THE good people of Newbury are particularly fortunate to have comedian Mark Watson paying them a visit next week. His current tour schedule has been compiled from “Request Stops” suggested by fans, taking him to towns he has rarely - if ever - visited before, such as Wimborne, Bromsgrove and Chorley.
Newbury, however, is a special case, as Watson himself admits. “I have been to Newbury a few times, including during the comedy festival last year. But that wasn’t a ‘real show’ as I was warming up for Edinburgh, so this will be the real thing. For some of the other stops on the tour I’ve been performing some “greatest hits”, but at The Corn Exchange I’ll try to concentrate on new material, as it’s more likely that people will have seen me before.”
Having become a father last year, understandably some of this new material touches on parenthood and entering his 30s, but Watson is a bit wary of devoting too much of the show to this - “a lot of comedians are doing that at the moment. Other than that, there will be plenty of my general ranting, which is my stock-in-trade, and saying whatever comes into my head. I have material that I am comfortable with, but I do like to go off on tangents. Some shows are quite chaotic.”
Watson says that he still finds a joy in performing live, something which has been particularly refreshed by the fact that this tour is taking him to some places where comedians rarely venture. “Sometimes people are gorged on comedy; if they don’t get to see so much the audiences can be really receptive,” he explains.
Much of the freedom to pick and choose material on this current tour arises from the fact that Watson has only planned eight performances at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, rather than hunkering down for the entire three-week slog with an entirely new show. “The stakes are high in Edinburgh, and by the time people come to Newbury Comedy Festival they want their show to be working well. But I don’t have to worry about that, which is liberating.
“I definitely have more control over my career than I did three or four years ago, and I don’t feel I have to take on everything that comes my way. It gives me more time to write, and gives me a better chance of balancing family life with touring . It’s still a challenge though - my wife puts up with a lot.” Watson has stepped back from guesting on television panel shows “as they don’t tend to suit me”, but he recently took on the role of host for a pilot improv show, due to be shown on Dave next month.
With radio in the pipeline and a new novel (his fourth) being written for release next year (he’s also written a non-fiction book about his attempt at “green living”), he isn’t exactly kicking back and relaxing. However, he has given up performing marathon stand-up shows, the longest of which was 36 hours, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006. “I probably won’t do another one - as the dad of a toddler, my entire life is like that now. It’s physically and emotionally draining, and it puts an immense strain on your loved ones. But I am tempted sometimes to do just one more. That would close the story.”
Mark Watson will be performing a show of normal length when he makes his “Request Stop” at The Corn Exchange during Newbury Comedy Festival on Tuesday, July 5. The festival starts on Monday, July 4 with Russell Kane at New Greenham Arts, and runs until July 16.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, June 30, 2011