I wanted to write a few words about the tour I’m doing this year. It’s a smallish tour by my standards: those being the standards of a man who has wandered the country relentlessly for the last twelve years like some spirit in a folk tale trapped in the Underworld, except instead of the Underworld it’s Gordano service station. This is because it’s a different type of show for me. It’s a little bit like a TED talk meets an inspirational address meets a comedy show. What can I say: I’ve never been asked to do an actual TED talk so I’ve basically taken matters into my own hands. Come to think of it, I suppose nobody’s ever really asked me to do an inspirational chat either. Or, technically, stand-up comedy. And yet here we are.
The show, ‘How You Can Almost Win’, is about my time on Bear Grylls’ Celebrity Island show in 2017. This is a famously gruelling series where a number of (surprisingly available) ‘celebs’ get taken to an island, dumped there and forced to find their own food, water and shelter until either four weeks pass or they lose their sanity and walk into the sea. I wasn’t one of the original ‘stars’ on their wish list, you might not be surprised to hear, but I came in as a late replacement. What followed was the toughest few weeks, physically and psychologically, of my life.
There were thunderstorms all night every night and I’m pathologically terrified of them. I lost three stone because we didn’t have anything to eat. We licked raindrops off leaves and, when we finally did find a water source, had to spend all day purifying and distilling it because it had been in a little swamp where caymans and other creatures lived. We were all ravaged by insects and the itching was so bad I went ten days with only two hours of sleep in total, eventually beginning to hallucinate. One of our team hit her head slipping on a rock and we thought she’d drowned. Several of the toughest people in the group left before the end. And all this, of course, was without any contact with loved ones back home, and potentially without many people even watching or caring about the show when it did get aired.
So it wasn’t very pleasant, all in all.
But it had been a rocky few years for me; I was in the middle of a divorce; and a lot of the issues which made me divorce material were still affecting me on a daily basis. I had poor self-esteem, little sense of achievement from the 35-plus years I’d walked the earth, and a sense that I wasn’t a good member of a team or a society. Over the course of my time on the Island – before I collapsed, this is – I started to rethink these things, and find ways I could live more successfully with myself and with other people.
So this show is the story of that process, and what came next. But with jokes.
I’ve performed it a handful of times in London and Edinburgh to test what was possibly the delusion that I had anything of worth to say about life (mind you, that’s never stopped me before, has it) and also that I could make it funny. The show has passed both those tests to our reasonable satisfaction and that’s why I’m taking it out on tour, in quite a small tentative way. As I say, a little bit different from the sort of thing you’re used to if you’ve seen me before. Normal service will continue with Melbourne/Edinburgh festivals 2020 and then a proper big tour next year. But in the meantime I hope that this will interest some of you.
Tickets are here: markwatson.seetickets.com.
See you there, unless you don’t come. In which case see you somewhere else, or – worst case scenario – goodbye forever but thank you for reading this blog.
Is this a good time?
It’ll only take five minutes. I know, yes – people say that kind of thing all the time, and the next thing you know you’ve signed up for a standing order with a charity you’re only half-interested in/are taking part in a consumer survey about ‘your A+E experience’ which turns out to have 70 questions; have joined the Army. But this WILL be quick. We’re both busy. I’m currently on tour – markwatson.seetickets.com/tour/mark-watson – and you’ve got your saxophone lesson.
I just wanted to say that the project I’ve spent the last few months on, Mark Watson’s Comedy Marathon, is now available in its entirety on Audible. If you haven’t got an Audible account, you need to set one up in order to gorge on my writing, but it is FREE to do that when you subscribe to a 30 day trial.
NOW AVAILABLE ON AUDIBLE >>
The series is themed around the London Marathon (but – phew – the funny side of it) and it brings together a cast the likes of which I’ve never had the privilege to work with before. If I said Derren Brown was in it, Sara Pascoe, Romesh Ranganathan, Harry Enfield, Angela Barnes, Adam Kay – I’d still only be scratching the surface of the talent involved. If I went on to name David Tennant and Olivia Colman, reunited for the first time since ‘Broadchurch’ – well, that would be going too far because neither of them is in it. But the original list, that was all true. And many more amazing people besides. In fact several of the best ones, I’ve deliberately not mentioned so that you can gasp when you encounter them in the series.
It’s designed to be listened to as one great big slab of fun, the way people consume TV series in the modern world, but you can also dip in and out as much as you please. I mean it’s beyond my remit to tell you how to use your time. You might not HAVE six and a half hours to binge-listen to something. I know you need to work on the saxophone and stuff. But whatever you’re up to, if there is a podcast-type gap in your life, please consider this as a possible solution.
And – I am cringing as I write this bit, but – if you DO manage to listen and you find yourself enjoying it, it would be massively appreciated if you left a nice review and rating on Audible’s site. This will counteract the damage done by the inevitable people who listen to 20 seconds, find they haven’t laughed yet, and take a sledgehammer to my three months of work. What an industry!
There, that was about five minutes depending on your reading speed. Thank you and good luck.
It’s not much of a secret by now, but finally I can talk about the dual project I’ve spent the last few months of my life on. It’s a 13-episode comedy series for Audible about the London Marathon. I’ve written it all and the cast is bloody amazing. It includes, but is not limited to, Sara Pascoe, Derren Brown (!), Rufus Hound, Harry Enfield (you could put ! after quite a lot of these actually), Sofie Hagen, Desiree Burch, Angela Barnes, Adam Kay, David Baddiel, Lolly Adefope, Ray Winstone (that’s probably an exclamation mark) and, really, lots more. People often say ‘lots more’ when they’re bluffing, but seriously. We’ve recorded some of it already and I think it’s going to be one of the best things I have ever made, although that’s only a meaningful remark if you like anything else I’ve ever made, but all the same.
It comes out at the end of February, and to mark the release – what could be more appropriate than a return to my traditional favourite format, the marathon show? Specifically, a 26.2-hour long show (to mirror the format of the race). It is happening at its spiritual home of the Pleasance, in London, on February 27th and 28th. It will kick off at 9.48pm – a stupid start time because of the ‘.2’ aspect – and continue until midnight the following day, or until the death from exhaustion of everybody in the room: whichever occurs sooner.
It will, as usual, feature a parade of comedians, celebrities, people who’ve just turned up and don’t know what is going on, and dazed non-comedians trying to do self-imposed challenges for the entire duration.
Tickets went on sale to my mailing list at 1pm, on the Pleasance’s website. The rest go on sale at 3pm THIS AFTERNOON. Here is the link.
If you miss out, you can still get into the show by coming up with an idea for a stupid challenge: the funnier or weirder the better, but genuine efforts at bucket-list-item-achievement are also more than welcome. Email email@example.com with these and we will contact you soon.
Right, that’s the gist of it. Oh, I love doing these.
‘Why would you kill yourself when your life was that good?’ I’ve seen so many tweets like that, the past week or so, that I’ve decided to write this. I don’t presume to have a clue what drove either of last week’s high-profile suicide victims to their decisions, and it feels pretty irresponsible to speculate about it in the way plenty of people already are. Nor do I liken myself to either of those far more prominent people. But I do know what despair feels like, and I’ve decided to revive this blog to say a couple of things about it, in case it helps even one person out there.
I’m writing it because I’m in a public position, with what plenty would consider a decent level of success, so I’m one of these people who would provoke an outpouring of ‘oh my God but he had everything!’ if I were to do some violence to myself, as I have frequently been tempted to do. It isn’t meant in the spirit of ‘look, I’m famous and *I* also get sad!’. We have Stephen Fry for that, for a start, and he’s much more famous than me. What I hope to add to the conversation are some specific insights about what it’s like working in TV/comedy/writing/other conspicuous spots, and why a large number of people in that world might struggle more than others imagine.
(DISCLAIMER: None of what I’m going to say is meant to suggest that doing stand-up or writing novels, or indeed being a designer, chef, footballer or celebrity-cake-judge, is some sort of nightmare that people are kidnapped into. Almost everyone I know who holds any sort of job in an attractive or kudos-filled industry is grateful to have it. I say ‘almost’ because there are, of course, always some pricks; I can name you five in comedy alone. But on the whole – although we might moan, like anyone – we feel lucky lots of the time.)
The first thing to say about jobs on TV or elsewhere in the public eye is that they’re filthily, unhealthily competitive. When you start out, the competition is as bluntly expressed as THIS GIRL WON THE AWARD, THIS GUY WASN’T EVEN NOMINATED FOR IT. As you proceed through your career, the competition is more insidious. You hear that there’s a sitcom slot to be pitched for, you don’t get it; your mate pitches an identical idea, gets a series. A panel show mysteriously stops booking you and a really similar act begins appearing on it. Sky launches a show called ‘TONIGHT WITH MARK WATSON, STARRING MARK WATSON, ONLY HIM, DEFINITELY’ but when you tune in, two other people are co-hosting it (NB this is a satirical example). I’m not saying this is unique to my field of work, far from it. Everyone’s had someone promoted above them, or missed out on something they deserved. I’m just saying that if your self-worth is tied too closely into these ups and downs, it is a pretty damaging mental plane to exist in.
On top of this, entertainment is an industry in which you’re forced to maintain even more of a game face than others, because people assess your suitability for work by how well you SEEM to be doing. Try asking a comedian how things are going. They’re extremely likely to say ‘yeah great, I’ve just come back from the States, where…’ not because they’re a dickhead (unless, see above, they are) but because you might be someone they need to impress in order to eat. If they say ‘tough, actually; I’ve been knocked back so much I feel like throwing myself into a river’, they’re making themselves less of a proposition. I suppose it’s a bit like dating. You try not to give the impression you’d absolutely love to meet someone, because life can be lonely or love is enriching, all these things that are absolutely normal to feel; it feels like that would make you less of a catch. You imply instead that you have dozens of options and you don’t particularly mind how this one plays out. It’s an exhausting act to keep up. Being in my job is like if you did singles events every day for 50 years.
And the last thing I’d say is that writing, in particular, involves a demoralising number of rejections. Very often, these rejections don’t even take the form of a ‘no’, because a lot of commissioners don’t even have enough respect to do you that basic courtesy. You have a meeting with someone; they’re enthusiastic, they say this is exactly what they want; you send and they acknowledge it, they say they’re excited to read it; then you never, ever hear from them again. I’ve had people pretend not to recognise me at parties when a month ago they said they couldn’t wait to work with me.
Once more, all of us know this is the price of the job, and it is perfectly possible to laugh at it, the nonsense of it. But you feel it; it’s a scar. Over the years, there end up being a lot of scars. If there are enough of them without an upturn, your confidence is eventually shot to pieces. You feel like a lesser person than those who’ve heard ‘yes’ a bit more often. Once more, I’m not saying this is as bad as, say, doing 100 unsuccessful job interviews and not knowing how you’re going to eat. I’m just saying that being turned down, being ignored, remains equally painful no matter what career rung you appear to be on, because it chimes with a voice you already had in your head that says: I told you. I told you you weren’t good enough. But you spent six months on that project anyway, you prick.
Enough generalisations: here’s where *I* am, this evening. I have a good life, I tour as a comedian to reasonable audiences; I’ve published novels. I have a decent standard of living, certainly measured against a lot of the country (as I’ve acknowledged throughout this). Most of the work I do is rewarding either financially or in some other way. All the same: I’ve felt like I’m failing for very long periods of the past 15 years, including now. I’ve had, easily, a hundred scripts or script ideas fail to make it to any sort of stage or screen. I’ve written, at the last count, three novels that never reached an audience (it looks like becoming four). I’ve been to well over five hundred meetings that didn’t come to anything, and that count will be at a thousand in another decade’s time. In the meantime I’ve seen more and more people emerge and perform the kind of comedy I do, just as well or better.
Every time I go to bed, all the failures are crouched in the corner of the room, waiting to shake me awake at 3am. Every time I wake up, I remember them before I have another conscious thought. When I think about my career in its totality, when I picture it, it looks like 95 percent failure. Unless there’s a remarkable turnaround in my market value I doubt that will ever go south of about 90 percent.
Now, of course, you learn to live successfully alongside these thoughts. Only recently I tweeted about how much I was enjoying my life, and it was true. I have people who love me, I have other things than writing to devote myself to. I understand I’m exceptionally lucky to be here at all, and one day I won’t be, so it’s advisable to enjoy as much of what happens as possible. And in case you’re reading this at Channel 4, I am actually in astonishing demand and I’ve, in fact, just come back from the States.
But the thoughts are there, they can swoop at any time, they’re tremendously persuasive. They’re resistant to medication because they come a place of real and profound disappointment with myself. Like I said, I can live with them – especially with the support that I have around me – but they’ll never leave.
People who get to a position of repute, who look like they’ve succeeded, will have paid some sort of tax on that success. Sometimes they’ve sacrificed family life or relationships. Sometimes they’ve screwed people over, intentionally or not. In many cases, what they signed away was their long-term mental stability, at least a part of it. And that is why it shouldn’t be surprising that ‘high-achieving’ people run into mental ravines at least as much as anyone else. And are as worthy of your support and concern as anyone else.
‘You never know what’s in someone else’s brain.’ That comes up again and again when there is a tragedy of the kind we’ve seen recently. But it isn’t just a slogan; it’s a rule to live by every day. It can inform all our little actions and make us kinder, or least more curious, more inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt; more like a human dealing with another human.
I hope this has been interesting or useful, or at least a pleasant-enough diversion, to someone. It certainly did me good to write it, and maybe that’s really all it was about: not really a wise worldview to share at all, just a chance to be honest, at last, about what it’s like in my head.
PS I’m going to continue blogging regularly-ish, I think. But they won’t all be like this, don’t worry. Next one will probably be about football or something.
If you’re not interested in football, then I should tell you now, this might not be for you. EXCEPT if you’re interested in global politics, or underdog stories, or people in really colourful shirts. Which is almost everyone. So, I retract that actually.
My brother – long-time followers will be aware – is a maniac who spends his time organising football stuff in parts of the world where there isn’t a proper sports infrastructure, where it’s too hot or wet to play, sometimes where they don’t really have a pitch because it’s infested with toads. He most famously took charge of a tiny Micronesian island team and was the youngest ever international football manager. He also coached in Mongolia for a while even though it was so cold it wasn’t safe to go outside. I’m proud of the idiot. And I THINK I’ve just managed to make that bit about his career into a hyperlink or whatever you call it, so if that’s worked I’m also proud of myself.
His focus these days is on working with CONIFA, a sort of parallel-universe version of FIFA which celebrates states who aren’t recognised by FIFA and so can’t enter the World Cup. You don’t have to be much of a football fan to be at least vaguely aware that FIFA, which controls world football, is as rife with corruption and intrigue as the Micronesian pitch was with toads. States without the right financial muscle or the right political influence are among the many footballing bodies completely ignored by FIFA, passed over for funding. CONIFA exists to give them a presence. This is important because football is fun (in my quite well-publicised opinion) but also more broadly because it gives an identity to entire communities who are treated like they don’t exist.
So, right now in London, the CONIFA World Cup is taking place. It features teams you’ll never have heard of, representing countries you’ve largely not heard of either. They have all made implausible journeys to get here (except the Isle of Man team, actually, they were probably OK) purely for the love of the game and the passion they feel for their barely-known homes. It kicked off yesterday with games like Abkhazia v Tibet, Padania v Matabeleland, and North Cyprus V Karpatalya (that was a 1-1 draw). It’ll continue for the next ten days or so, until a team is crowned CONIFA World Champions (the Panjab manager has already said he’ll die a happy man if it’s his side that makes it).
If you like football, and you’re interested in a glimpse into another football universe – close-up – look on the CONIFA website for details of the games. I’m going to Sutton on Tuesday and I plan to put on a sort of ‘flash gig’ there. There are two or more matches a day, it costs hardly anything, you can get close-up, and instead of the slightly desolate corporate atmosphere that settles around a World Cup (especially in certain host countries), there is a real vibe of lunatic devotion to the sport, of people who’ve defied the odds – and in many cases quite a lot of danger – even to be on the pitch.
If this interests you at all, get in touch (here or on Twitter) and I will be delighted to help. This is a delightful slice of football weirdness, the days are really fun even if you’re not that into football (one of my sisters has already been and she wouldn’t normally watch a match if it was in her own bathroom), and it’s also a celebration of the way that London hosts an incredible number of different international communities. Something that a lot of us still think is a plus. Despite CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE not being so into it.
There’s a piece below from the Independent with a bit more detail, and you can check www.conifa.org, or I’m so hyped about this you can have my phone number if you want and I’ll talk you through it.
Come and watch weird football!
The World Football Cup kicks off in London – and Fifa have nothing to do with it