Interview: Mark Watson looks back on two decades as a comedian ahead of his Melbourne Hall show this weekend

By Graham Hill

19th May 2023 | Local Features

Mark Watson is appearing at Melbourne Hall on Sunday night. Photo: Chuff Media
Mark Watson is appearing at Melbourne Hall on Sunday night. Photo: Chuff Media

Mark Watson can hardly believe he has been in the business of going on stage and making people laugh for the last 21 years.

Starting out in small venues, he is now internationally known and recently played a comedy festival in Melbourne, Australia.

Funny that. As a matter of weeks later he know finds himself in Melbourne, near Ashby, but over the border into South Derbyshire.

Watson is part of the Just The Tonic weekend which sees some of the country's top talents perform at the scenic Melbourne Hall.

Seann Walsh starts the ball rolling tonight (Friday), with Milton Jones on stage tomorrow night (Saturday).

An Edinburgh Festival Award winner, Watson is appearing on Sunday night with an act that has proved hugely popular with audiences over the past two decades.

But that routine has changed a lot over that time - you would expect that obviously.

However, he started out playing the character of a naive Welshman, which is where he launched himself on to the scene in the early 2000s.

It came at a cost sometimes - a journey to a pub gig in Birmingham saw him robbed at New Street Station.

Did he let it worry him? Not too much as it provided him with material for his show later that night.

Watson has a lively mind. As well as a comedy career - with TV and radio appearances - he has written a string of books and his currently working on his eighth novel.

He talked to Ashby Nub News ahead of this weekend's Melbourne gig.

Mark, 43. admitted the show he does this weekend may be slightly different to the one he did in Australia.

He said: "I might well do like a range of different stuff. Because these sort of gigs are interesting to see and I'll react a bit to the audience - you can afford to stay in the moment a bit. I'm really looking forward to the setting. I've seen online and it looks fantastic.

"There aren't that many places I haven't been to before, because I've been doing it for a long time. 

"But I love this sort of thing. I love outdoor gigs. I was going to be stupid enough to say the weather will be lovely. But you can never tell. In theory it should be really, really lovely."

Mark admits time appears to have flown during the lifespan of his career.

He added: "You've made me stop and think that the idea that I'll have been doing this for 20 years. It will be, it doesn't feel that that long. But that's time for you.

"I have fond memories of that night in Birmingham, even though I was mugged on the way there - that became a staple part of my routine for a while.

"I've always had nice gigs in the Midlands, but this weekend is something different."

Mark admits his act has evolved over the years and his original show could not have survived now.

He added: "I had a particular persona then which I had to leave behind. It wouldn't make any sense now. I was never exactly pretending to be someone else. 

"It was always a kind of that a hybrid of my real self and a character I suppose. I liked that. Definitely. Bur I'm much more ambitious on stage now. And I project much more my real self. I'm more truthful about it. 

"But in other ways, it feels exactly the same to me as when I was that nervous kid doing open mics."

Mark remembers the time he realised he was more than that - and people wanted to go out to see him perform.

He added: "I think it was the first time I played a show in Australia, and people out there were paying money to come to one of my shows.

"I hadn't been on TV at all. But enough people were taking a punt, it was really small audience. It wasn't like I was making money - but psychologically, that's a moment where you think: 'I must be doing something right'. 

"As a club comedian, you're trying to show up and impress people, you've got no real idea what to expect. 

"But once you start selling tickets, as a solo performer, even if it's 20-30 people, they came to see you and it feels different."

In his show Mark delivers a great line about being a performer during the Covid pandemic - with venues closed and an uncertainty about when they will open again.

The gag revolves around a poster offering a reward for a lost dog.

Mark added: "For the first few months, it felt quite insecure, there were periods where you just thought, maybe live entertainment won't go back to what it was before.

"Because there were so many uncertainties, you'd think even if we do get back to where we were, maybe, you know, people will be too nervous to ever have comedy festivals or comedy nights the way they used to be. 

"I never took this career for granted. But I've always felt quite lucky to do it, and it definitely it made me very grateful when I was able to get back.

"Most comedians still feel like we've got a renewed appreciation for what it is like to be in a room with an audience. Once it's been taken away from you, you really feel that.

"I did do quite a lot of writing. The way my mind is, I had to keep active and creative otherwise it would've been too much. The sort of brain I've got, it's quite restless. So it was quite productive. 

"My new book should be out this time next year, or maybe early next year. The theme of it is about the about a relationship between a delivery driver and customer. The weird way that our society just depends on delivery, Amazon, all that stuff. The gig economy as they call it, a novel about how that interacts with more well-off people, which I think is interesting."

Just The Tonic shows are taking place at Melbourne Hall this weekend - you can find out more details HERE.


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