Stand-up comedy has in some ways become a bit stale – a person (often a man) will get up on stage and tell a host of jokes which will resonate on some level with some people, who laugh accordingly. Sometimes someone may heckle the performer, who, depending on the level of skill, will either incorporate it into the routine, or let it be a stumbling block. This is not to say this style is bad – it often is exactly what everyone needs – but, especially in larger shows, there is a large gap between performer and the audience.
Which is why Mark Watson’s show at the 2019 Comedy Festival was a new take on the show. There was audience participation in quite a controlled yet spontaneous fashion, which – thankfully – no-one decided to abuse too much. There is always room for error when the audience is involved.
Citing changes in his personal life (which he did refer to a lot – perhaps therapy through comedy was helpful), Watson realised, much as some performers such as Pink Floyd did in the 1970’s, that there is a wall between audience and performer, and sought a way to remedy this. Without giving too much away, before going into the show there are a variety of forms you can choose to fill out, and these are then incorporated into the routine.
What follows highlights Watson’s skill at rapid improvisation and showmanship. Utilising material he has never seen before, he then proceeds to make a show out of these inputs from the audience – and then tries to engage in dialogue with the audience over this. There are some hit and miss issues, and he clearly does have some rehearsed material (the parts which are clearly more polished and less prone to social faux pas than the ad lib stuff), but as a general rule the improvisation is excellent.
As an example of how random the show is, there was a guide dog at the show this reviewer attended, and this revamped several jokes and interactions between the audience member attached to the dog (not Lachlan the dog himself) and Watson, which somehow did not veer into bullying territory and got laughs out of the audience. There are performers who pick on audience members and insult them, but Watson toed that line carefully and was able to tailor responses accordingly. It was quite impressive.
No show will be like the next, although there will be enough commonality across the shows to make it cohesive. For an appreciation of good showmanship and an interesting message, it is worth checking out Mark Watson whilst at the comedy festival.
The Infinite Show is on at 7pm at the Melbourne Town Hall until 21 April as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available via the MICF website or at the box office.