KAREN WILSON talks to comedian Mark Watson, who’s performing in Newcastle on Monday, about TV panel shows, being slated for doing cider ads and having a dull name
MARK Watson fans can expect lots of new material and a fair amount of off-the-cuff improvisation during his forthcoming gig at Newcastle’s newest comedy club The Stand.
Part of his Request Stops tour, where fans dictate where he performs, it’s exactly the sort of intimate venue that suits his relaxed, conversational style.
“I tend not to stick too rigidly to anything,” he says. “It’s more fun when the audience can see it’s genuinely coming from nowhere, rather than you’re going through the motions. I like to make each show feel fresh.”
Although he’s been on the circuit for nine years, the 31-year-old Bristol-born comic still remembers his first gig with “proper people” at a Student Union soon after graduating. He was terrified but admits “it went well enough that I didn’t immediately want to give it up and never do it again.”
“When you’re starting out, those seven minutes seem such a long time, you can’t imagine filling a whole show,” he says. “Now it takes me five minutes to say hello and take my jacket off.”
Winning best newcomer at 2005’s Edinburgh Fringe was a big boost, and he learned a lot supporting Lee Mack. So now he’s experienced enough to be able to experiment with shows that have a quirky, unconventional slant. He’s done marathon shows lasting 24 hours (proposing to his girlfriend Emily at the end of his 2004 marathon) and written a novel from audience suggestions. At next year’s Edinburgh Fringe he plans to stage a mini Olympics, roping in as many of his comedy pals as possible.
As for TV panel shows, Mark’s done ’em all, except QI. Ironically it’s the one he’d love to do most and is arguably best suited to his cerebral style (he has a first-class English degree from Cambridge and was a Footlights regular).
His favourites though are Have I Got News For You “because everyone’s so relaxed” and Would I Lie To You? as “you don’t have to battle to get your material in and everyone gets a turn like a game with your family.”
But he admits some of the shows are “more bear-pitty” than others. “There’s not a lot of joy in pre- planning your material, and then coming in and trying to bash it out, but that is what’s required in quite a lot of shows,” he adds.
Mark comes across as thoughtful, sensitive and very likeable, so when he was criticised for doing a cider advert this year, it clearly hurt him.
Stewart Lee, highly regarded among fellow comedians, said at the time “The brand of Mark Watson, as a quirky young fellow who thinks deeply about things and wears a Socrates T-shirt, is compromised by being in an advert” while controversial comedian Frankie Boyle also criticised him, but in far more abusive terms.
“I did wonder if I’d get stick for it,” admits Mark, who says he “wouldn’t advertise anything out and out immoral.”
“If it’s someone you admire like Stewart Lee, you don’t want to be criticised by someone like that, even as a joke. I’m probably more sensitive to it than I should be because comedians can be quite cruel people. Stewart Lee is quite a purist and has quite a high opinion of what comedians should aspire to, while Frankie is just critical of everyone generally.”
Now that he’s dad to 18-month-old Kit, Mark’s glad he has more than one string to his bow. He’s also written three novels and is working on several scripts for TV.
“I sometimes feel a bit guilty,” he admits. “A touring comedian is not exactly something you want your dad to be. On the other hand, when I’m writing, my job means I’m home a fair bit during the day.
“Long term, I probably see myself more as a writer than a comedian, but the fact is comedy is probably where most of my livelihood comes from, and I’d really miss having that buzz.”
There’ll be plenty of opportunities to see Mark on TV in the coming months with an appearance on 8 Out of 10 Cats soon and Live at the Apollo, as well as a new Channel 4 panel show called The Mad Bad Ad Show in the New Year.
However despite his high profile, he has one of those dull names that seems to escape people. “It’s a relatively common name,” he says. “So a lot of people say, ‘I really like you, but I can never remember your name’. It’s quite worrying how often people say that.
“If I’d thought I was going to get to the relative level of success that I have, perhaps I would’ve changed it but it’s too late now. But if any of your readers come up with a real cracker. I’m still open to the idea. Maybe I could have a good Geordie name?”
Mark Watson is at The Stand, High Bridge, Newcastle on Monday.