Mark Watson – Edinburgh Festival review

A show where Mark Watson’s niceness gets in the way of the funny, says Pete Kelly

Mark_Watson3This was my first time seeing Mark Watson live. Previously, my engagement with his work had gone no further than annually hearing about his latest Fringe show and vaguely thinking that – whatever it was – it sounded like quite a good idea. And this does seem to be Watson’s greatest strength: coming up with structures for shows that provide ample space for him to waffle pedantically about all sorts of subjects or banter non-threateningly with his audience.

Previous years have seen his famous 24-hour shows and his attempt to write a novel, with the audience’s help, over the course of the Fringe. This year the Big Idea is “information”: how we all share everything about our lives on social media and are swamped with trivia without having to engage our brains. Thankfully, given this is hardly the most original insight in the world, this idea wasn’t pursued particularly thoroughly.

Instead, the main conceit was that Watson projected his mobile phone number on a screen onstage, which allowed people who’d seen his show on previous nights to text in comments or insults. In typically double-nice style, Watson said he liked how this enabled people to heckle him without the discomfort of speaking in front of the whole audience. The “mobiles off” rule in the venue does slightly hamper the spontaneity of this, although it didn’t stop an entertaining interaction with a clinical psychiatrist in the audience who had tried to remain anonymous but foolishly left his phone on.

While there were funny prepared sections, including one about lying to taxi drivers, the best moments of the night were these unexpected interactions with the audience. Watson is very good at creating a relaxed atmosphere, even in a relatively large venue like George Square Theatre, making the audience genuinely feel like a gang being addressed by an unusually amiable supply teacher.

The problem with all this good-heartedness is that it’s often enjoyable without being particularly funny: Watson seemingly too self-analytical and concerned with causing offence to pursue any idea with total abandon. At one point he began displaying surprisingly detailed knowledge about an audience member, gleaned covertly through Twitter, but this promising idea was dropped pretty quickly. Even the final section of the show – an ongoing vendetta against one Paul Goddard who turned down Watson’s mortgage – pulls its punches. Mentioning how he had consistently consulted with a lawyer about how to pursue his effort to “ruin Paul Goddard’s life” hardly speaks of unfettered rage. Although some of the lawyer’s suggestions actually struck me as funnier than the comedian’s final solution. Perhaps Watson should learn from the law profession and just be a bit more of a bastard.

3 stars

Mark Watson – The Information is on at the Assembly George Square at 7.40pm

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