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25 June 2010

Why can’t I get on with “Mock the Week”?

The one time I felt I’d done myself justice, I got dropped.

By Mark Watson

Mock the Week is back. You might have seen me on the advert for the new series. And you might have seen me on the show numerous times in the past. The chances are that three-quarters of this blog’s readers have. So around the time a new series begins, I normally get messages asking when I’m going to be on. I’ve not been booked this time.

I have a complicated relationship with Mock the Week. I thought it was time I did a blog about this rather than endlessly making reference to it in my live shows.

Mock the Week is an extremely well-executed show that has been successful beyond the wildest dreams of most panel shows, and made major stars of pretty much all its regulars. This is pleasing to someone who knows and respects and likes them all. Dara is one of the best stand-ups I’ve ever seen. Russell is brilliant (my mum doesn’t like him, but my mum doesn’t like anyone who’s not me). And so on.

The core of the show has been in place for eight series or something now, and it does the trick perfectly. It is not the type of the show I would normally watch, but then, as I’ve said before, I don’t watch a lot of comedy, because it makes me feel like I’m at work.

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Unfortunately I’ve never really got the hang of Mock the Week. Since the dynamic between the regulars is so well honed, it’s not easy for guests to come in and make an impression — there are already enough talented people on the show (Dara, as I’ve said, could quite easily carry a half-hour show on his own, and that’s just the host). The people who tend to do it well are confident, fairly bullish comics with a lot of one-liners.

When I first went on the show, I was pretty nervous, said very little, and appeared very little on the TV as a result. (The recordings are two and a half hours long, so most of what happens is never seen.) As time has gone by, I’ve tried to get more and more involved when I’ve been on — supported by everyone who’s a regular on the show, because they are all really nice people and there is no element of trying to outdo each other, not on a personal level.

The trouble is that the show dictates a certain “trying to outdo each other” agenda anyway, because it’s just the way that shows are bound to go, when everyone’s trying to get jokes in at the same time. So although everyone gets on well, some people will predominate, some people won’t. I’ve tended to be quite happy with my role, chipping in now and again. But there has been the odd show where I’ve struggled to say anything of note. When that happens, you feel a bit of a tool.

As a result I’ve always had mixed feelings about Mock the Week. Normally at the end of a recording, I feel pretty drained and unhappy and like I’m a shit comedian. However, when it’s on TV you tend to get a lot of positive comments. And there’s no doubt that I owe most of what popularity I have to my appearances on this show. But essentially, I’m a live stand-up, not a TV personality: my hope is that if people glimpse me doing a good joke on the telly, they will come and see me on tour, and then discover there’s much more to my act.

So, of course, I want to be in shows like Mock the Week, I think they’re good, but at the same time, I often feel a bit threatened by them.

However, in the last series (I think it was in January), I experienced what felt like a breakthrough of sorts. I had my best appearance on the show to date. I forced myself to be confident, got quite a few jokes into the edited version, and felt proud of myself.

But then, when it came to booking acts for this series, the producers told my agents that they still weren’t convinced about me. They felt I was “holding back”. I’m sure I won’t shock too many people if I say that shows like Mock the Week are mostly pre-planned, with each comedian knowing what material they’re going to do in each round. The people who make Mock the Week always feel that I’m not giving them my best material.

In actual fact, I do try to, but it doesn’t always work, because my “material” is mostly rambling stories and they want jokes about the news. I also like to improvise and banter, but there isn’t much space for that on a show like Mock the Week. So it gets cut out, and then my contribution looks a bit puny. So, the producers went for a couple of other acts instead of me (I won’t name them, but they’re the ones who are usually on shows ahead of me).

As a result of all this, I feel rather odd about Mock the Week. It has given me a lot of my popularity as a comedian. The producers booked me when I hadn’t really been on TV, and as a result I’ve been able to go on and do quite a lot of shows (Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News . . . ) which I feel I AM better suited to. Yet I always felt I hadn’t quite done myself justice. And then the one time I did feel I’d done myself justice, I got dropped. All in all, confusing.

I guess Mock the Week for me is like the brother you always looked up to, but could never impress. Not being in this series is like when you go out to the pub with the brother, think you’re doing a good job of seeming 18, but then you get thrown out and everyone disowns you. However, people do tend to come back bigger and stronger from such experiences.

Perhaps, in the end, I’m cut out for slightly different things anyway. I hope in the meantime this has been interesting. And I hope last night’s Mock the Week was good, if you watched it. Say hello to it from me.

This post originally appeared on Mark Watson’s blog.

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