As the innovative comic prepares to spout forth more venom against the world, Mark Watson tells Brian Donaldson about energy levels and death certificates.
Just like the term ‘genius’, the phrase ‘hardest working person in showbusiness’ is wildly overused and massively abused. But when you think about the career of Mark Watson, both of these descriptions can be applied with little fear of contradiction. By now, comedy aficionados will recognise him as the man who puts on Fringe shows which can last a full day (his Overambitious 24-Hour Show during August 2004) or even longer (the sequel, 2005 Years in 2005 Minutes). Last year he traversed his Seemingly Impossible 36-Hour Circuit of the World while separately writing a novel with his audience and analysing the six deadly sins (he missed out one) for I’m Worried that I’m Starting to Hate Almost Everyone in the World, the show he is performing for the last time during March.
But breaking the boundaries of stand-up is not just his (all) day job. His second novel, A Light-hearted Look at Murder is due out in August, he currently has a Radio 4 show in which he aims to set the world to rights and has two comedy pilots set to launch on BBC3 (Living with Two People) and BBC4 (The Lift). Should you find yourself in a position of describing Watson’s stage act to a stranger, you could say that his wit is effortless, except that he appears to bleed sweat with the energy levels required to produce his invigorating and hilarious shows. ‘I think I might be so hyperactive on stage as a reaction against the painstaking slowness of other parts of my life,’ he insists frantically. ‘Novel-writing is an incredibly long-winded, patience-demanding, three-hours-on-one-word, wonder-if-I’ll-get-an-email-this-week sort of business. Going on stage makes me into a bit of a nutter and I get much more excited than I normally would. Perhaps I just like attention.’
While the attention which this Bristol-born comical innovator (with the staged Welsh accent) now attracts is fully deserved, there are some moments in life when people have been drawn to him that he could have well done without. Such as the time he was mugged by a teenager, a trauma he turned into a positive by writing I’m Worried that . . . ‘I seem to have calmed down a bit over the past few months towards young people and in general terms,’ he confesses. ‘That’s partly because of a so-far-successful New Year resolution not to get so stressed for the good of my heart. It’s a lot nicer, but it remains to be seen whether there’ll be any jokes in it.’
Worrying whether a life choice would help with his comedy career was the least of his worries in Mark Watson’s previous existence. ‘I worked in a warehouse just outside Bristol, filing death certificates into boxes. It was unbelievably chilly in there, but most of the boxes were kept on shelves well above head height, so you were always either too cold or too hot because you were sweating with the prospect of falling down and dying. And being filed by your co-workers in a suitably ironic manner. At university, I kept a photo of the warehouse on the wall, to remind me to work hard.’ As an inspiration, it has worked absolute wonders.
The Stand, Edinburgh, Wed 14 Mar; the Stand, Glasgow, Thu 15 Mar.