Interview: Mark Watson

HOLLY RICHARDS chats to TV comedy superstar MARK WATSON.

Cambridge English Footlights Holly Richards interview literature Mark Watson Queen's College trapped in a lift

Although he is only 32, Mark Watson has achieved a lot. In 2001, he graduated from Queens’ College with a first in English and went on tour with the Footlights.

Since then, he has become legendary in Edinburgh for his 24 hour shows, written four novels, hosted a host of television and radio series and, last but not least, become a dad.

In spite of all of his success, Mark comes across as humble and approachable, laughing politely at my terrible jokes and even indulging me by playing a game of “Which literary figure would you rather be trapped in a lift with?” *

We start by talking about the impressive feat of balancing finals with frequent Footlights rehearsals. “It certainly was an absolutely frenetic year for me, because I’d just met my girlfriend and had a lot of new social engagements. It was one of the most exciting and insane times of my life.

“I realised that the more you do, the more you’re capable of doing. I had no option but to work in the little time that was left around Footlights. If you’ve got three days to write an essay, you might not do it as you’ve got so much freedom, whereas if you’ve got three hours then you just do it. That stood me in good stead for my life to come.”

Although he concedes that he didn’t partake in much of the “drinking and putting your pyjamas on type stuff”, Mark still had some mad moments during his time at Queen’s. “Just after my finals finished, my girlfriend took me down the river on a boat for a night-time picnic. But then she decided to get off the boat and I couldn’t control it, so I drifted away into the darkness.

“It took me about six hours to get it back to Cambridge and she had to swim across the Cam to get home, so it wasn’t a very successful romantic evening.” Fortunately, the relationship withstood this incident, and the girlfriend in question is now his wife. They married in Mark’s old college, which he still visits occasionally.

“I find it hard to resist popping in and having a look. Luckily I’m still young enough to be a postgrad. I don’t want to be one of those slightly creepy people in my fifties wandering around going ‘I used to be here’.

I’m amazed by the passion for literature that Mark clearly still has, and the desire to write. I confess to him that, after a year of studying literature, I’ve read enough to last a lifetime.

He admits “I don’t really remember doing much reading after Cambridge for some time and even the writing that I did in those early years was quite hampered by the fact that I’d been so battered by literature I think”, adding that “the tragedy paper alone leaves you with an awful lot of mental baggage.”

A reassuring, or perhaps quite depressing, comment upon his degree is how much “totally goes out of your head, so don’t worry too much.”

The literary overload of the Cambridge English degree has had some use though, as Mark has just completed his fifth novel. Can he describe it in five words? “Photographers’ life has dark underbelly.” Intriguing…

As the interview comes to an end, I’m left thinking that as well as being extremely hard working, Mark Watson is also surely one of the nicest comedians around.

*Luckily, there’s just enough time for a round of my favourite game:

“Which literary figure would you rather be trapped in a lift with?” 

Larkin or Amis?

I’ve always been a big fan of Larkin but I’m not sure how nice he was and I reckon he would get quite gloomy, whereas Amis probably would be better at making conversation.

Byron or Mary Shelley?

Both of them would be fascinating. Byron was an amazing person but perhaps a bit conceited. Mary Shelley might be more relaxing company in a lift.

T.S. Eliot or George Eliot?

I really admire George Eliot so I think I’d go for her. T.S. Eliot might be a bit intimidating.

Shakespeare or Chaucer?

That’s hard isn’t it? Most people wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet Shakespeare… then again I did the Chaucer paper at Cambridge. He would be high on my list of fantasy dinner party guests.

Mark Watson is performing at the Corn Exchange on 9th November.