By Adam Rafferty

You can’t blame Mark Watson for being a bundle of nervous energy on his final performance for this year’s MICF. Being one of the most regular visitors to our festival from the UK, having first performed in Melbourne in the mid-noughties, he, like many others, has been unable to perform for us in person over the last two years. Then this year he was beset by the spicy cough mid-season, missing performances. So, the fact he popped out from backstage, in front of the audience, before finishing his own introduction and proceeded to have an anarchic off-script chat with the crowd was perhaps the culmination of that enthusiasm.

Watson is at pains to tell us what a fan he is of Melbourne and how much he loves our city and our culture – AFL included – so it’s no surprise that he has devotees, one of whom took the opportunity of the impromptu pre-show addressing of the audience to assert her devotion and bestow a belated Easter gift of a chocolate bilby upon the comedian. (Watson may enjoy the treat, but I’d be inclined to bin the gift for fear of how far this fan may have gone to show her love!)

He has always been a manic and neurotic sort of performer, but for this performance, the mania seemed to be ramped up to 10, not helped by the off-piste introduction and interjecting audience member. Watson jumped around from subject to subject, continually distracting himself, but not re-piecing the story threads for the audience to keep track of, such as someone like Ross Noble would do. Sure, there were laughs to be had, but it was difficult to put them together into a more appreciable whole.

Playing with a ‘date of death’ predictor app by getting an audience member at the back of the auditorium to fill in the survey with him fell somewhat flat. It wasn’t until we got to stories of his shared parenting duty fails (Watson is divorced) that a connection felt truly made with the crowd, but by then the set was almost over.

While it might be too much to say there’s a whiff of Greg Fleet about Watson’s appearance of stability, it’s certain that he’s a very lovable comedian and he has a plethora of fans in Melbourne that want to see the best for him. Hopefully next year’s festival will be a more balanced event for this nonetheless charming and talented comic.