Josie Long

Josie Long

In 1999, Josie Long won the BBC New Comedy Award at the age of just 17 - making her too young for the champagne that came as part of the prize. Despite the boost the award would have given to her comedy career, she took time off performing to complete her English degree at Oxford university, returning in 2003.

Following the break, she was named best newcomer in the Chortle awards in 2005, and best breakthrough act the following year. In 2006, she also scooped best newcomer in the if.comedy awards for her solo Edinburgh debut, Kindness and Exuberance.

She was subsequently nominated for the Edinburgh comedy award three years running: 2010, 2011 and 2012.

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Mark Watson: Wish You Were Here

Virtual gig for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Most of the rest of the world can only look on in envy as an almost-normal Melbourne International Comedy Festival kicks off today… although the second word of the event’s title is looking a little precarious given the travel ban.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival logoPretty much the entire overseas contingent of this year’s programme is being provided by Mark Watson, save for an Indian comedy showcase next month. He’s hosting two regular shows - and I use the adjective ‘regular’ very loosely - plus another 24-hour marathon from his London home to showcase some of the acts who might otherwise be down under right now. And the first virtual gig has just been released on demand.

As a stand-up whose comedy has always felt like an intimate and casual stream of slightly nervous conversation, Watson makes the transition from stage to informality of a Zoom stream with ease. He has just the sort of friendly and witty attitude the far-flung audience needs, as they are served understated asides about the extraordinary situation we find ourselves in and affectionate mockeries of Melbourne’s pretensions, nostalgically missed.

Yet for the unfussed presentation, Wish You Were Here has more format and professionalism than many a virtual gig, with format ideas that could be regulars were he doing more than two of these shows, blending  improv, pre-recorded monologues and sketches.

The first, kicking off proceedings, is an amusing parody of officialdom as Lawrence Leung plays an immigration officer forcing Watson to jump through ever-more ridiculous verbal hoops to get into Australia. Scattered laughs from the yet-to-be-introduced at-home audience strike an odd tone, both intrusive and isolated, and much less than the inventively wry exchange deserves.

Elsewhere, Lloyd Langford, who’s actually in Melbourne, amusingly subverts the expectation that festival location reports need be breathlessly exciting; Jess Fostekew’s skit about retraining as a nurse is a bit more hit and miss; while Nina Conti reflects on a youthful performance at the festival’s glitzy gala – and gives an hilariously harrowing glimpse of her Monkey.

News From A Better World – a faux podcast from March 2022, which looks remarkably similar to the present-day Watson flat save for the absence of a stuffed kangaroo that inevitably represents Australia – allows James Acaster, Lou Sanders and Ahir Shah to improvise their thoughts from the future. It’s a jovial, mucking-about affair that throws up some inventively stupid trains of thoughts and a couple of solid gags.

Talking of which, Josie Long, performing a ‘micro-stand-up’ set in her kitchen cooks up some excellent jokes about motherhood, and how that’s much more hardcore life than any edgelord comedian could live.  It’s a framework that puts a subtle yet purposeful spin on her observations, which are delivered with the same infectious energy as her real-world stand-up gigs and shine through the screen.

Finally, Flo & Joan rose to the challenge of penning a musical tribute to Melbourne based on suggestions of what makes the city so great… and chose for their typically witty ditty the departure lounge at Tullamarine Airport. At a time when travel is a distant memory, that branch of Muffin Break seems as exotic as Shangri-La.

Mark Watson: Wish You Were Here - Part One is available on demand from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website, priced around £9.30. Part two will stream at 8pm Melbourne time, 10am in the UK, on Monday then also be available on demand. Click here for some other suggestions of festival shows on demand.

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Published: 24 Mar 2021

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Jess Molloy
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