Mark Watson's Earth Summit

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

As 15,000 delegates meet in Copenhagen to try to save the planet, a few dozen others gather in Soho Theatre’s studio room to hear a comedian give his version of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning Inconvenient Truth PowerPoint lecture. Which will get more done? Let’s hope it’s Copenhagen….

Mark Watson is one of the former Presidential candidate’s official missionaries, trained up to go out and spread the word – the only stand-up, incidentally, to be recruited to the task. The result is a show with a split personality, which has all the core elements of Gore’s po-faced wake-up call, but enlivened by Watson’s not exactly deferential commentary.

Because of its genesis, this hour is not a natural comedy show, and gets funnier the more the easily distracted Watson deviates from the standard text. It suggests a fully-fledged stand-up show on this vital topic – hitherto largely overlooked by the comedy fraternity – is probably long overdue, but this hybrid comes with mixed results.

Only Watson could combine the apocalyptic with the apologetic in quite such a likeable way. In his typical enthusiastic but self-effacing style, Watson never claims this is a comedy hour; rather a more entertaining – and briefer – version of the original lecture delivered in a slightly-tongue-in-cheek way by an avowed layman. Emissions into the atmosphere, for example, are dumbed down to the slightly less scientific term, ‘crap’.

The science bits he presents are therefore simplistic – eg explaining the greenhouse effect – or less than rigorous. Showing a graph that shows rising carbon dioxide levels is almost identical to rising global temperature is not evidence of cause and effect, although there hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that fulfil that task. Even with the evidence in the recently leaked emails, there is virtually no debate among those who know what they are talking about that global warming (a) humans’ fault and (b) catastrophic if unchecked. And maybe assuming the audience have a bit more knowledge on climate change – thanks in large part to the success of Gore’s film – would speed things along in the early stages.

Watson has updated the lecture to include the latest figures, and to denounce the irresponsible tabloid coverage. Other deviations from Gore’s original include appointing audience monitors, rather like he did in his 24-hour shows, to ensure he doesn’t go on for too long, get too complex, or become too depressing – a successful ploy to make us all feel more involved. And rather than using the picture of a forlorn solitary polar bear on a tiny island of ice to depict the dramatic impact of rising temperatures, he uses an even more dramatic image: himself weakened with sunstroke in Australia last year.

The terrifying graphs of temperature rises and population explosion, however, speak for themselves. Even so, when Watson coyly but proudly announces that he is expecting a child, the audience reaction is a genuine ‘aaah’ rather than churlishly denouncing such a reckless contribution to the population. No one’s that heartless…

Some easy jokes are to be had by tagging punchlines onto experts’ quotes, while more distinctively ‘Watsonesque’ are his self-deprecating comments on his PowerPoint skills. Yet the feeling is he keeps on being drawn back to the approved script, when it would be funnier, more passionate and more convincing if he were to address the topic on his own terms – as the rant against Jeremy Clarkson proves.

But you have to keep reminding yourself that Mark Watson’s Earth Summit is not meant to be that comedy show, but a conduit for Gore’s wake-up call. On that count – even if Watson will inevitably be preaching to the choir – job done.

Review date: 8 Dec 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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