The developments of the last year and a bit have certainly served as a reminder of just how vulnerable we really are. Nothing rattles our minds more than a “daily death toll” whilst you sip on your afternoon tipple, or a tired-looking government scientist waving graphs around and parroting phrases like ‘we anticipate many, many more fatalities’ in what used to be the “Escape to the Country” slot.
But “luckily,” neurotic Taskmaster survivor and author Mark Watson has been dwelling on the terrifying prospect of death way before it became part of the zeitgeist. The genesis behind his stand-up show “THIS CAN’T BE IT”, initially planned for 2020 – now set to hit festivals in Melbourne and Edinburgh, ahead of an extensive nationwide tour – came in the form of a life expectancy test (there’s an app you can get if you’re having an existential crisis at 3 am) which indicated that he can look forward to making it to his 78th birthday. Putting it even more bluntly: he’s just over halfway to the finish line.
As anyone would probably do on discovering roughly how long – or how little – they have left on this planet, it got him reflecting on what we should really do with the little time we have on earth, and how we could do it better? Watson has made a lot of strides towards happiness and fulfilment over the past few years. But there’s one problem left: and it really is a big one. The popular but “all-too-mortal” Radio 4 figure, star of ‘Live At The Apollo’ and House Of Games’ (which he won, but it’s not all about that) wrestles with some of the fundamental questions of life, with unusually high levels of benign audience involvement and the gag rate of an already fast-talking comedian who’s been imprisoned his house for more than a year.
As you can imagine, given all the unpleasantries that COVID has brought with it, “THIS CAN’T BE IT” has been some time in the making. Watson’s rarely looked forward to anything in his life. All those 41 years of it to date. Having said that, he’s had a pretty lively lockdown, as they go:
With Tim Key and Alex Horne, he created the game ‘No More Jockeys‘ which has now amassed more than 2 million views on YouTube and found a rabid cult audience. He published his most critically acclaimed book to date, “Contacts“, and wrote another, non-fiction title expected to be released later this year. He also pioneered the “Drive And Dine” series of outdoor comedy gigs when the pandemic was at its peak, and his company, Impatient, was one of the only ones to offer ‘tour shows’ run through Zoom calls, entertaining thousands of ticket-buyers deprived of other live comedy.
He also completed a trilogy of 24-hour online shows, raising around £70,000 for charities. In March he curated the only overseas shows to be part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, as part of their digital programme. And for all this, he received one of Chortle’s Legends Of Lockdown awards, which recognise comics who went beyond the call of duty to keep morale up in these extreme times through entertainment.
Before that, in the old days, the future national treasure had been a multi-award winner here and in Australia (a country we were once allowed to visit); a very familiar voice on Radio 4, where his series “Mark Watson Talks About A Bit Of Life” has been one of the station’s most popular fixtures since 2007; and has most recently been working on a film project with Toni Collette and Studio Canal (while the rights to his graphic novel, ‘Dan And Sam’ remain in the hands of Universal).
The live arena, though, is where he’s in his element the most, and this will be an emotional return to the rooms where he has, for the best part of two decades, established himself as one of the UK’s favourite stand-ups.
Watson’s “THIS CAN’T BE IT” tour continues from the 20th of January at The Mills Arts Centre, Banbury and you can find all the subsequent venues and dates here.
In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a little taster of the aforementioned ‘No More Jockeys” cult gameshow on YouTube: