Sunday, 25 July 2010

Mark Watson makes a difference to me!

I jotted down some notes last night after seeing Mark Watson’s Edinburgh preview show at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, and meeting him for a chat in the bar afterwards. But I’m starting fresh with this blog, just referring to yesterday's notes to jog my memory. I may, in fact, do two separate blogs – one about the show and then a separate one about the after-show bit.

So, first, here are my jottings about the Show. The problem is, I don’t want to include anything too revealing about the material in the show, as that would constitute ‘spoilers’ for anyone likely to be seeing the show in Edinburgh or on tour (or even on DVD as I believe it’s due to be filmed at some point!)

So more of an overall impression, then, plus the one-time-only unique bits, due to certain audience members.

The show takes its inspiration from Mark’s difficult year last year, and stops short of the TYSIC initiative. He does, however, incorporate some stuff from Kit’s earliest days, so it does include some stuff about being a Dad – and harks back to experience of his own Dad fathering him. There is a lot of self-deprecation, some quite dark stuff, plenty of silliness and feel-good stuff too.

I am always baffled by the feat of memory that a stand-up show is. Does he always do the various segments in the same order? How does he remember them all? Does the ‘thread’ work the same way each night?

The biggest surprise, for me, was how dark some of the dark bits were! The section on flirting with the idea of suicide in the face of life’s meaninglessness was somewhat resonant for me: like a very, very dark, bitter piece of chocolate which is enjoyable but almost too strong. Similarly dark was the bit about being very VERY careful to keep the baby safe (ie alive!), with a wryly dark reference to wanting to make sure that nothing went wrong ‘on my watch’ – not least because the consequences would make it the end of everything, including the marriage. The bit about the hurtful comment with bad swear word was also slightly on the darker side, where the grist to the comedy mill is genuine psychological hurt and pain.

Before the show started Mark was sitting typing stuff on his laptop which was projected up onto the screen – it was very effective and very funny. Then, at the start of the show ‘proper’ Mark had a bit about playing a prank on latecomers, which nearly worked – and was possibly all the funnier for its slight foxing by one audience member (or was it all a double-bluff set-up?) It certainly seemed like a freshly improvised bit, but it may be a standard element, for all I know. Mind you, it did make it hard for him to get the show going, hankering for a latecomer to come along.

The oddest thing was about 10 minutes in, when an audience member (among a group of about 5, who had arrived just ‘under the wire’ but slightly late for all that. Mark reacted with a split-second decision when the guy got up and left. He put down his mike (with an echoing ‘donk’) and legged it out the door to catch the guy and make him come back. He then politely but pointedly interrogated him to find out what the heck was going on. It was very funny. Turned out this guy was supposed to be at a BBQ in Streattham – under pain of wifely displeasure, so why the heck had he even come in for the first bit? Who had bought the tickets? Etc etc. In the end, Mark let the chap go, or rather indicated that he didn’t actually want him to stay (and there was a little bit of sotte voce booing as he left (which reminded me of similarly instigated audience noise in MWMTWSB).

This episode did side-track the show for quite a while, and also seemed to throw Mark a little, although he got back into his stride after a while (later on, he asked an audience member what the time was and was surprised that it was already 8.50pm, with a third of the material still to go. But it was fine (as with most things, he talked it through aloud and came to this conclusion)
At the start Mark did some preamble about what the show would be like and that he was too psychologically fragile to risk doing a bad show (even as a preview/ work in progress). He mentioned that there would be jokes and then also some anecdotes where the laugh-rate might dip, but not to worry, cos it was all heading somewhere. (Later he mentioned how fast he talks and the good value of words per show he offered.) He talked about himself as a shy person, oddly choosing to do stand-up, and yet not regarding it as ‘brave’ or any big deal to talk to lots of strangers like this. One key line, which I’ve heard get a big laugh in the past, fell strangely flat this time – somehow the mood or the timing had been put off, by the preceding nonsense with BBQ man I think. And of course Mark commented on this. At one point there was also a line that got a much BIGGER reaction than usual, but I can’t recall now which one it was: again Mark commented on this. It all gets a bit post-modernist at times – ‘look what we’re doing here’ – which becomes part of the fun.

There were also 2 men who (at the same time) decided their bladders just couldn’t make it through – one was unfortunately seated in the middle of the front row and was wearing a bright pink T shirt. Mark had fun with the ridiculous ‘don’t mind me’ hunched over funny walk that he and other such people tend to use when going out. He got the guy’s name from his girlfriend, so he could go ‘Right, Robbie?’ as the guy came back in and sat down. (and he referred to Rob several times during the rest of the show)

Mark assured us that such unexpected bits were all good practise for dealing with audience happenstances in Edinburgh (he didn’t use the word happenstance, mind you, that’s just me)

Another improvised bit (well, I think it was off the cuff) was about the show Cats – can’t for the life of me recall how it fitted in, but it may have been around the time of the Dog’s life stuff (also one of my top favourite bits), or part of him dealing with the ‘going out for a wee men’. Mark revealed he’d never seen Cats, but postulated a show where lots of cats would just sit around ignoring the audience for 3 hours and then, just as they were leaving, would come and rub up against the audience’s legs. Loved that!

Oh, and I loved the bit about being taught not to get into cars with strangers (must remember to take some of a certain type of biscuit next time I get the chance to meet him!)

And the bit about the fat man getting into the lift.

And other instances of reacting to annoying people by saying things aloud

And the bad Bank Holiday in Aberystwyth

And the miserable, jilted man on the train

And the sausage roll

And the re-appropriation of genital swear words.

(Am trying to avoid spoilers, but I can’t help mentioning these little hints, cos I want to remember my favourite bits)

I felt that the tension in the thread of the show went a bit floppy just towards the end, and I wasn’t quite sure the final wrapping up, referring back to an earlier bit, quite worked as a suitable summing up. The logic didn’t quite do it for me – may just be a matter of wording rather than anything being wrong with the conceit. But although it’s a show with an overall ‘arc’ it’s got many off-shoots from that central thrust, and I lost the shape a bit along the way.

He talks about making a difference and being important to people - that HE wants to do this/be this, but his final example is not of him being important to someone else/ making a difference to someone else (or, for comic effect, failing to do so?),but rather of someone’s importance TO him in achieving a - presumably deliberately – bathetic goal (ie his work being known and liked by someone he admires, a somewhat more famous performer whom he has been to see many times and whose show he eventually managed to be in)

I risked saying something about this slight unease about the ending of the show in a comment on his blog – and quickly regretted doing so. I was really worried that I might've upset or offended Mark, or just made myself look presumptuous, and I tweeted him about my concern. He was lovely about it, and tweeted back to reassure me that it had been a useful comment.

In the midst of all this, I realised why I had posted the comment - and was ryely amused: obviously I just wanted to be important to him - just wanted to make a difference!


  1. A lovely blog! I didn't see this comment - is it worth going back to look at it?
    Also, my favourite bit, albeit one that I've heard before, is the bit about the lemon that wasn't a lemon. Brilliant.

  2. Love this blog, although it's made me sad I won't see the show in Edinburgh. Will it be the same show as for the December part of his tour?