Being crowned Scottish Comedian of the Year brings its own worries, but Mark Nelson tells Brian Donaldson about more pressing demons he has to face
Mark Nelson’s mouth has been getting him in trouble for quite some time now. Back in his day as a Dumfries schoolboy, he was indulging in between-song banter while appearing with local band Evac-Chair, named after the vehicle which transports an immobile person from a burning building, if you didn’t know yet needed to. ‘The first laugh got me into bother because the rector was there and some things you apparently weren’t meant to say.’ The 26-year-old, who was crowned Scottish Comedian of the Year in a stand-up shoot-out at the Old Fruitmarket last September has retained the ability to shock as evidenced by gags on the Amish massacre and celebrities moaning about being victims of child abuse. These might seem wilfully offensive were they not so wonderfully crafted.
Nelson has not been immune to his own personal problems. Having left home for Glasgow University to study Film and Television, he enjoyed the academic and social whirl but failed his second year due to problems with depression. ‘I could just sense myself becoming withdrawn at uni and from my friends, spending a lot of time in my room and I realised that I had to do something about it.’ After confiding in his parents, he went to a doctor and was put on a course of fluoxetine (‘it’s a lot more fancy than Prozac’) and he has been on and off medication ever since. ‘I thought you had to have some tragedy happen to you to be depressed but the doctor explained about my chemical imbalance and serotonin levels but to be honest I think just knowing that I’m taking them makes a difference.’
Having decided that comedy was his destiny, he joined the stand-up course run by Viv Gee and after ten weeks the graduates put on a show at the Buff on Glasgow’s Bath Lane. The crowd were all connected to the course and so were naturally kind to the acts but the audience for his next show was less of a pushover. ‘It was in Irvine at this charity night for a team of disabled dancers. When we got to this massive church hall, there were little kids running about and grannies and granddads sitting there and a woman came up to me and said I couldn’t swear. So I did a non-swearing bit about dogs with asthma and it went down really well.’
Before he knew it, it was early 2005 and Nelson was performing at the Stand’s Red Raw nights and taking any other slots on offer. This included an appearance in the comedy tent at last year’s T in the Park at two hours notice, hopping on stage slightly the worse for wear and finishing his set quickly so he could head off to see the Arctic Monkeys.
Nelson is simultaneously developing a remarkably accomplished stage presence as he strolls around, confidently leaning over to sip his Guinness while basking in each welcomed punchline, and writing some fresh material about well-worn subjects, whether it’s sex, neds, ginger hair or IKEA. The Red Raw showcases are often filled by aspirant comics full of rancorous filth and decrepit fury. Mark Nelson possesses a talent that is simply obscene.
Blackfriars, Glasgow, Sat 24 Mar