Mark Watson: interview

Mark Watson Mark Watson - Neil Bennett
Posted: Tue Jan 11 2011

Mark Watson has had a quietly meteoric rise into comedy's Premiership. He talks to Time Out on the eve of his biggest solo show yet

Mark Watson's a busy man. Currently in the middle of a 41-date national tour, he's simultaneously penning novels, appearing on panel shows, campaigning for the environment, caring for his nine-month-old baby and hosting his own TV show, 'Mark Watson Kicks Off'. Sitting in his dressing room for the football-themed series, I catch a few minutes with the multitasking comic as he hurriedly eats a lasagne in between rehearsals and filming…

The tour's called 'Do I Know You?'. Where does the title come from?
'It comes from the frequent conversations I have with people that start exactly like that. I'm at a stage in my career where I'm not that famous, in fact not very famous at all, just about recognisable enough that some people look at me on the tube. So I end up with people saying, “Do I know you from somewhere?” If you get to a stage where people are saying that kind of thing you end up having to justify your existence in a way, and that does make you think about where your life is. I'm 30 this year and I've just had a baby, so I've got all sorts of reasons to weigh up my life.'

Is this the reason you've set yourself five challenges to complete by the time you're 40?
'Yeah, I set myself a whole slate of tasks on my blog. The broad, umbrella challenge is to be more of an optimist. That's the key goal. Then there are little challenges within that, like trying to stop comparing myself to other people, drink less, try and play the drums in public… So they range from achievable one-off things to big life-changes. But then I've given myself ten years to do it, so it feels obtainable.'

How are they going so far? Have you achieved any yet?
'I did some drumming at The Horne Section in Edinburgh, so that opportunity came up almost immediately. The drinking is a little better; I'd say it's down slightly on my usual intake. Being less competitive with other people is probably the hardest one because the industry of comedy forces you to; you're always in competition with other people. It's been a decent start, but there's still nine and a bit years to go, so I'm optimistic of making more progress.'

Your shows haven't always had the most positive titles -'50 Years Before Death and the Awful Prospect of Eternity', and 'I'm Worried That I'm Starting to Hate Almost Everyone in the World'…
'It would be fair to say I've done some gloomy-sounding shows. I've probably always had a deeper and more intricate meaning or agenda when I start the show and it ends up being more and more playful the more I do it. This is probably the first time the title has actually reflected the show with any accuracy.'

You were one of the first comics to perform a marathon 24-hour-plus comedy show…
'More and more people seem to be doing 24-hour things these days. I can't see the point of it, really. There are people now nearly every week in the States doing 37 hours, 38 and a half… I didn't register it as a record attempt; it was about the experience and event rather than an endurance thing. If you wanted to keep going for as long as possible you could do it, but it wouldn't be fun. I doubt that many of these record attempts have been that much fun.'

The Hammersmith Apollo gig will be the biggest audience you've ever had for a solo show. How does it feel to be playing a venue that vast?
'Amazing, in both senses: it's great, but it's a pretty intimidating idea as well. If you're doing pure stand-up the Apollo's about as big as you'd want a venue to be I think; it still feels manageable because it's just a theatre at the end of the day. But it's a mighty theatre, so it's going to be a big show.'

What can we expect from the show?
'You can expect me to be even more nervy and hyperactive than usual, but it will also be quite an epic night of fun, I think. If you go to the Apollo a lot you'll see slicker shows and comedians, but for a comic like me to graduate into playing that venue, with the shambolic, amateurish style that I have, it'll be quite an unusual experience and a memorable night, one way or another. Hopefully it'll feel quite cosy. It does depend on how many people come, I suppose.'