Mark Watson: Who is, in fact, here
By Chris Cooke | Published on Tuesday 9 August 2016
Despite giving Mark Watson one of our Editors’ Awards in 2005, we somehow forgot to ever put him on the cover.
This despite our love for his numerous Edinburgh shows, those 24 hour plus marathon Fringe performances, ‘Mark Watson Makes The World Substantially Better’ and all his other Radio 4 outings, the telly projects, the many collaborations with the equally marvellous Tim Key and Alex Horne, and whatever bit of his biog we just missed out.
With Mark somehow managing to fit an entire Fringe run into the 84 date tour of his current show ‘I’m Not Here’ – while also staging another stint of his Olympics-themed ‘Edinborolympics’ – this seemed like the year to address the never-had-Mark-Watson-on-the cover oversight. So we had a chat with the man himself.
CC: So, while you ARE here, tell us about ‘I’m Not Here’. What’s the premise for the show?
MW: It begins with an incident that happened to me at an airport, to do with my passport being deemed invalid. Well, actually, it normally begins with some characteristic messing about, but eventually we get to the airport. From there I try to talk about the idea of identity in a digital age. But with jokes; lots of jokes.
CC: Once you’ve picked a premise, how strict are you on making sure the subsequent material sticks to it?
MW: I suppose I’m strict about making it SEEM like the material sticks to it. I try to make sure that everything is woven together, at least loosely, because I think it’s important to feel you’ve seen an actual show, rather than an extended set. I’ve seen an awful lot of Edinburgh shows in my time and the best ones were usually – not always, but usually – those which were cunningly structured as well as just funny. So there are a few jokes I’m really fond of which just wouldn’t fit into this show and were dropped. It’s like picking a football team. You can have maverick players but everyone must fit the system.
CC: Were you tempted to sell tickets, not show up, and then just point out you’ve fulfilled the remit of the show’s title?
MW: We talked about it, yes. It would have been the greatest stunt since that year Tim Vine got a massive billboard that said ‘TIM VINE IS NOT APPEARING AT THIS YEAR’S FESTIVAL’. In the end there was a group decision that, just possibly, some audience members would feel disappointed, despite the literal accuracy. Also, I’d be a bit annoyed not to be performing the show after all this work!
CC: You are doing a massive tour of this show. What made you want to include a full Edinburgh run in the middle of that tour?
MW: Partly masochism. I’m never happier than when I’m putting myself through some sort of endurance effort. And partly, Edinburgh will always be my home as a comedian. There have been years where I just did part of the Festival, but it always feels like arriving at a party when most of the wine’s already gone and people are asleep in the bath.
CC: Presumably you have a shorter slot during the Fringe than when you’re on tour. Did you have to edit the show down? Was that tricky?
MW: Yes – it was an odd experience to be chopping down rather than desperately throwing it together as you generally are in the lead-up to the Fringe. As I said, part of the process involved sacking off jokes which were working well but just didn’t quite feel right for the show. But those jokes’ time will come.
CC: Let’s talk about the other show. For the uninitiated, what’s the Edinborolympics?
MW: It’s a – very inaccurate and unwanted – homage to the real Olympics, which began four years ago because the Fringe overlapped with the London Games. We’ve since done one for the Commonwealth Games, so this is the third. Essentially it’s a cross between ‘It’s A Knockout’ and a school sports day, but if everyone at a school sports day was drunk – as indeed, looking back, some of them may have been.
CC: Who are you planning/hoping/intending to involve this year? And what games will they compete in?
MW: Among our combatants are James Acaster, Sam Simmons, Josie Long, Sofie Hagen, Nish Kumar and Luisa Omielan. But loads more too; we’ve got some of our best ever line-ups. As for games: there’ll be some old favourites – like the sack race and the Admin Pentathlon – alongside some new events, which could go well or disastrously wrong.
CC: Will you be doing anything to give the whole thing a bit of a Rio feel to it?
MW: Nothing too spectacular, except we’re trucking in nine hundred thousand tonnes of sand to recreate Copacabana, and stationing dozens of armed police outside the Pleasance Beyond to put down any protestors.
CC: I’ve always been a big fan of your Radio 4 shows. Though did you actually make the world substantially better?
MW: If you look at a general review of 2016, I think you’ll have to accept that absolutely nothing has gone wrong in the world. Hang on. WHAT? JESUS CHRIST. This is why these days the series is just called ‘Mark Watson Talks A Bit About Life’. It’s a less daunting target.
CC: I was also a big fan of ‘No More Woman’, which wasn’t even meant to be a proper programme. Have you ever thought about bringing that back, but in BBC1 prime time?
MW: Firstly I should make it clear to newcomers that ‘No More Women’ was not a misogynistic game. It was a game where you take turns to name celebrities while crossing off categories of people – so, “no more women”, “no more Americans”, “no more people with a D in their name” – until one player accidentally names a person from one of the already excluded groups. Alex Horne, Tim Key and I invented it and played it for years, but it only really exists as a series of ‘viral’ videos online to promote ‘We Need Answers’. Nonetheless people quite often ask me about it. So on that basis – yes, prime time BBC1 seems exactly the place. I’m going to drop them an email now.
Mark Watson’s ‘Edinborolympics’ and ‘I’m Not Here’ were performed at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2016.
Photo by David P Scott