Review: Mark Watson offers servings of quick wit, empathy, and storytelling with ‘The Infinite Show’

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Review: Mark Watson offers servings of quick wit, empathy, and storytelling with ‘The Infinite Show’

words by leland tan


For a comedian who has squirmed out of a suitcase to open his show, Mark Watson ranks right up there for all time comic greats mixing it up. Whether it’s a physically outlandish opening, or a stand-up sesh lasting over 24 hours, you can’t fault the British quipster for his natural flair in generating material out of absolutely everything and nothing.

In The Infinite Show, he chooses a less logistically eccentric endeavour; after numerous personal disconnects from his family and friends, he wants to understand humans better and form meaningful relationships through exercising better communication. He litters the word empathy infinitely throughout his set as if guiding a spiritual ‘How To Live Better’.

Handing out blank cards for audience members minutes prior to the show, contributions range from anything they’d like to divulge or weird quirks about themselves. In this way, Watson instantly gets a feel of the game on the sort of crowd he’s facing, and a gist of whatever might or might not stick on the wall. As a general rule of thumb, everything he touches turns to comedic gold.

The entire empathy shebang can initially come off as a ruse when Watson’s opening monologue touches on, say, grudges he holds towards blind individuals, but watching him battle his inner demons afterwards makes for potent har-har. Watson’s past experiences and his interpretation of the audience cards often results in grotesquely awkward misreading of the social tea leaves – and the comic milks that cow with much aplomb and fantastic interweaving.

In a string of phenomenal misfortune (or fortune), one of the first cards the Brit chose to share on stage was, “I can’t stand the terrible smell of dogs,” something he empathises with after being on the end of numerous canine pursuits whilst jogging London streets. Minutes after, he sheepishly checks in on a first-row audience member to find out — lo and behold — that she is visually impaired. And has a guide dog in the audience that’s been there the whole time. Yikes. Safe to say little Lachlan didn’t find his jokes bow-wow, and the comic is slightly shaken. Risky business, this comedy thing.

Watson navigates his way out of the conundrum with such lightning and ease by sharing that dogs shouldn’t be named after humans, or risk being given a last name. Guide dog owner Caitlyn concedes: “I totally agree, but I didn’t name him though!” And just like that he’s turned adversary into comrade.

Understanding his quest for empathy also entails reliving the friction his experiences as a son and a ‘horrible’ dad, as he unabashedly labels himself. Between quibbles with his seven-year-old offspring on whether Mom or Dad is more fun post-divorce, to realising his own mum knew about Banksy’s true identity years before it was cool, the Brit juxtaposes the what-ifs and could-have-beens with wisecracking flair and raw wisdom. Every takeaway from every anecdote came at a price or lesson of some sort, and we all just need to listen to our loved ones better. Watson drew out ‘aww!’s aplenty that night – and proved empathy is sometimes a two-way street filled with banter and some self-deprecation.

Watson’s masterful meandering from prepped material to ad hoc conversations about anything within his line of sight affirms his status as a comic at the height of his prowess, and a crush we more than welcome with open arms. With his aversion to good posture and borderline slurring delivery of punchlines, he comes across more like that middle-aged neighbour dad tending to weird assortments of flora and fauna you’ve never heard of – you know he loves what he does, you’ll never judge his lovable arse for it, and you’ll always be peaking over the fence for him.

Highlight: Caitlyn and Lachlan (the guide dog) were at Watson’s show last year as well, up close and personal. More dog material, less blind material in hindsight.

Lowlight: “The Sydney vs Melbourne debate is inter-generational for me, don’t they know Melbourne is the best?!”, said one of the audience cards. “No, I think the point is they don’t know.” Kill it Watson, kill it with fire.

Crowd favourite: Thinking his phone was juiced up when plugged in, only to find out it hasn’t been charging the whole time.

Mark Watson’s The Infinite Show is running until Sunday April 21, except for Mondays, as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.