Mark Watson

Mark Watson

A former Cambridge Footlighter, Mark Watson first made an impact on the comedy circuit in 2002 when he won the Daily Telegraph Open Mic competition andwas a runner-up in So You Think You're Funny?

He has become known for his Edinburgh shows (2005's 50 Years Before Death And The Awful Prospect Of Enternity was nominated for the Perrier) and his gruelling shows that last more than 24 hours. Perrier's successor, the if.comeddies, awarded the panel award for best capturing the spirit of the fringe, in 2007.

Watson won the Chortle award winner for innovation in 2005, when he was also nominated for best breakthrough act, and was nominated for best compere in 2007.

He is also a novelist, with his debut Bullet Points, published in 2003; has written for TV and in 2007 landed his first radio series, Mark Watson Makes The World Substantially Better.

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The Howie Mandel All-Star Comedy Gala

Gig review by Steve Bennett at Just For Laughs, Montreal

Just For Laughs is sometimes called the Olympics of comedy. And representing Team GB in the second of the massive galas that are its public centrepieces, Mark Watson had a great gig. Even if his breaking of protocol to urge the 3,000-strong audience to come and see his under-attended solo show suggests he’s not having a great festival.

More used to playing for 24 hours than the strict six minutes allowed by producers here, Watson nevertheless managed to convey some of his idiosyncratic nervy distraction, and even risked a bit of audience to-and-fro to capture a bit of the spontaneity he so enjoys.

But he also focussed on some tight routines about sexiness – from finding himself on a list of fanciable Jews to deconstructing the lyrics to Right Said Fred’s big hit – and his son’s cold-hearted reaction to watching ET for the first time. Watson’s exaggerated incredulity at all these scenarios projected a strong sense of personality, and won applause in the often unforgiving room.

The gala, which will be televised on the CW network, was hosted by Howie Mandel, now known as a judge on America’s Got Talent as much as his long comedy career, as well-meaning hecklers didn’t hesitate to point out.

His opening routine here was largely old-school, based on misunderstandings between the genders – namely him being a dumb bloke who cannot understand a woman’s world. Safe though the landscape may be, he got some good lines out of Spanx and notion that he likes women with curves, while invigorating the room with his dynamic cadences and front-foot delivery.

Later he channelled late British comedian Norman Collier’s trademark routine of the microphone cutting-out as he replicated bad phone reception. Not that anyone in Montreal’s Place Des Arts – probably including himself – would have known the original.

India’s Vir Das also owes a debt to a couple of UK acts, too. His depiction of grandparents boasting of how tough they had it is a close relation of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch popularised by Monty Python, while doing politically correct set-ups is a copy of John Thomson’s Bernard Righton.

Das was another of the night’s big successes, though, for an assured routine that spoked about offence – and how it’s the preserve of the privileged – and offered a little political grit to some of his material as he referenced British imperialism.

Ronny Chieng kicked off the line-up – and it’s interesting to see how this Malaysia-born comic has changed since he left Australia, where he first came to prominence, for the US.

Now a correspondent on The Daily Show, his brutally harsh arrogance has softened, his tailoring improved, and the material – initially at least – a little more mainstream as he addresses his hard-to-pin-down accent and demanding Asian parents. But the sarcasm is certainly still present, and as he talks about his recent wedding(s), the scorn increases until he can unleash its full contempt on those with dietary requirements.

Second was up-and-coming Toronto comic Courtney Gilmour, who was born with no hands and 1.5 legs, and good-humouredly shared the reactions she gets in a engaging set that made great capital around rolling the name Nelly Furtado around more often than you would thought likely in a set based around disability.

Ted Alessando’s routine opened up a fascinating social issue. ‘There’s a 18-year age difference between me and my partner,’ he said. ‘My wife is 68 years old.’ Huge laugh for such a preposterous notion! Of course she’s 32. It was an assured set for a man 25 years in the business, though possibly not the most exciting, as he spoke of his relationship and the mystery illnesses you get as you age.

Ghost-obsessed Anjelha Johnson had a strong premise about spirits always coming from the 19th century and imagining a more modern spectre – though that’s partly the premise of BBC One’s Ghosts. However, she mined the idea even after it seemed exhausted, and spoke of little else.

Fortune Feimster was flatter still: dating, dick pics and millennials all seemed very old hat. And Cameron Esposito didn’t quite get the reaction she deserved for a great cautionary gig story with a message about knowing your limits when it comes to cannabis, now it’s legal across Canada. The audience wanted gags, it seemed, not comic storytelling.

There’s been much talk about the racists who got upset that Ariel is to be played by a black actress in a new live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, and Alonzo Bodden didn’t add much to the Twitter wags you’ve probably already read. But it opened up into more playful material about race with a personal edge – he says he never learned to hate white people properly because he went to school with them – that had more impact.

Finally Rachel Bloom closed with not one song but two. The first channeling Edith Piaf as she sang of the sexiness of French existential depression, in honour of our Francophone hosts,  and the second a bit more vintage Madonna as she depicted how older Jewish parents travel. Musically impeccable, the lyrics are more evocative and witty that laugh-out-loud, but she’s certainly a great entertainer. 

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Published: 25 Jul 2019

Far Too Happy

The Footlights gang have been nothing if not ambitious…


Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2001

Far Too Happy

Montreal 2009

Britcom gala 2009


Victoria at Karushi
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