Mark Olver - Happy Accidentally

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Mark Olver used to work with children with special needs, demanding, attention-seeking handfuls with short attention spans. It was ideal training for his job today, a comic who mostly comperes at clubs at the rowdier, Jongleurs end of the spectrum, corralling drunken stag parties and boisterous hen dos.

In fact, the career leap from that sort of environment to the relatively rarefied atmosphere of a Fringe show is often a greater one, which many a decent club comic struggles to make. When an audience have paid to see you personally and want to pay attention to what you say, you don't need shouting and crowd-control, you need material.

What Bristol-based Olver has skilfully managed to do is combine his strengths as a rabble-rousing MC with a story, of sorts. He's still happy to admit his weakness for the 'elaborately constructed wank gag', but that's not the be all and end all of the show.

The tale at the nub of it comes from his compering job, when he managed to dislocate his knee and break his ankle as he came bounding onto the stage at Bristol's Jester comedy club. At first, like Tommy Coooper's death, the audience first thought it was all part of the act, although it soon became clear it wasn't. Yet despite the agonising pain, and because he couldn't be moved, he continued to entertain the audience for 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived, slipping in and out of consciousness as he did so.

It's a great, if simple, story and Olver takes his leisurely time getting there, by way of all manner of other engaging anecdotes that provide important context - though you'd barely know it at the time, as the structure is so well disguised. He deviates wildly, banters expertly with the audience and is happy to explore in some depth what he learns from these chats, with a pretty impressive hit rate. 'My ad libs are better than my material,' he says. 'I'm nothing if not self-aware.'

But that's not a problem, he's just playing to his strengths, and it the main one is that he instinctively creates a vibrant, happy atmosphere, and one that's even better because of its spontaneity ­ however engineered that spontaneity may actually be. He continually returns to running themes, such as the idea he's being bullied by an audience deliberately trying to wind him up, which all contributes to the feeling you're sharing a unique experience. Yes, he's still playing the inclusive compere to a large extent, but it's tailored to the audience he's playing to.

The upshot of it all is that this is a genuine feelgood show. Olver's optimistic message is that his accident brought him publicity (thanks to an initial story in Chortle picked up around the world) plus sympathy and gifts from all his friends in comedy. But the lesson is best taught by example, and Olver's true to at least half the title of the show. You'll come away happy, but it's no accident.

Steve Bennett


Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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