February 01, 2007

Mark Watson

This was written for special one-off bonus edition of the old Comedy Soc newsletter. Nice to finally be able to sum up my thoughts on the 36-hour show as whole after covering it as a running review:

Mark Watson is possibly a little insane. At the very least he’s a work-a-holic. Most comics will take one show to Edinburgh and be satisfied, but ignoring the metaphorical advice of Head and Shoulders commercials everywhere, Mark decided to do two. Oh and in one of them he was going to solicit ideas for a novel, writing a chapter a day based on the audiences suggestions. You’d think that would be enough to keep even most keen of comedians busy, and lets face it, comics aren’t generally known to be fans of hard-work. But for Mark Watson, that wasn’t quite a big enough challenge. So in the middle of it all he decided to do another show. And this show just happened to be 36 hours long. And would include the regular shows for that day. If you think that sounds crazy, what’s even more so is that it’s not the first time he’s done this. In fact the previous year he did a show 2005 minutes long (ostensibly a history of the world, one minute per year), and the year prior to that he did a 24-hour long show.

It just so happened that I ended up with the job of covering said show for Chortle.co.uk , and so got to witness all thirty six hours of it. It was, in a word, brilliant. Going into it you wonder how Watson and his cohorts(including the brilliant Tim Key and Alex Horne, and your regular MC Lloyd Langford) could even hope to keep things going for that long. By the end of it you’re shocked to discover that, much like the X-Files, that despite the length of it there remain some plot threads unresolved and ideas un-explored. Chances are Mark could have managed another six hours (if it weren’t for the sleep deprivation and exhaustion setting in—oh and it was all done without the use of caffeine: don’t do drugs kids).

So what exactly was the show about? Loosely it followed a ‘Trip around the world’ structure, where a plan had been laid out to ‘visit’ every country in the world, the idea being that at any point in time they could check where we were and use that to spin of ideas of things to do. And what a bizarre collection of things they were:

Bernie Clifton turning up and taping up Mark and half the audience with duct tape.
Lucy Porter punching Dara O’Briain, and then the Edinburgh-wide dissemination of a rumour that this resulted in O’Briain’s kneed being injured and him having to go to hospital.
Brit comic Andy Zaltzmann and aussie Brendon Burns taking it part in a best of three ‘Ashes’ tournament involving a staring contest, a complimentary rap-battle (say nice things about the other person in a hip-hop stylee) and giant inflatable Boggle.
The arrival of Les Dennis and The Hamiltons, the later who seemed entirely baffled: “So what charity is this for” “It’s not” “So why are you doing?”.
The brilliant Gareth Guin, a random audience member that volunteered to see how far he could get from the venue, and get back again before the end of the show (France, as it turns out) and thus missing the entire event itself.
A live link up with a bunch of people in Australia via the internet, including the exchanging of anthems for our newly created nation of Watsonia.
Arthur Smith popping in in every now and again. On the first visit he was jokingly asking to bring something interesting along ‘like a troupe of Bavarian girl guides’. 24 hours later, he did.
Sean Connery not turning up, despite efforts going as far as checking the house where he was supposedly staying.
Mark having to leave for an hour or so to do a filming of a show for the BBC, so Adam Hills and David O’Doherty filling in by constructing a mannequin version of Watson from various audience members’ sleeping bags, Hill’s fake foot and Mark’s leftover jacket. The look on Watson’s face when he returned was priceless.
Daniel Kitson playing Blockbusters against a video of his younger self, on Blockbusters. Kitson later attempts to sell an hour of the gig on Ebay, but mistakenly lists it on Ebay.com instead of Ebay.co.uk, leading to no buyers.
At 10am the second morning, 22 hours in, the Israel -Palestine problem is solved. It involves a large game of ‘Touch the Gaza Strip’.
The realisation that Mark has to do his normal show (the one he’s performing tonight) and the moving of everyone into a bigger room, so the crowd buying tickets for the regular gig can be seated with us after being fetched from the other venue down the road, and rushed version of the regular show.

It was actually after this part of the show, just as the show was moving to it’s third venue, for the final 12 hours, something interesting happened. A woman who had ventured in for Mark’s regular show and stuck around stopped me and asked ‘What is this?’. I attempted to explain the basis of the show, but that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted to know if it was just ‘a bunch of people messing around on stage’ or if it was something different, something more. As if it wasn’t, she reasoned, she’d go home. But if it was something special, she’d stick around.
It was hard to answer at the time, it’s truly a show where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts (which made writing a live ‘review’ with ongoing star ratings a little difficult!). Also I had been awake over 24 hours by then so probably just mumbled a reply and walked off.
But on reflection it was a great question. Because the show was undoubtedly something special. It certainly wasn’t your typical comedy show, but stretched—audience interaction played a far larger part, but never in an aggressive ‘I’m going to pick on you’ sort of way, but in a democratic ‘What shall we do next?’ and ‘Who wants to do this’ sort of way. And that’s really what made the show special: the sense of community Watson brings to the audience. Sure, for a comedy buff like myself it’s brilliant to see random comics dropping in and improvising collaborations (whoever would have though David O’Doherty and Adam Hills would make a brilliant slapstick duo) but that’s not why it’s great. It’s great because there’s a guy in the audience know as the Balladeer who pens songs about the major events in the show. It’s ace because Daniel Kitson goes and buys everyone breakfast of the morning just because he can.
It’s cool because the show has a designated artist, and it sucks when she has to leave as she’s feeling really ill.
It’s great that there’s a bunch of people listening in Australia via the Chortle web-stream despite the Pleasance internet connection meaning it’s as stable as Pete Doherty on a bad day.
For 36 hours in a room (well, 3 rooms) in Edinburgh Mark Watson isn’t just running a show, he’s running his own little community. As well as myself there were over 40 others who stuck around for the entire show. If you’ve ever been to Glastonbury festival you might have some idea of the sense of community fostered between a bunch of people all spending a few days together—in many ways it’s a similar feeling but it’s also so much more, due to the smaller numbers and greater sense of shared experience.
Who knows if Watson will be doing another lengthy show this year (well, he does probably) but if he is, I urge you to go see it. In the meantime, enjoy this little one-hour long morsel of Mark, I certainly will.


- One comment

  1. AnnaWaits

    Great stuff! I’ve given it a heads up over at my blog :)

    01 Feb 2007, 19:16


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