Interview: Mark Watson
Mark Watson is back on the road with new show Request Stop Tour, making appearances in Durham, Newcastle and Stockton. Radio Teesdale’s Peter Dixon caught up with Watson to find out more.
PD: A lot has happened in the last four years. You’re on a big tour at the moment which has an interesting title “Mark Watson, “Request Stop Tour”. Can you tell us what that’s all about?
MW: It’s actually pretty much what it sounds like. I asked people on my website to suggest towns where they felt I should go, places I’ve not been before or just places they want me to act. Basically, I’m shamelessly asking for peoples love.
So Stockton, Durham and Newcastle are all places I’ve visited before and have been really nice to play. Other places in the tour such as Cumbria and North Wales I’ve never set foot in. The whole tour schedule is dictated by fans and I’ve pretty much stuck to it; which means I’m going to some pretty odd places!
PD: That’s brilliant. As a comedian of your calibre you’ve played some big venues but some of these are relatively small, aren’t they?
MW: Yeah, it’s fun; there is quite a nice variety on this tour. There are some real monsters! But then there are quite a number which are small and only hold around a hundred. A couple are even smaller than that and are just village halls, really. It becomes a very different type of show in that environment as you can make it much more personal and do more interesting material. It’s a good place to try things out and just be right in the audiences’ face. That’s what it’s like when you first start out in clubs. You do lose that as you go on but I’m looking forward to the small venues; that intimacy is what makes stand up good.
PD: I’d imagine you’ll be seeing a lot of people who have seen you before and it’s an opportunity to revisit some of your ‘Greatest Hits’?
MW: Yeah it’s funny; if you’re a band people want you to play your greatest hits, whereas if you’re a comedian you always feel a bit guilty if you come back to a joke you’ve done before. I will judge it from night to night on the audiences. For instance, Durham is somewhere I’ve played quite a bit so I would want to try and do as new a show as possible there. Somewhere like Newcastle I’ve not been that much and there is a lot of material I’ve never done there. Strange thing is I’ve only ever done a couple of shows in Newcastle.
PD: It’s a brand new club you’re going to in the Newcastle [The Stand Comedy Club] which is great isn’t it?
MW: Indeed, yeah. When I told my friends in Newcastle they didn’t think it existed! But turns out it’s only just opening. I am really looking forward to it. I think Newcastle is such a great city and it needs a couple of medium sized comedy venues like that. You’ve got the huge venues and the Hyena but there are definitely vacancies for a little more light comedy in Newcastle because the audience is definitely there.
PD: You’ve obviously become quite famous over the years and the work you do at the Edinburgh Festival obviously helps. I guess the Fringe is a place you love to return to?
MW: I think I never quite go away. Edinburgh is strange as a festival. If you’re with comedians they usually always complain about it being a very long festival. It can be quite expensive, it rains all the time and there is a lot wrong with it really, yet you do end up coming back again and again. It’s pretty much an addiction so I’m already thinking about what I might do next year. It’s been special for me because a lot of the progress I’ve made in my career has come from my Edinburgh shows so I do owe it quite a lot.
One of the good things about it is that you can develop a show there and take it on tour. This formed the basis of my career.
PD: Excellent stuff. You’ve recently recorded Live at the Apollo too, haven’t you?
MW: Very recently, in fact, as we speak it was last night! I was happy with it. It’s very difficult to tell what it will look like when it’s actually on the telly and they edit it. It can end up being quite different to how you remember it; but certainly it’s a big gig and it goes by in a bit of a blur. I felt like it went fairly well and they were a great crowd. The crowds at these things tend to very supportive because they are excited to be there and also they have seen six comedians for nothing; so they ought to laugh, really!
PD: You do a lot of panel shows you seem quite a gentle natured person in real life. Is it hard being on with more extravert type of people grabbing all the lines?
MW: Yeah, it isn’t easy. Some shows are easier than others but the pace of them is absolutely break neck! You’ve got people fighting to get in and going – gag – gag – gag – gag so it can be difficult. I’m probably not the ideal person for shows like that because I will sit there and give other people a go and if you do that you sometimes find when the show is on telly you haven’t said a single word.
But it does depend on the show. There are some shows where the pace is a bit more relaxed and there aren’t as many people. I think when you have a show with six or seven comedians it’s too many and everyone is going to race to get to the same punch lines.
PD: And there have been times where you’ve had the chair and hosted the whole. Does that make things a bit easier?
MW: Yeah, if you’re hosting it then you can just tell people to shut up! As a host you’re in a different position with a responsibility to try and be funny but not get in the way of people and be stealing laughter. It is sort of a skill to host these things as you don’t want to be treading on the toes of people all the time and you’ve got to balance it right.
PD: It’s a bit like MC-ing at a club night then, isn’t it?
MW: Yeah exactly. You want to create a good atmosphere. You want to be funny but you’re basically there to make other people seem funny. Dara Ó Briain is brilliant on Mock of the Week as he is very funny himself but he doesn’t get in the way of people doing jokes. Now and again you get a host of who thinks the show is all about them and it’s almost like they are in competition with their own guests, which is a problem.
PD: You’ve written lots of books. Is that something you’re constantly planning even if you’re not writing at the moment?
MW: Yeah I’ve just finished another one and I’m always thinking about others. It is hard to pencil them in as TV ends up taking priority and book writing can be quite a long process. It’s hard to find time. But I do love doing it and the literacy part of my career is quite an important thing for me. With stand up it’s all about the here and now and there is quite a lot of competition. With a book you can put a bit of time in, mould something quite patiently and it’s quite relaxing after stand up.
PD: I know one of the other things you’re quite passionate about is climate change and pollution. Is that something you still have enough time to get involved with?
MW: I haven’t done a lot for a while to be honest. I did a lecture series trying to make climate change into a funnier and more interesting subject at Edinburgh and London. It’s been a year or so since I’ve done any of that because I’m running a bit short on time for all these different projects. If there was a system where I could buy extra time off people who were just wasting it I would make a killing!
PD: That’s interesting because you’ve just come back from Australia and I know you have a theory about how to combat jet lag?
MW: Yeah I’ve come back and forth from Australia a lot the past few years and the trick is to get into the mindset of the place you’re going to land. So if you’re going to land during the night then try stay awake and sleep at that appropriate time. I’ve got a pretty good system which I was boasting about on my blog hoping to look like an expert and write a book about it. Pretty often on planes they serve food when you don’t really need it, so next time I’m on a plane I might just stand up and say “I would recommend that you all go to sleep now”. In the same way they have volunteers for emergencies I could be a sleep monitor for the whole plane.
PD: And probably get some strange looks! Another thing is that you’re going to be bringing out a DVD very soon. Could you tell us a bit about that?
MW: I recorded it in my hometown Bristol in July and it’s sort of a ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation as I’ve never had a DVD out before. It was a bit of a pressure gig because you have to do all the funniest jokes you’ve ever done in one night; but it came out alright and I’m happy with it. I’m really looking forward to seeing it on sale as I’ve always seen other peoples DVDs and thought it’d be nice one day to have my own. If nothing else, my family is going to be getting a few for Christmas!
PD: One of the added extras of your DVD is that people can send you questions and you’re going to film your responses to them?
MW: Yeah, that’s right. I’ve had a good 60 – 70 questions of… varying quality, let’s say. So I’m going to pick some of the best ones and do a little Q&A to provide one or two funny little extras on the DVD. You quite often get an interview as part of the extras so I thought it would be nice to have one with my fans.
PD: I noticed there is a lot of time related ones like if Doctor Who offered you a trip in the TARDIS, where would you go?
MW: Yeah that is a difficult one. I don’t think I would do anything as adventurous as Doctor Who usually does. I’d just like to visit the Roman Empire or something but definitely make sure I didn’t get involved in any battles with evil. I’d be more keen as just going as a tourist really.
PD: I also noticed the question on what your wife find most interesting about you and what she would change if given the chance?
MW: I’ve got a fair idea of some of the things she wants to change because she makes me aware of those. But what she finds interesting… I don’t honestly know!
You can see Mark Watson’s show ‘Request Stop Tour’ in the North East on Friday 14th October [Durham Gala Theatre], Monday 14th November [Newcastle Stand Club] and Friday 18th November [The Stockton Arc].
Also, an audio file of Peter Dixon’s interview with Mark Watson can be listened to here via Radio Teesdale’s Listen Again feature.