentences?
JOHN: Thalidomide happened because it wasn’t tested enough.
MARTIN: It might also have happened because it WAS tested and we are quite different from a mouse. So I don’t buy that argument. And the vast majority of drugs are not very effective. There is a huge debate, for example, about statins. I’m of the opinion they are not good for people, having done my research. Many people have muscular problems as a result of taking them.
All of this is to keep the pharmaceutical companies happy and rich as opposed to treating people comprehensibly.
JOHN: I’m always a bit unsettled we are said to be so close to rats.
MARTIN: We are definitely closer to pigs. Apparently, we have the same digestive system.
JOHN: Pigs have a bad rep. Apparently they are very intelligent and, left to their own devices, are very clean.
JOHN: The trouble is they taste so good. I have no moral defence about eating meat. You are a vegetarian?
MARTIN: A vegetarian – almost vegan. In the UK, people are increasingly deserting meat-eating.
JOHN: When I was a kid, if you went past a butcher’s shop, they would have half an opened, gutted-out pig hanging up. That would cause offence now.
MARTIN: I remember years ago, when I worked in the market, there were dead rabbits hanging in the window and it really did upset the children.
JOHN: When did you stop eating meat? Was there a Road to Damascus, if that’s the right phrase?
MARTIN: I just realised it was not morally defensible.
JOHN: So you went vegetarian for moral not health reasons?
MARTIN: Yes, though the health benefits are…
JOHN: I had a friend who went into Canton free market in China in the 1980s. She went in a meat eater and came out a vegetarian. She said it was the owls that did it. The pussy cats too. But the owls in cages staring at her with their big eyes, waiting to be killed.
MARTIN: Yes, I think anyone thinking about giving up meat should certainly visit a slaughter yard.
JOHN: I have no moral defence at all. So what WAS your turning point?
MARTIN: I just worked it out. I thought about it.
JOHN: I’m sure, in 20 or 50 years time, the idea of eating meat or even seeing dead animal meat displayed in shops will seem stomach-churning.
MARTIN: Some people say we will be embarrassed that we ever engaged in meat-eating. Whether that will happen in China or not, I don’t know. But certainly in Europe I think we are becoming more and more concerned.
JOHN: In the 1960s, vegetarians were seen as freaks. And more recently – maybe the early 2000s – vegetarians were seen as OK but vegans were seen as freaks. And now vegans are becoming mainstream.
MARTIN: Absolutely. The world is changing and it has to change.