Mark Watson: Do I Know You?

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

There’s not many acts who, after playing the Hammersmith Apollo, tell the 2,000 or so members of the audience: ‘If you’ve enjoyed this, you’ve got every chance of becoming my actual friend’.

But Mark Watson’s gift is to be such a natural on stage all concern for the artificial dynamics of stand-up are blown away. It’s become something of a cliché to say of a comedian ‘it’s like chatting to your mate in the pub’, but Watson’s loose approach - commenting on his performance, interrupting his own stories and getting tied up in the moment - genuinely gives that impression, even here, at the biggest gig of his career so far.

There is a trade-off to this casual approach, however, in that it’s more difficult to build a sense of occasion. It’s hard to be wowed by spectacle when the backdrop is a PowerPoint slide Watson has put up without setting the display to full screen. And so inconsequential are some digressions, such as trying to guess which cities foreign audience members are from, that they barely qualify as stand-up. But while Watson might not do much, he does it very well.

Plus, of course, with such a lax form, Watson can employ his favourite tool: self-doubt. As many laughs come from him worrying about whether he’s slick and confident enough as a comedian as from him fretting whether he amounts to enough as a human, which is the (suitably) vague theme of the show.

Do I Know You? refers to the level of fame he has, with people hazily recognising him from the occasional panel show appearance, some off-peak TV and those Magners Pear cider adverts. His worries over whether he was right to taking the corporate shilling seem real enough, but his assertion that ‘I don’t think I’ll stoop that low again’ is only a joke: He’s done Innocent smoothies and he’s playing second fiddle in an IAMS advert to come…

The first half of this show is particularly casual (‘to soften you up,’ Watson tells the room) as he largely fannies around, trying to make something of the streams of latecomers and those heading for the toilets. I don’t think he’s making them literally piss themselves, just that the audience seem particularly weak bladdered tonight. It’s affable badinage, but not particularly sharp, and we must wait until after the interval for the meat of the show.

Thereafter, poceedings are a lot more focused; as he gets down to business with more hardened, easily identifiable routines about such things as the phrase ‘that took balls’ or observational segments about odd sneezes, all linked to a broad theme about the conventions of social interaction. That extends to his own fears about becoming a dad – not exactly original territory for a comedian, but Watson’s incisive self-deprecation and unaffected honesty give it a distinctive feel.

He’s also got a playful streak, whether in his extreme solution to his sock-drawer problems, or for his reason why he couldn’t be trusted to be the leader of the free world.

Although these routines are well-practised, Watson still makes them feel slightly unpolished, for better or for worse. Now and again a routine could do with being sharpened up, but the relaxed approach underlines his vulnerabilities, which he accepts with genial wit. No wonder you feel like you’ve made a friend…

Review date: 13 Dec 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Eventim Apollo

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