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Comedy on the rails: an interview with Mark Watson

17 September 2017 Will Rathbone

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian, writer and sports pundit who has been performing since 2002. In that time he has completed several 24hr stand-up marathons, amassed numerous TV appearances and authored six novels and one graphic novel. He spoke to London Calling ahead of an unusual performance on the 19.53 Chiltern Train from Marylebone to High Wycombe, as part of his nationwide MW tour.

London Calling: Morning Mark! How’s your summer been?
Mark Watson: It was great! I was in Edinburgh a lot, as usual, so I didn’t get a chance to get away much, but I had a really nice time. I always enjoy this time of year, when the madness of summer dies down a bit.
LC: Could you tell us a little bit about your upcoming MW tour?
MW: It started off as a bit of a joke really. We had a neon M and W left over from a TV recording, those being my initials, and I suggested that if we only went to places with M and W in the name it could be a way to whittle down potential venues for the new tour. I took suggestions for M and W locations from the public, and someone suggested the 19.53 Chiltern train from Marylebone to Wycombe. I think they were probably joking as well to be honest, but we’re going ahead with it.

Mark Watson's MW Tour
LC: How exactly is that going to work?
MW: I’m wondering that as well to be honest. We have two carriages, but not a lot of amplification, so I’m going to go between the two. We’ll try and entertain the people in the other carriage somehow, perhaps with a trolley. It’ll basically be really silly. The train will be operating like a normal train of course, so that’s going to add another layer of intrigue. A lot of passengers won’t be aware there’s a comedy show going on at our end of the train.
LC: So can regular passengers on the train head down to watch?
MW: I’m not sure, there aren’t many seats left. Again, these are the type of questions it would have been good to think of beforehand! It might be the case that people get wind of the fact there’s a comedy show, get off, and walk down the platform to join our carriages. All these things are possible!

Mark Watson
LC: Are there any other dates that stand out on the tour?
MW: There’s a date on a ferry across the Mersey, a gig at a Helicopter Museum and one in an amphitheatre – I’ve tried to keep this tour interesting by including some really weird shows that will have a whole character of their own. 
LC: You’re famed for mammoth tours with a solid conceptual element – how have your shows evolved over time?
MW: As you get further into your career, you get more confident about experimenting because the audience know you, have a loyalty to you or expect you to do something different. If you were starting out you probably wouldn’t put a gig on a train! I think good career progression should see you become more experienced, build up more of a fanbase, and then use that platform to be more daring – both in terms of your material and how you present it.
LC: Does your other writing – novels, graphic novels – affect your approach to comedy?
MW: Graphic novels are quite different because you collaborate with an illustrator. The writing takes much longer, it’s more drawn out. Stand-up lets you go straight from ‘idea’ to ‘stage’ – literally that minute, if you want - and is much more organic. Writing is more of a slog – though I enjoy it for that reason. Sometimes a show is over so quickly, it’s all a blur, but writing gives you a chance to sit down and enjoy a long project.

Mark Watson
LC: Who are some of your writing icons?
MW: Sarah Waters writes fantastic novels. I read George Orwell when I was a student – like a lot of students do – and Ian McEwan is an author I really admire. I tend to read as much and as widely as I can, but you can never catch up on even half of the reading that you want to do.
LC: Are there any other writers who bridge comedy and novels?
MW: Yes, but not that many of them are stand-ups in quite the same way. David Baddeil – who I look like, according to a lot of people – has managed to successfully straddle a lot of fields in his career, and Stephen Fry – again, not really a stand-up – manages to be a comedy legend as well as a serious writer. My ultimate aim is to be that kind of figure – someone who can work in a variety of different disciplines and be equally respected in all of them.
LC: What’s on your cultural radar at the moment?
MW: The new Grizzly Bear album, Painted Ruins, is lovely. A Ghost Story is a weird, high-concept movie about someone who dies but continues to live in his own house, and I just finished How To Stop Time by Matt Haig. I saw an enormous number of shows in Edinburgh, but Unf*ckable by Desiree Birch stood out. It’s brilliant, but quite hard to describe – she used to be a sex worker. It’s coming to the Soho Theatre soon and is well worth watching. You get eaten up by Edinburgh, and don’t engage with the rest of the world, so during September I’ll be reacquainting myself with what people are doing.
Mark Watson performs on the 19.53 Chiltern Train from Marylebone to High Wycombe on 21 September, and his MW tour continues throughout the UK till 17 Feb.  

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