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I TALK TO Mark Watson

Having recently celebrated 10 years at the Edinburgh Fringe, comedian Mark Watson is back this year with a brand new show, I’m Not Here, the highly anticipated follow-up to his hugely successful show Flaws.

This year Mark embarked on an incredible 84-date tour with his new show I’m Not Here, which he is bringing to the Pleasance One from the 3rd to the 29th August at 9pm.

A seemingly minor problem at an airport forms the starting point of the show, which spirals into an examination of identity in the digital age and a search for meaning in our lives; luckily with an enormous number of jokes, as well as Watson’s customary flailing about, chaotic audience interactions and all sorts of other fun.

As one of the most decorated performers on the UK comedy scene Mark Watson was nominated for Best Newcomer at the 2005 Perrier Awards, before being awarded the 2006 if.comedy Panel Prize. He took home the Time Out Critics Choice Award in 2006 and has been nominated for a Barry Award from the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

What came first? The show or the title?

The show, I was working on the show for quite a long time before I found the title. Then once you've found the title, the show can take shape around that to some extent.

But on the other hand, you do end up naming the show quite some time before you've really finished putting it together, which is why people end up in Edinburgh with a title that doesn't have any bearing on the show.

The show is about the idea of identity and the way it's formed by a lot of electronic data and digital stuff and how we keep hold of our identities in a fragmented age like this.

So it had to be something about identity and I'm Not There was I think the first choice, but I think there's a song by Bob Dylan with that name. I was always trying to avoid something which you might have heard before, I'm Not Really There was another one and in the end I think it was about a year ago that I came up with I'm Not Here - but that's because I've been working on the show for a really long time now.

If you're christening the show in February or March because of the deadlines, you might find that you have no idea what the show is going to be at all, so you just have to hedge your bets and pick a title that's vague enough that it could mean anything.

How long has this show taken to put together? You mention that it's been a while...

Yeah, quite a long time because my last full-length Edinburgh show was two years ago. Last year I did this show as a kind of work in progress so this show kind of began in Edinburgh last year really.

It's been almost a year now, in fact maybe even longer than that. So it's the longest I've had to work on a show so I'm hoping that means it's the complete show that I've had.

Because Flaws was so well received, do you feel pressure with this show?

Yeah a little bit. I also spent a fair bit of time building that show so I think I took from that the impression that it is worth taking an extra year away from Edinburgh.

You can get into a cycle of doing it every year, almost as a matter of course. With Flaws I had taken the previous year off Edinburgh, and this is similar.

But I'm now into a nice rhythm of doing it, and I do hope it results in better show. I'd like Flaws to be a good benchmark, because as you say, it was quite well received and I definitely felt that I'd taken a while to put that show together.

And I hope that it'll be the same with this because I always set out to do something better than what came before.

How have the previews been going?

Well I've actually already been touring with a longer version of this show already, which is not a situation I've ever really been in before. So rather than coming in to Edinburgh with something that I've never done before, I will be slimming the show down from an existing model.

So for me the material is kind of ready to go, which is a nice situation to be in. It's not a case of scrambling to get it finished.

Even so, doing it in Edinburgh is different to doing it anywhere else because Edinburgh just has a different atmosphere and a different expectation to anywhere else, so until you're there, you don't really know how it's going to go down.

How are you going to decide which material to keep for Edinburgh, and which material to get rid of?

I'm still trying to work it out really. There are jokes that work and you're fond of, but don't really fit and there are other bits which never work all that well, but you think are important to the show and so on... so these are decisions that you have to make.

So I've got the final few previews now where I'm trying to hone the show. But even then, sometimes you get to the festival and some bits of the show don't work as well as they usually do or thought they would.

It's a little bit like a football tournament or something, you can pick your squad, but until you get there you don't particularly know what's going to work and what's not.

So I may still end up chopping and changes bit as we go along, but I'm pretty close to knowing what should be in the show.

You recently celebrated 10 years at the Fringe, what is it about Edinburgh that keeps you coming back?

Well there are a lot of difficult things about Edinburgh, it's hard work and expensive in some ways and can be very unrewarding in a lot of ways. And yet, it does still have a special quality about it.

It still is, for comedians, where you want to make a name for yourself. It is a bit like Wimbledon or something I suppose, for all the problems that it causes, if you didn't go you would still feel weird about it I think.

So I've gone loads of times now and there will be years where I don't engage with it as much, but it's still a big milestone in my calendar, and lots of people's calendars.

As well as I'm Not Here, the Edinborolympics are back for a third time. Anything you can say about that? Any confirmed guests?

I'm going to try and split it up a little bit this year. We've done the same kind of games and events in the past two events, so this time we're looking into doing more ambitious things.

We don't know who's going to be in it, because we never get them booked until the last minute. There are a few favourites, like Andrew Maxwell and Adam Hills, David O'Doherty, Sam Simmons - a bunch of people like that who have been in it quite a lot.

Other people we'll try and draft in like newcomers. I think it's nice to have a mixture of new and old. The one thing I can promise you is that we'll probably be scrambling around and at least one person will drop out and we'll have to find someone with just half an hour to go, because that's what it's like in Edinburgh!

Are you hoping to see much whilst you're up there?

Definitely. James Acaster is in the same room as me, immediately beforehand so I'll be able to see that nice and easily.

Nish Kumar I really want to see, in fact there are a lot of great people I want to see, but when you're on in a fairly prime spot, the price you pay is that you do miss quite a lot of other shows that cut across yours.

So it'll be a lot of afternoon shows.

What are you up to outside of the Fringe?

I've just released another book and I'm already working on the next one. I'm in the middle of recording a series for Radio 4 and then I'm recording two other shows actually in Edinburgh.

So as usual I've got a lot going on all at the same time.

And finally, how would you sum up the show in just five words?

A step up from Flaws.

Mark Watson: I’m Not Here will be on at the Pleasance Courtyard from Wednesday 3rd August – Sunday 28th August at 9pm (Excluding Monday 15th August & Monday 22nd August).

Mark Watson's Edinborolympics will be on at the Pleasance Courtyard from Thursday 18th August – Saturday 27th August at 11pm. 


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