‘Maps are probably the best gateway into geography,’ argues comedian Mark Cooper-Jones. ‘They have become trendy, and cool. People are even putting them up on their walls.’
For any geography teacher looking for ways to make the world’s many maps, and the various strange geographical oddities they portray, funny and yet still educational, they should definitely watch Map Men. Short, snappy videos produced and presented by comedian map-fans Cooper-Jones and Jay Foreman, Map Men explores interesting stories about maps from the UK and overseas, merging snippets of educational information with quick-fire jokes and sketches.
‘Comedy is the thing that makes them clickable,’ observes Cooper-Jones. ‘There are other people out there who’ve made informative videos about some of the things that we’ve talked about, but those people have tended not to come from a comedy background. The crucial thing here is the mix of the comedy and the educational side of it. People sit down, hopefully to watch a funny video, but that happens to also be informative. That’s generally the easiest way to disseminate information to people, or so I find anyway.’
The YouTube series covers a wide range of subjects, such as the UK’s north-south divide, the India-Bangladesh enclave situation, and the famous Hereford Mappa Mundi.
‘We’re not always actually talking about the map itself, it’s really all about what the story behind the map is,’ says Cooper-Jones. ‘I wanted to do some more political ones like the South China Sea, or Bir Tawil. Jay, he likes the quirks, so he was very much behind the “maps with gaps”, this idea that there’s this strange gap on a map. But there’s still a long list of other maps that we would like to talk about and discuss. There are so many more maps out there, so we could potentially do hundreds, as many as there are geographical stories, really.’
Mark Cooper-Jones is currently performing his new geography-themed solo stand-up Geographically Speaking at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, following his previous show Geography Teacher.
‘A lot of geography is depressing,’ he argues. ‘So much of geography is inequality, poverty, under-development, extinctions, climate change, whatever it might be. But, given geography’s breadth, there is a lot that you can talk about for stand-up comedy. You can even talk about the depressing stuff. In my show I talk about climate change, but I do a role-play with an audience member, getting them up on the stage and making them play an icecap or the weather. So you’ve just got to find a fun way of making your ultimately depressing points.’
‘For Geographically Speaking, I’m trying to talk about a lot more geography, and move away from only basing it in the classroom and basing it on GCSE-level geographies, like Geography Teacher,’ he says. ‘I talk about some genuinely fairly in-depth geology in this show, some political geography, and of course some silly stuff as well.’