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Mark Watson: I'm Not Here

Review by Steve Bennett

I would never have had Mark Watson down as the sort of comedian who’d put his name in neon lights on the stage. But here we have it, or his initials anyway, as the stage dressing for I’m Not Here.

For in the status game that is comedy, he tries more than most to convey the idea he’s on the same plane as his audience. That’s literal before the show starts, as he mingles with people taking their seats, and metaphorical during it, as he presents neuroses and embarrassments as everyday hurdles to overcome just like the rest of us, appearing neither crushingly awkward, despite the nervy delivery, nor bullet-proof confident.

Talking of planes, the story which loosely holds this show together is about him boarding a flight to Australia with a slightly damaged passport and no other way to prove his identity (hence the title), so he spent 23 hours fretting about whether he’d be allowed in to the country or despatched straight back to the UK. It’s fairly slight and the payoff modest, but serves its purpose.

For otherwise, it’s a romp through first world frustrations and concerns, from contactless payment to picky vegans. He considers his place in comedy’s pecking order, and is vaguely happy with it. What would he do with the £24,000 watch he saw one famous stand-up wearing anyway? He touches at a few greater troubles in marriage, fatherhood and the drink problem he addressed last time he was here – though of all that, absent-mindedly losing his supermarket gets the biggest laugh.

A routine about Woolworth’s flawed business model and the peculiar system we once had about getting photos developed are more mainstream, and well-ploughed, though delivered with a nice level of incredulity. Likewise, reading song lyrics literally is old-hat but almost always funny, and Watson has a great line about a monster hit – which he then undermines by wishing he’d thought of it when the song was actually in the charts two years ago…

Such self-awareness and self-deprecation reinforces that idea of being equal status, as he strips away as much of the artifice of stand-up as he can – or at least drawing attention to it where it still exists.

He’s more creative in the performance than you might think from such a casual style. He’s found a genuinely new way of doing crowd work which owes more to the non-mystical techniques of charlatan psychics (ie all psychics) than it does the techniques of Comedy Store comperes that every comic has adopted unquestioningly for the past 35 years. And his way of dealing with the 40-minute lull is a wonderfully fun, even if it didn’t quite catch alight with this midweek crowd.

I’m Not Here doesn’t have the emotive strength of Watson’s last show, Flaws, but it remains skilful anecdotal stand-up, with enough flourishes to place it a step above the norm.

Review date: 21 Aug 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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