Digital Spy

Search Digital Spy
0

Showbiz Interview

Mark Watson interview: 'Being an arsehole is mistaken for edgy comedy'

By
It seems like no time at all since Mark Watson and his fake Welsh accent started becoming known to comedy fans, but the esteemed funnyman and novelist has been helping to usher in a new wave of young, promising stand-ups through his partnership with Chortle's Student Comedy Awards.

Speaking to Digital Spy after witnessing the "worryingly strong" new talents in action, Watson gave us tips on how to make it in the comedy world, explained his stance on controversial humour ("it's cheap shots at people who can't defend themselves") and gave us his take on one of the biggest comedy novels ever, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Mark Watson

© PA Images / Ian West/PA Archive



You were on hand at Chortle's Student Comedy Awards recently, how are you feeling about the future of UK comedy after seeing the talent on display there?
"It's worryingly strong from the point of view of someone who is a current comedian. New comedy is getting better and more savvy. People seem to really know what they're doing, there was three or four people who looked like much more experienced comedians already."

So it put you on the edge a little bit?
"Well, yeah, but I did expect it actually. I'm aware of the strength of the comedy scene these days. Jealousy aside I did enjoy it."

What challenges did you face when you were starting out in comedy?
"The hard thing is you don't really know what you're doing in terms of getting gigs, putting yourself out there. You're not sure when you start how to get anybody's attention which is one of the reasons why it's a valuable thing to have a competition like this... I would definitely have entered it."

Can you remember any particularly bad gigs?
"I was almost murdered by an audience in Maidstone. It wasn't that early actually, I was about two or three years in. I didn't particularly do anything wrong, the audience was just drunk and feral. I was quite young and I'd just never dealt with a crowd that was so sort of aggressive in quite that way.

"There was very little that I could do actually, I just stood my ground and was miserable for 20 minutes, but I refused to leave... I had to play the same venue the next night as I'd been booked for the whole weekend, so that was quite nerve-wracking. [But] it was a classic case of get back on the bike. You usually feel like you don't want to do comedy again after [something like] that but I had to get past it."

Mark Watson with winners of the Chortle Student Comedy Awards.

Left-Right: Chortle Student Awards winner Kwame Asante, runner-up Johnny Pelham and Mark Watson

Fans may remember that you used to perform with a Welsh accent. Was that a comfort thing?
"It basically was, yeah. It enabled me to be uninhibited and hide slightly from the fact that I was doing stand-up. It's so weird hearing your own voice and the whole thing is quite a self-conscious exercise. So it was kind of a defence mechanism for me.

"As I started doing longer gigs and stuff it became untenable because I was talking to people in real life, I was going on the radio, it was a weird moment where I was both Welsh and English simultaneously and it was starting to become a little bit schizophrenic so in the end I just dropped it."

What's the best piece of advice you could give to the inspiring comedians?
"You really just want to do as many gigs as you can. It's one of those things you only learn by experience no matter how much funny stuff you write. Every gig just makes you a better performer, even the really painful ones.

Mark Watson

© PA Images / Matt Crossick/EMPICS Entertainment



"I think no matter how funny or how good a writer someone is you learn more from being on stage for half an hour than any amount of comedy classes or discussions or forums about it. Basically don't pay too much attention to theory, just get in there and do it."

You may remember the Jason Manford programme Show Me The Funny, which was trying to do something similar to the Student Comedy Awards. Do you think a TV show promoting young comedians is a good platform?
"I think it is quite possible. I think the thing with Show Me The Funny was that it was a bit obvious that it wasn't entirely new comedians. Some of them had been performing for a few years and I think that did lead to a bit of an odd atmosphere.

"I think the only way to do it would be to stick the guys on stage for five minutes and show it, X Factor-style. When people try and do this sort of show on TV they mess about with it, make them do gigs in different locations. I think to make this work on TV you have to be bold enough to just put young comedians on with as little fuss as possible.

"That kind of slight fear, apprehension, excitement is what makes live comedy so exciting, but it's not easy to convince a TV commissioner."

The contestants from Show Me The Funny

© ITV

Jason Manford and Patrick Monahan

© PA Images



Channel 4 is in the middle of its 'Funny Fortnight', do you think other TV channels could do more to promote the best of British comedy?
"I think in general all the channels want to be showcasing up-and-coming comedy, but it's not easy to do. I think a lot of channels are a little tied by feeling like they need big names and familiar faces. If there is one thing I would try to get commissioners to do it would be to take more risks.

"I think TV sometimes handles stand-up very well and sometimes very badly. Overall I think live comedy is quite a risky format and that's its appeal and you need to be able to reflect that somehow."

You're also about to set off on 'The Information Tour', what can fans expect from the show?
"It is a stand-up show but there's a little bit of trickery in it as well. There are various technological things in the show where the audience can text me and interact with me in various unusual ways. There are some unusual visual tricks as well. It's a stand-up show with a fair few surprises."

You're not really known as well for being a controversial comedian, did you make a deliberate decision to shy away from risky subjects?
"It's more that I tend to think when people claim to be controversial they're often just being unpleasant. If I had a controversial opinion I certainly wouldn't shy away from putting it in my stand-up, but you have to be funny with it.

"Just being a bit of an arsehole is mistaken as being edgy. Basically I'm happy to say anything in my live show, [but] I'm not keen on being controversial for the sake of it."

Are there any subjects that are off-limits in your eyes?
"I don't think any subject is definitively off-limits because you can't really say one illness is worse than another. If you're trying to quantify the offensiveness of something you're in pretty deep water, because it's sort of impossible.

"What I think you should do in general is make sure you have a specific reason to do a joke - don't just victimise people. The problem with a lot of cool comedy is it's kind of cheap shots at people who can't defend themselves. That's it really. It's not about topics being more acceptable than others, it's just there is a certain amount of responsibility about being in a public position."

Mark Watson

© Rex Features / ITV



Your new book The Knot is coming out at the end of August, can you tell our readers a bit about that?
"It's about a wedding photographer and it's set in the 1960s through to the '90s. It's quite an ambitious novel certainly for me. It's not really a comedy novel, it's fairly dark. It's about a sort of taboo love affair, I can't say much more than that.

"It's not exactly going to be controversial, but it's fair to say I tend to take on bigger subjects in my novels than in my stand-up."

Would you ever be tempted to give up stand-up and concentrate solely on writing?
"I'm sometimes tempted... actually next year I am planning on taking time away from stand-up just to focus a bit more on writing projects. I enjoy being able to do a range of stuff. For the time being I like to keep my options open and shuffle between different things."

You used to work with Tim Minchin, who has recently landed big roles in Californication and the Jesus Christ Superstar tour. Would you be tempted to follow in his footsteps and venture into acting?
"It's not really an ambition of mine. I do quite a lot of stuff as it is and you have to prioritise something. Tim always wanted to be an actor, it was much more of an aim for him.

"It was something I would consider if the right thing was there, but probably a bit like Minchin in Californication I'd need a role that was basically playing an exaggerated version of myself. I don't see myself as a Hamlet."

Perhaps the biggest comedy novel of recent times, although perhaps unintentionally, is Fifty Shades of Grey. Do you have a take on the whole phenomenon there?
"I think it's an odd one as runaway bestsellers go. Basically it's reasonably poor quality, sort of titillation literature, but it's become such a sensation because people are so unused to the idea of sex in literature generally speaking. I think it says more about society than about literature really.

"I've not actually read it. My wife has and I'm sure it's awful. It's not even very erotic from what I can make out. But again people are very easily shocked and they like to be shocked by that
sort of thing. I certainly don't think it's a master work of literature [but] whatever else you say about it, it is unusual. No-one has done a mainstream bondage novel before."

Mark Watson presented The Chortle Student Comedy Awards 2012 in association with The Sims 3.

You May Like

Comments

Loading...