Mark Watson: ‘I’m trying to bridge the gap between myself and my fellow humans’

Mark Watson plays the Bloomsbury Theatre on September 7. Picture: Patrick Balls.

Mark Watson plays the Bloomsbury Theatre on September 7. Picture: Patrick Balls. - Credit: Archant

After a landmark appearance at Edinburgh Fringe, one of this country’s leading comedy talents returns to the stage next week as his tour of The Infinite Show stops off in London.

Watson's latest tour is about empathy. Picture: Patrick Balls.

Watson's latest tour is about empathy. Picture: Patrick Balls. - Credit: Archant

It's 10.53am on Tuesday, July 30, and the comedian Mark Watson is tweeting ahead of his annual trip to Edinburgh.

His presence at this year's Fringe festival is significant - it's the 20th consecutive year he's been - and while he's keen to return to a place where he's "had almost every possible human experience except sunburn," there's an air of caution about this message to his 186,000 followers.

"For a comic it can be exhilarating, but it can also be rough. If you're an act in the latter situation and want to talk, DM me. Genuine offer. Bye."

What exactly did Watson mean by this? "There's an awful lot of expectation that goes with Edinburgh," he says. "People tend to work towards it for the whole year, and then hope to get as much reward out of it as possible. The thing with any festival, a lot of the rewards are slow-burning - you build up an audience and increase your status in the industry slowly.

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"Because of the hype [of the Fringe] they feel like they need to be an award-winner, or critically-acclaimed, or they've failed in some way. I think that some people don't go in with the right mindset. It's like anything - if you start comparing yourself to others, it can be quite punishing."

Watson enjoyed his 20th year on the bounce in Scotland's capital: "There's an incredible diversity of talent and creativity. I'm lucky to have a loyal audience there, but by the end of it you are pretty exhausted."

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After a short opportunity to refresh and reset, the comic known for his appearances on shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Mock The Week and Taskmaster returns to the stage next week, as his marathon UK tour of The Infinite Show arrives at Bloomsbury Theatre.

The 39-year-old's current tour - which started in February and stretches in to January 2020 - is about empathy. It's inspired by the state of the world his children are growing up in and a genuine, urgent desire to do something about it.

This year's Fringe was Watson's 20th in a row. Picture: Patrick Balls.

This year's Fringe was Watson's 20th in a row. Picture: Patrick Balls. - Credit: Archant

"I'm trying to bridge the gap between myself and my fellow humans," adds Watson, "to find a human connection in this world that feels very divided and tense. It's a more inclusive show than I've done before - it's as much about the audience as possible. I try and make it an organic experience every night. Doing this show for as long as I have, you can become a bit robotic about it. [It's important to be] evolving the show constantly."

The Infinite Show features plenty of audience interaction, with Watson giving out "cards at the start and collecting them in at the last minute. The cards ask people to share anything interesting or unusual about themselves; things about you that other people find strange in some way, then I use that data - you normally get about 50 to 100 responses - I try and filter them down very quickly.

"It can be about anything - a weird conspiracy theory, a strange hobby - I try and chat to these people and tailor the show to it."

Such a freestyle approach means that, as cliché as it sounds, no two nights are the same on Watson's Infinite Show tour. "I'm very comfortable with the material; comfortable to change it," he says. "The show finds a nice balance between being out-and-out stand-up with big laughs and also involving the audience in a consensual way - a way that doesn't make people feel nervous."

Sandwiched between performances in the Sussex and Lancashire towns of Worthing and Chorley respectively, Watson's appearance at the Bloomsbury on September 7 looks like a plum date on his tour of the country, and he's excited for his "first proper run-out in London" for quite some time.

Watson's decorated career has seen him pushed to the limits by Bear Grylls, win the title of Celebrity Mastermind and "once dress up as a badger for a terrible Sky One show [called] Wild Things," but what does the comic himself look for in a memorable live show?

"I suppose the heart of it is getting a genuine sense of the person and what they have to say," he replies. "There's plenty of comedians just doing gags, but for me, I like to get a proper sense of the person, even if that's only in the way they express themselves through jokes.

"I like to be surprised. I've seen a lot of comedy, and the gigs where the audience are wrong-footed a bit - whether that be the subject matter or the structure of the show - I like seeing people go off on unusual tangents, and using the audience in constructive ways.

Mark Watson: The Infinite Show is at Bloomsbury Theatre on Saturday, September 7. For more details and tickets, click here.

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