Mark Watson: “I tend not to regard some subjects as off-limits these days…”
For someone who stresses as much as Mark Watson, you’d imagine the prospect of boarding a 24-hour flight with the risk he might not be allowed to enter the country at the other end would leave him fraught. Luckily for Watson, he can turn such a troubling scenario to his advantage, by using it as the trigger for his new stand-up tour ‘I’m Not Here’ (Key Theatre, 6 October) as Brian Donaldson discovers...
So Mark, tell us exactly what happened on this flight and how you’ve managed to get so much comic mileage out of it.
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.
A 24-hour flight spent fretting about whether you’d be let in at other end can’t have been particularly restful.
I started thinking about how we have fewer and fewer physical proofs of our identity. In wouldn’t to the virtual and the fact that more and more of the objects that we used to depend on have been replaced by ideas of objects.
It sounds like a terrifying prospect, but at least it offered you plenty of material. Can we expect more personal experiences like this during the show?
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 that 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 and get a lot of laughs.
In ‘Flaws’ you got a fantastic response when you recreated the sound and fury of a children’s party you had attended, complete with the added terror of bursting balloons all around you! Do you enjoy throwing in things that are a little off-kilter?
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 kid’s 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.
You’ve included a lot of technology in the past, including screens as part of several of your shows. Will ‘I’m Not Here’ include more of the same?
I have used technology 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.
As well as stand-up you’ve a number of novels to your name and have had numerous TV appearances on the likes of We Need Answers and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Does this represent a transition or can we look forward to you 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.
Mark Watson – I’m Not Here
6 October, 8pm
Key Theatre, Peterborough