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WATSONATHON MELBOURNE: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

Oh hello.

This Easter weekend sees the third and final piece in the jigsaw of 24-hour shows with which I’ve attempted to break up the – let’s be honest – somewhat trying times of this pandemic. (Three pieces is a pretty unchallenging jigsaw, you might say, but here we are.) In many ways, this one is reasonably similar to the hopefully memorable events that have gone before it. But because this one is part of the famous Melbourne International Comedy Festival, there will be a few differences, so I thought you might enjoy an FAQ. Not all of these questions will have been ‘frequently asked’ in these exact ways, but I believe that’s the case with any FAQ, to be honest. Sometimes you can really sense it. Anyway: below is a quick guide to what I like to think will be another worthy waste of a chunk of your life.

This is a ticketed event, this time, isn’t it? I can’t just jump on and donate?

That’s right – because it’s an official festival show, which is not a distinction we’ve had before. In fact this is the first long show to be part of a comedy festival since 2009, when I put on something called ‘Mark Watson’s Last Ever 24 Hour Show’, a title which isn’t exactly ageing well. The tickets are $18 or ten quid, which seems not too bad and probably compares favourably to what a lot of people have donated for the past two actually. And if you don’t have one yet, they are here:

www.comedyfestival.com.au/2021/shows/mark-watson-and-friends-wish-you-were-here

But the thing is, I literally don’t have a tenner to do something like this, no matter how much I would like to.

That is absolutely fair enough, and a solution is at hand. A collective of public-spirited and clever people, of whom I am very proud, have been running a ‘ticket redistribution’ service for a little while now, to enable those with more resources to open the comedy door to those without. If you are able to pledge a ticket, or you want to request one from a kind anonymous donor, see below. More things in the world should work like this, by the way.

www.belowthelinehq.co.uk/home

Why is it starting in the bloody morning this time?

Because it’s evening in Australia, that’s why. The hope is to bring together Watsonians, if I may use that quite old-fashioned term, from the two hemispheres under the banner of Melbourne’s festival, which is one of the highlights of the comedy year and which all of us stuck in this half of the world are desperately missing (for the second year running). Will it be very tiring and weird and then when it’s over it’s morning, and you’re essentially jetlagged? Yes. Is this what we sign up for with these things? As they say on Twitter these days: also yes.

So is it not a charity thing this time?

Not in the same way, no – there won’t be the incessant pressure to donate or bid £500 for a piece of paper with nothing but the word ‘PIG’ on it. Or the numbers-game element of ‘can we get to fifteen grand, can we get to twenty grand’ – which is fun and worthwhile but does make it into a bit of a telethon. At the same time, of course, I do want to take any opportunity to harness the unusual goodwill of these events for wider wellbeing. So if people make stuff that’s auctionable, or if there is an appetite to pay for things that come up during the show, we’ll put a portion of that to whatever charity Melbourne Festival nominate (still talking to them about this) and a portion to help the venue, who have survived without live comedy this long.

What? THE VENUE? Are you not in your house again?

What?

What venue is it then!?

Nothing. It’s fine. You’ll see.

Why is it not on Twitch this time, by the way?

Partly because the festival have things in place to run shows and Zoom works for them. But also because this time I’d like to be able to see or hear some of the audience from time to time. However, the fact it’s Zoom does NOT mean it will be any less interactive in terms of…

Ah, this was going to be my next question.

Ok, do you still want to ask it or -?

I’m shy now.

Don’t be silly.

Well ok yeah. Is there less of an emphasis on the community all chipping in and chatting and all of that, this time?

NO THERE IS NOT. If anything, it will be more crucial than ever. The community around this show will be smaller and more tight-knit, because not as many people will just happen upon it, because of the ticket situation. So the energy will come even more than usual from you, the people getting behind the chat and making it feel like a real event. The collective of people who get involved in my efforts at creativity has grown steadily since May, when the first Watsonathon was, and it’s been a truly very heartwarming phenomenon and one of the most rewarding things to happen since I began doing comedy. So, you are very much needed.

Are you becoming sentimental?

No, YOU are.

See you there, then. Sorry I made it awkward.

Quickly before we go: do we have the bakers?

I wouldn’t be surprised.

And what are your tips on staying awake?

Don’t over-rely on caffeine. Or on energy drinks. Or on any one thing, in fact. Also don’t drink more than you can manage. Just keep everything as normal as it can be, try to con your body and mind into believing this is just another day, and accept that because of the loyalty you have shown to me, this IS your ‘normality’ now.

As I said, see you there!


Watsonathon

24 HOUR ONLINE SHOW
Fri 1 May 9pm – Sat 2 May 9pm

Me for the whole time, and anyone else I can plead to take part from home. 

TICKETS >

WATCH ON TWITCH >

Any money we can raise will be split three ways, between @FareShare, @HospiceIGNet and the @nextupcomedy Heckle The Virus fund, which supports comedians who have seen all their work disappear indefinitely.


Viral (not in the bad way)

I’ve had a slightly strange 24 hours on the popular website Twitter dot com. Yesterday evening, while I was trying to distract myself from the psychological warfare of my kids’ bedtimes, I idly tweeted the following:

I’m really fond of Americans in a lot of ways but when they committed to saying ‘I could care less’ for ‘I couldn’t care less’, it was inevitable their society would fall apart.

I suppose ‘idly’ is the adverb for 90 percent of the tweeting that I do, actually, and that many of us do – those who aren’t activists or educators or other people using the internet for more respectable reasons than as a massive, free time-filler. It was not meant as a serious comment either on American idiom, or as a genuine survey of American society (I don’t think I’m in a strong position to offer that, it’s quite complicated). It was just a light-hearted response to a tweet from an American author I admire. He’d used the phrase ‘I could care less’ where we would say the opposite and I thought – not for the first time – ‘it’s a bit weird the way Americans do that, isn’t it?’ It wasn’t an original observation; David Mitchell, as it turns out, has done a fairly comprehensive takedown of the same thing. I wasn’t even offering it as an original observation. I was just tweeting it, the way you do, for a handful of people to be amused or diverted by for a few seconds.

For some reason, though, of all the things I have tried to communicate to the universe on this capricious platform, this mild remark was one of the most popular ever. Within a few moments people had started re-tweeting it at quite a rate – at a far faster rate than if I’d tweeted, for example, ‘please tell everyone in the world about this charity thing’ or ‘this man is threatening to push me over a cliff unless I get 1000 RTs tonight’. When I woke up, I found any number of comments under my innocuous tweet, and this has continued all day. At the time of blogging the tweet has been seen (however briefly, across a timeline) by about 900,000 people: I imagine more people, by some distance, than I’ll meet in the rest of my life. For some tweeters this is all fairly standard, but it was a strange experience for me.

And the strangest element was that, as happens in this situation, the conversation mutated without me – while staying under the banner of ‘my tweet’. People started echoing my sentiments in much more extreme terms, ones I wouldn’t have chosen myself. ‘OH MY GOD AT LAST! I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE DO THIS, SOOOOO MUCH I WANT TO KILL THEM!!!!!!!’ Someone wrote: ‘it’s not their fault they’re all so f—ing thick.’ A few Americans started chipping in to defend their spin on the phrase and explain why it came from, and some other people started to argue with them. Meanwhile, the thread had become a forum for people to vent about dozens of other American expressions that bothered them – and, in some cases, supposed aspects of the American character which went quite a long way away from the original point. As we speak, and despite the fact I’ve slightly tried to distance myself from the tweet, all this is still going on, and my timeline looks like a flat the morning after people have had a party and all gone home without helping to clear up.

I’ve done my best to create harmony out of all this, in my slightly school-prefect way. (NARRATOR: he *was* a prefect at school.) I ended up chatting with various strangers about the phrase, learning about the different ways Americans inflect some common speech patterns and why, saying things ‘haha well we’re all different’, and using the brief exposure to continue my campaign of chatting privately to anyone who particularly needed it. Nonetheless, it was a real reminder of how the smallest thing online can spiral significantly out of your control, and how therefore we should treat Twitter – or any instant-chat mechanism – with more care than we all do.

So in the end I’ve sort of disengaged from it, stopped worrying about the responses or trying to follow the micro-chats that have broken out amongst them. Turned notifications off (obviously). To continue the party metaphor, there are still people sleeping in a puddle of wine on my sofa but I’ve told myself they’ll probably sort themselves out at some point and it doesn’t matter which one was called Niall, and also the sofa probably needed replacing anyway. And this is probably a good lesson also. The connected climate we’re in surrounds us all with a lot of noise. I see people driving themselves nuts trying to address all this noise, answer every loose end, rebut every criticism – online, and off. Sometimes it’s OK to just wander to the bottom of the garden, so to speak. Sometimes you just have to say good luck everyone and take the fresh air.

Of course, I could just delete the tweet. I mean, yes, it’s brought me all these new followers, which is nice, and this wave of reaction/attention which is, in honesty, what comedians pursue from morning till night. But it doesn’t feel like the right type of attention, and especially not if the price of it is that people start to piss each other off in the wake of it.

Yeah, I could delete it instead of watching the numbers climb any more. I expect I’ll do it any minute now. Any minute.


Kindness: a very quick guide

Because of the events of last weekend, a lot people online have been saying that the biggest thing we need is a commitment to kindness. Those people have tended to get the piss taken out of them. Partly because logging onto Twitter to say ‘Be kind, guys!’ and collecting the likes feels like a pretty ineffective way to change the world, and partly because as soon #BeKind became a popular hashtag it was destined to look as disposable and faddish as all of Twitter’s brief obsessions do. But also because ‘kindness’, like a lot of life’s most valuable things, sounds as if it belongs on a fridge magnet. Part of the problem of this age, with its free and endless flow of information/ideas, is that important truths become over-familiar and end up seeming meaningless.

Treating other people as you’d like to be treated is one of the most important rules you can live your life by; ‘being’ the change you want to see in the world is a potentially life-transforming idea. Once you’ve seen these things on Facebook a dozen times, though, in a font that looks like it would be used in a health food shop and coupled with a Google Image of footprints on a sandy beach or Gandhi or something, your brain stops engaging with them. Some of the simplest and most crucial notions, things that ought to be motivating every step we take on this earth, have successfully disguised themselves as cliches.

Like the low-rent Alain de Botton I am, I would therefore like to say a few words about the way we could be treating one another differently.

Not long before Christmas, I tweeted this: Kindness and gentleness are often taken as an absence of personality. They’re actually qualities to be treasured. TREASURE A FUCKING KIND PERSON TODAY! I stand by this. I just wish I’d used the words ’empathy’ and ‘compassion’. Part of the problem with ‘kindness’ is that it sounds like some sort of cute hobby for a person who’s got a retro 80s pencil-case and has a Spotify playlist that is purely songs with acoustic guitars in. In reality, striving to understand and help your fellow humans is one of the most radical things you can do. Exercising empathy means digging deep into your humanity to grasp what it’s like in someone else’s brain. You don’t have to agree with anything they think, or support any of their opinions; you have to treat them as well as you can in spite of what you feel about those opinions. You can oppose them vehemently, in fact. If I meet a person who strongly supports Donald Trump or who rides everywhere on a zebra even though zebras are famously resistant to that, the exercise of empathising with them (‘what would make that person believe these wrong-headed things about society?’) and then applying compassion to them (‘I can see why he clings so strongly to the idea that he should be allowed the zebra’), is *NOT THE SAME* as giving them a free pass to do what they want. It just puts me on a footing where I am able to engage with their behaviour as what it is: a set of actions by a person not enormously genetically distant from myself, a person with needs and desires, who can be understood as such.

This flexing of key human muscles is a much braver act than digging your little trench, staying in it and screaming at anyone who doesn’t agree with everything you say. Yes, of course you have to stand up for what’s right. But we pretty much all think that our worldview is ‘what’s right’, don’t we. Almost by definition – or it wouldn’t be your worldview. However sure you are that you occupy the perfect position on every single issue, you need to understand that you don’t have a moral monopoly unless you actually are God, in which case it really would be great if you’d come forward sooner rather than later, because it’s been a fair old while since the last set of instructions and it’s fair to say we’ve drifted a bit in those millennia.

And even if you don’t agree with any of this – if you think this is the time to entrench even harder, turn your guns even harder on the people you don’t agree with – kindness is still something you can still change the world with every day, in a way that you cannot with angry rhetoric. Like it or not, it is unlikely there’ll be some sort of sea-change in the way the media are allowed to treat celebrities (if you’re as old as me, you will remember people calling for this since, at least, the time of Diana). It’s also reasonably unlikely that enough people will stop clicking on these articles to materially damage the papers who publish them (although it’s well, well worth a try). But what you can do every day of your life is improve something for someone who’s been left vulnerable by the toxicity of the air we’re all breathing. You can improve somebody’s mood, offer a favour, listen a bit. I’ve been trying to do this periodically on Twitter, these past few months, by offering an unofficial listening service (among other things). The good it does is tiny but it’s still more good than firing off 24 angry tweets about ‘the state of the world’ and then stewing for the rest of the day while others, maybe very close at hand, suffer.

#BeKind might not be a very helpful label to put on what we need to do better, but – again – clichés are often really good ideas in bland boxes. What ‘kindness’ means at its core is the opposite of a cop-out or a liberal whine. It’s one of the things we exist for. This would be a good time for us all to start looking into it more.


The present, and the future

As I’ve made a gigantic fuss of mentioning on all possible outlets, February 13th was my fortieth birthday. In the past I’ve tended to play down birthdays, as people do as they get older. Not because of some shame about my advancing age – on the contrary, I think it should be seen as an achievement to rack up the years, when you look at what life throws at us all – but just because it comes to seem embarrassing to be skipping around on a particular date like you’re still 11. This, though, leads to a mentality of middle-aged resignation that I’ve been criticising a lot on stage recently, as I see it more and more among my peers. ‘No, it’s a lot of hassle going away for the summer’. ‘Oh, I didn’t bother staying up for New Year, I didn’t even stay up till 9am, in fact I went to bed on December 28.’ And so on until you’re on your deathbed and someone says ‘congratulations, you managed to avoid doing pretty much anything in your own life.’

I don’t want to be that person, not any more; I want to make the most of what’s gifted to me. So, what I’m saying is, I’ve gone to the other extreme, hyped the hell out of my birthday and have applied for it to be recognised as a full public holiday.

40 is ‘just a number’ in the same way that January 1st is just a date, but – however arbitrary – time is where we live, and I believe in using its random promptings to measure progress and spur ourselves on. I set out to chronicle my thirties on this blog and after less than a couple of years it became untenable, because those years were so chaotic and – often – emotionally difficult. But things are a lot more settled now (if I was a touch-wood sort of person I’d be absolutely hammering on a Grandfather clock or something) and so I’m reviving this tradition. Here, in my newsletters and on Instagram I’m going to record as much as I can of the chunk of life between 40 and 50.

(Instagram is something I’ve barely touched so far and the traditional way is to rail against these pointless egoistical platforms as you get older, so I’m going fully against the tide and having a late online teenage as part of my forties.)

Largely this is a massive act of ego: in the same way, you might say, as most of a performing career is. I’m mostly putting it up here so that I can get something out of reflecting on myself, track the way things change over a big stretch of life, and – one day – massively cringe reading back through it all, including this bit. But I also hope other people will get something out of it and that, over time, I can build some sort of ‘platform’ which allows us all to get in touch and pool the resources of support/inspiration that exist out there. When I started this in 2010 I passionately believed in the internet’s ability to transform lives by connecting people. I’d underestimated the aspect of it which is just people screaming at each other for spelling things wrongly or not liking the right albums or using a plastic fork. All the same, ten years on, I believe it as firmly as ever.

One of the few things I’d say I’m truly proud of in my career so far has been that on occasion I’ve helped to build surprising bridges between like-minded or complementary people, who might otherwise not have met. Something that I’m hoping for, from my forties, is to be more of a force for good than I succeeded in being in the last section of my life. If anything I can write here ever helps or inspires just one person that’s… well, yeah, a colossally long-winded and inefficient way of living my life. So, pretty much on brand. Not everything changes on your birthday.

Keep reading if you are and we’ll continue this public, but secret club together.

FOLLOW MARK