Mr Watson I Presume

We went out to our local theatre tonight to see Mark Watson – a stand-up comedian of some note. “Of some note” sounds like a tremendously aloof thing to say, but I can’t think of another way of saying “he’s been on the TV, and he’s f*cking brilliant”. We’ve seen him before, he’s been on the TV (as I said), he writes books… as far as we are concerned (being nobodies) he’s a pretty big deal. Hell – anybody that can half fill a sizeable theatre (I’ll come back to this) is a pretty big deal.

It feels wrong to just call him a comedian though, because he’s far more than that. If you remember back in the mists of time to personalities that would appear on TV of a weekend evening, and do no more than sit in a chair telling stories that made the audiences faces hurt with laughter… that’s what we’re talking about. I’m not sure if you might call it observational comedy, or story telling, or what – lets just say Mark is fast, clever, and perhaps the most entertaining stand-up I’ve ever seen (granted, I haven’t seen many, but he has set the bar in the stratosphere).

Here’s the thing. Smart stand-ups that are going to ad-lib, and divert massively from their planned script obviously do a fair amount of prep up-front. Mark’s prep obviously involved having a look at Twitter while he ate his dinner tonight, and of course he happened upon my post, telling nobody in particular (because let’s face it – Twitter is essentially standing on your own soap-box on the corner of a busy street, shouting to whoever might listen) that we were going to see him tonight. I posted it, and didn’t think any more of it.

And then I got a mention in the show. And laughs. And it was pretty damn funny (and impressive) because he somehow remembered my name, what I do for a living, and the random photo of a curry I posted last night (how I wish I had posted a caption to give the photo some context! it would have made a much better joke, or even a free “in” for a couple of minutes on stage ripping hipsters a new one).

You know how the truth is often far more boring than reality ? The photo of the curry I posted got there because while out on a very rare night out without the kids, we were laughing over dinner about hipsters taking pictures of their food, and pissing competition elitist parents posting what a marvellous time they are having on Facebook all the time. While talking about it, I took a picture of the food that had just arrived at the table – which went into Google Photos, and which a robotic webservice then took to Instagram, and then Twitter for me (if you’ve never seen “If This Then That”, it’s kind of a lazy person’s nirvana). Of course this entire sequence of events doesn’t make for good comedy – but being accused in passing of being a mindless hipster was kind of a victory, because we all know that to qualify you really do need a beard, and an iWatch.

Anyway. It got me thinking – about how comedians have to walk a pretty careful line when they involve the audience. How do they go about picking somebody? How do they know that the person they pick will react well? Do people sometimes ruin the act (I imagine the plants magicians rely on must be incredibly risky). Or do most acts rely on speed, charm, wit, and blind panic to see them through ?

As the evening wore on I became more and more impressed. I’m not sure if it’s just me being a bit unhinged, or because of the nature of “what I do” in the daytime, but I started to marvel at how good Mark was at pulling stories from his past out of a seemingly Captain Caveman-esque bag of material, and fit it to wherever he was on his rambling diversion from the original source material. I think in the couple of hours we were there, he probably spent a good three quarters of it away from his originally planned stuff.

I mentioned at the start about a half full theater. The theater booking office obviously has commercial relationships with various ticket booking agencies, who obviously make grand claims about the number of tickets they are going to sell in order to get favourable block booking rates, which then translates into better profit for them. This would all work well unless the agency DOESN’T SELL ANY F*CKING TICKETS. Then everybody looks like an ass-hat. The end result of this was half the main seating area in the theater was empty until the interval – and the novelty of this having happened caused perhaps the first half an hour to divert onto stories about previous venues and audiences. Did I mention that I love cynical, ranting comedians ?  The first hour was side splitting.

After the interval a great number of us switched seats to fill the theatre – and I think it had a real impact on the entire evening. Suddenly we were all a part of something – somehow. I hesitate to say we bonded in any way because we obviously didn’t – we just moved seats (which requires almost no effort whatsoever, other than agreeing with your friends “wouldn’t this be a great thing to do” – and then realising that half the audience are doing the same thing anyway).

I’m going to stop going on now. Suffice to say Mark Watson was brilliant. I don’t typically like stand-up comedy, because it’s somehow forced – but he’s not a typical stand-up comedian at all. He dares to tell self-deprecating stories that you either identify with, sympathise with, or are horrified by – and guilty giggles turn into helpless laughter as he expertly turns the screw.

Great night out. Great act. Can’t recommend enough.

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