How Mark Watson’s Infinite Show starts before it begins
Mark Watson has never been a comedian to take the easy route of opening a show by asking his audience how they are and where they come from.
In the past, he’s started shows by communicating with his crowd over Twitter, crawling out of a suitcase, and running on a treadmill. With his new touring extravaganza, The Infinite Show, which comes to Pocklington Arts Centre next month, Watson is getting up close and personal with his fans by handing them cards with questions on them beforehand.
“I do feel that the more I see shows and study the form of them, a slow start is very difficult to come back from. So the idea of me handing out cards is that it makes the audience feel that the show has already begun and they’re already in that space. I think it has a positive psychological impact on the audience and it’s a good way of breaking down that awkwardness.”
On those cards will be questions that are geared towards assessing the empathy of his crowd toward their fellow humans and celebrating our idiosyncrasies. Having already road-tested the show for a month at the Edinburgh Fringe, Watson knows that the responses he gets can help give the evening a vibrant energy.
“The best ones are the inexplicably fierce opinions about something trivial which nearly everyone has,” he says. “The worst ones are, and at least one person every night says this, ‘there’s nothing odd about me, I’m always right’ or it’ll be something about hating audience participation or filling out postcards. Those ones are immediately pulped.”
Although the cards do state that each respondent will have their anonymity respected, Mark is always keen to tease out someone who has offered up something of comedic or social value. “One of my favourites was when someone wrote that the Titanic never sank, that it had been swapped for another ship and that it was an insurance thing. It’s much more stimulating to do a show that’s different every time: it offers me unprecedented opportunities to mess about with the audience.”
Messing around with an audience has been just one of the things that has elevated Watson to great heights on the stand-up scene since winning the Daily Telegraph Open Mic competition in 2002. Watson is also a published novelist while his TV credits include everything from Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow to Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Celebrity Island With Bear Grylls.
Now a well-established presence on the comedy touring circuit, Watson is well attuned to the pros and cons of zipping around the country and entertaining audiences night after night. “Touring represents the kind of life that you hope you’d have when you first start off. Being seen by pretty much your own audience and being able to sustain yourself out of performing your own show rather than gigging on mixed bills is what most comedians want. I don’t mind the travelling and being in hotels; I’ve had that lifestyle for so long that I almost don’t know myself if I’m not in perpetual motion.”
Mark Watson, Pocklington Arts Centre, May 9.