Southend bound stand-up Mark Watson interviewed
- Credit: Archant
For someone who frets, stresses and worries half as much as Mark Watson, the prospect of boarding a 24-hour flight with the risk that they might not be allowed to enter the country at the other end would leave that person in a fraught state, writes Brian Donaldson.
Luckily for Watson, he can turn such a troublesome scenario to his advantage, by using it as the trigger for another stand-up tour. So, with I’m Not Here, Watson has once more got his misfortune down on paper and out onto the nation’s stages.
“It doesn’t take much of an incident to make me get an hour of nonsense out there. I’ve found an existential jumping-off point from almost anything that happens in life.
“The show is structured around this journey to Australia where I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be allowed in at the other end because of a passport issue. The guy at Heathrow said ‘we can let you on the plane but it will be at their discretion whether or not they let you in’. The passport was totally valid but it had a tiny rip in the photo page and this would technically render it invalid.”
As well as providing Watson with a familiar feeling of neurosis, albeit one spread over a solid 24-hour timeframe, it got him pondering on what this meant in terms of who and what we are as 21st Century human beings.
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“I started thinking about how we have fewer and fewer physical proof of our identity. In the old days you wouldn’t have had a problem with this scenario as you’d have a plane ticket and dozens of forms of identity. The show has become about the shift from the physical to the virtual and the fact more and more of the objects we used to depend on have been replaced by ideas of objects.”
This does sound like a terrifying prospect, but it all plays into Watson’s hands to produce another thoughtful, personal and downright hilarious chunk of stand-up.
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“My general wish for this show is for it to be quite confessional in style. I’m starting to venture more into that territory. I’ve always had a lot of personal anecdotes, but it’s all generally been quite light. I think I’m gradually trying to tweak things towards darkness.
“I saw the last show (Flaws) as one-off confessional territory but I’m quite likely to talk about all that again this time. I tend not to regard some subjects as off-limits these days and I’ve probably got more confidence the audience are more interested in hearing what I want to talk about rather than me desperately trying to think about what’s funny and going with that.
“Having said that I’ve always tried to maintain that no matter how serious the territory you get into, the obligation is to try to get a lot of laughs.”
Hitting a high volume of laughs-per-hour has never been one of his problems from the moment he arrived on the stand-up scene straight out of Footlights.
With shows such as Can I Briefly Talk To You About The Point Of Life and The Information, he has received critical acclaim and audience love for his restless, breakneck style of comedy.
As well as providing plenty of laughs, he’s always been a true innovator at heart, with epic affairs such as the 24 Hour Jamboree To Save The Planet and Mark Watson And His Audience Write A Novel helping spread his name.
Even when he’s offering a relatively straightforward stand-up show, Watson will always throw in something a little off-kilter. In Flaws, he recreated the sound and fury of a children’s party he had attended – with the added terror of balloons being burst all around him –and he’s looking to insert something similar, and hush-hush for now, to break up the one-man-with-a-mic flow.
“I do like to seriously disrupt proceedings. I’ve always thought that an hour of someone just talking has its downsides, so my tactic is to get it far enough in that the audience do think it’s just going to be an hour of someone talking, but then do something really weird.
“It can backfire, though, because that thing with the kids party was fun for a bit. But then on tour, you’re doing it another 60 times with my crew having to blow up balloons and the routine ending with my nightmare of having them explode all around me.
“It’s all very well saying I am doing it to release this tension from my system, but it didn’t do anything of the sort; it just made me dread that moment more as every day went by. I can say with certainty that there will be no balloons this time.”
He’s also keen to limit the amount of technology he uses on stage for I’m Not Here, having utilised screens in several of his shows.
“I have used it a lot but I still have quite a fractious relationship with computers though I’m genuinely still impressed by the stuff that people can come up with; the best relationship is to try to take the good out of it while admitting that it’s all quite frightening.
“Shows now have become so familiar with the sight of someone involving technology in some way, and if you have a friend like Alex Horne who basically thinks in PowerPoint it’s quite a high benchmark. The level of some people’s shows which are so vulnerable to a malfunction would just terrify me.”
Watson gives off the feeling that having nothing on his plate would be equally as terrifying. As well as the stand-up shows, he has a number of novels to his name and has filled his TV CV with appearances on the likes of We Need Answers and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. But does he see himself continuing to perform on live stages for many years to come?
“It’s a question I ask myself because there’s no real template for it. Someone like Stephen Fry will do a book and a screenplay, shows like An Evening With; he’ll do a variety of things but all of it on his terms.
“I don’t think I’d ever want to stop being a live performer, but it’s hard to know what the longevity is for this career. If you’re able to say things that are still relevant as you get older, then I think you’re in business.”
With his natural wit and a restless appetite for doing things just that little bit differently, a comic such as Watson will always be in business.
Watson’s I’m Not Here is at Southend’s Palace Theatre on July 2.