For the latest in our WISE WORDS interview series - where stars from a whole range of fields share the important life lessons they’ve learned along the way - we’re posing some of the big questions to comedian MARK WATSON.
As well as his TV work Mark has had a number of critically acclaimed radio shows, including his BBC Radio 4 series’ ‘MarkWatson Makes The World Substantially Better’, ‘MarkWatson’s Live Address To The Nation’ and ‘MarkWatson Talks A Bit About Life’, as well as ‘100 Million or Bust’ on BBC Radio 5 Live, where he is also a regular contributor to ‘Fight Talk’.
Now he brings his hugely successful ‘I’m Not Here’ tour to a close with one final London show. Following a massive number of performances all over the UK, Mark is bringing the tour to a close with his 111th show at The Old Vic Theatre on the 11 February 2016. He tells HuffPostUK about some of the big lessons learnt along the way...
What do you do to switch off from the world?
Running is very helpful for that, I find. I’m often to be seen trotting around the park and I sometimes enter half marathons and so on. It clears your head, in a way that less vigorous exercise doesn’t necessarily. All you can think is ‘I’m running, I’m running’ and occasionally things like ‘fuck, ouch, why am I doing this?’ All these thoughts are better than watching the news. That’s the other way I switch off. You know Theresa May’s speech on Brexit is going to depress you, Trump’s inauguration is going to upset you - just don’t watch it. I see people on Twitter getting angrier and angrier about stuff in the news and I think: why are you watching this? It’s important to be informed but with a smart phone, we all have as much news as we want regardless of what we do. I’d argue it’s almost more important not to be so informed that you’re permanently paralysed by frustration.
How do you deal with negativity?
This has been one of the big struggles of my life, so it would be a bit glib to offer a simple answer. But it comes down to perspective, I suppose. I try to train myself to think: will this seem as bad in a day’s time, or a week’s or a year’s? Would it seem as bad a problem to someone in Aleppo, say? Do you realise one day you and everyone else will be dead? If you said all this to someone else, you’d seem a bit of a patronising prick, but if you can make yourself hear it, you’re on the right track.
When and where are you happiest?
There are certain places I love, and certain times I function best (evenings over mornings, for example, and in warmer weather rather than the cold). But the broader answer to the question is, I’m happiest when I feel I’m doing something that I am absolutely suited to. That I’m in the right place. Writing a book - whether it’s going well or not - always gives me that feeling.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve just finished Derren Brown’s book ‘Happy’ which is a massive repository of brilliant advice, bringing together many of the instructions for healthy living that I’ve been inspired by over the past few years. One of its key principles is: all you can control are your own thoughts and your own actions. Everything else, i.e. everything done or thought by everyone else in the universe, is outside your direct control, and therefore many of your problems come from trying to change them. This is a very simple piece of advice (and, as he points out, thousands of years old) but it is noticeable how free you feel once it’s absorbed.
What has been the hardest lesson you’ve learned?
Both personally and professionally: that trying to please everyone is not only impossible, but damages you. I’m an instinctive ‘people-pleaser’ by disposition, and I’ve tried to be as widely appealing in my work as I can. But in each case, that has led to lots of poor decisions, lots of negative consequences. You are much better off, in life, narrowing your focus. It’s a hard lesson to learn because it feels so difficult to turn away from any possibilities. But you have to.
What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
It’s going to be a lot better than you imagine in some ways, a lot worse in others; overall, you’re in for an interesting time. Enjoy!
What 3 things are at the top of your to-do list?
I’m keen to run a marathon, while simultaneously alarmed by the idea of it. I hope to write something really good - that is, something that will have more of an impact on readers, and feel bigger and better to me, than anything so far. I also hope to set a good example to my children and I want to go to Japan. That’s four, but sometimes in life you have to push your luck.
What do you think happens when we die?
Firstly, all being well, we trend on Twitter. After that: who knows? Any kind of corporeal or even spiritual afterlife seems like a long shot. So I’m hoping for some sort of legacy either artistic or love-related, I guess.
When do you feel a sense that we live in the presence of something bigger than ourselves?
Being in an area of natural beauty does this for a lot of people, but I’m almost the opposite. Cities are my ‘countryside’. I love urban landscapes; I love skyscrapers, stations, busy town squares. One of my favourite things is to be high up somewhere in a big city, and watch the subtle interplay of millions of lives. At times like that I do feel the sense of ‘something bigger’: we’re all tiny pieces in a huge, endless puzzle, moving uncertainly through time.
What do you try to bring to your relationships?
Empathy, support, solidarity. That kind of thing. It’s fair to say I have not always succeeded in giving back to the same extent I’ve received it. I’m trying to get better at relationships as I move on.
What keeps you grounded?
It doesn’t take anything specific to keep me grounded. There are reminders everywhere that you yourself are not all that significant, and that everything can be taken away from you in an instant if fortune turns a particular way. That isn’t to be fatalistic about things, but even at my most euphoric I rarely lose sight of how flimsy things are. I don’t know how you ever could, really.
What was the last good deed or act of kindness you received?
Just today I was pushing my daughter in her buggy, her coat fell to the pavement, and someone instantly bent to pick it up. It was a tiny thing, but still - she didn’t have to do it, she could have pretended not to see. Tiny little acts like that are what so much of human intercourse is, or should be, based on. There’s a nice bit about it towards the end of ‘Middlemarch’. I can’t remember it, but you could always Google it.
MarkWatson: I’m Not Here is at The Old Vic London on 11 February. For tickets visit: www.markwatsonthecomedian.com