I was first mistaken for Mark Watson at a party around 2005. A fellow guest accosted me, full of excitement, and told me that I’d performed well on Mock the Week the previous night. I foolishly explained that I had never appeared on the show, after which her interest waned fast. Over the next couple of years this happened a few more times. There would be the same rush of Watson-prompted attention followed by subsequent disappointment and scorn. What’s more, my own parents began to tell me that there was “a boy on the telly” who looked just like me, hinting that they would take comfort during periods when I wasn’t getting in touch a lot by watching his regular appearances. Here, it seemed, was a Better Me, dutiful in showing up in their front room, conversationally amusing; rarely, if ever, asking them for money. My mum could happily read his fiction without flinching at the rude bits. He was, it appeared, published, just like I hoped to be. My feelings became ambiguous. Of course, there was a basic facial solidarity, the obvious empathy and compassion one has to have for someone hampered with my physiognomy. But did he have to be so good at stuff? (I remain unsure if it is okay to take an interest in someone because they look just like you or if it is, in a very small way, exactly how racism started).
I finally met my doppelganger (oh, who I am I kidding? I am his doppelganger and so it shall ever be) at a show in Leicester Square. Once he had got past the initial fear and trembling (remember I’d had years to prepare myself), I could tell he planned to make use of this coincidence. He is, after all, a professional silly person and having an exact replica was too good an opportunity for him to miss. Like controversial politico Saddam Hussein, he would make good use of a double. Consequently I got the call to take part in his 25 hour show for Comic Relief. This involved me (unsuccessfully) pitching a novel to his editor, signing copies of his own novels in Waterstones (this with more success) and going to the opticians to pick up his prescription (at which point the role of humorous lookalike blends, perhaps permanently, with that of dogsbody). After which my facesake has often been in touch with life-advice, literary encouragement and occasional free-of-charge witticisms. He is, I must report, a thoroughly good egg. And so when I was called out of retirement for a 27 hour show, I reported for duty with eagerness.
Mark warned me before the show there were numerous comedy tasks in store for me over the stretch of the show. I might, for example, have to go to Bristol for dinner with his parents. If this was the game, then I ought to take his kids to the park or visit Ikea with his wife (it is possible that, as a celebrity, Mark doesn’t go to Ikea but I felt like his audience should be able to relate to the tasks). As a hardened veteran of the long form shows I felt like I could handle this. However, as a hardened etc I also knew that many of these ideas get forgotten in the course of the show and so it wasn’t a great surprise when approximately none of them came about. Instead my tasks for this show included:
- being awake
- mooching onstage now and again. Not as much as the actual funny people but slightly more than the rest of us groundlings
- taking over Mark’s Twitter and hassling his celebrity friends to get them to come down.
- trying and failing to secure a taser, Jarvis Cocker and a live goat
As a hardened blah blah I am in the position to give advice to young lookalikes hoping for the life changing position of comedian’s double. Here are some valuable tips culled from harsh experience.
- Remember, the other people onstage have been trained, or at least shown aptitude, in being funny. You might think yourself the wag of your social circle but when you are sharing stage space with Jennifer Saunders it is good manners to pipe down.
- Staying awake isn’t as hard as you’d think. Some sort of adrenal upsurge keeps you going for most of it. The difficulty is the week after, tackled below
- Long form shows, in the words of Mark, “radically alter your relationship with time”. If I was sitting down for a comedy show I knew would last 8 hours I might feel a little fidgety. You hear there’s 8 hours left of a long show and you feel slightly sorry it’s almost over
- Long form shows also “radically alter your relationship with Mark Watson”. A cultish devotion takes over the audience by sometime around 9am. Chanting is known to take place. The word “goats” acquires a significance it always lacked in the outside world.
- Long forms shows “radically alter your relationship with goats”
- Lots of people you fancied off the telly in the 90s will show up. Just so you’re warned.
- Just cos you look exactly like the person everyone has come to see, ain’t nobody going to ask for your autograph.
As for the after-effects of the show it is probably best to take some time off work. A week has gone by and my sleep patterns are only just back to normal. For a few days I was unusually sensitive to slights, as though I’d shed a protective layer. I found I could no longer get any writing done. While proud of taking part, a nagging fear of not having done so properly sets in. I know from speaking to other participants that a weird feeling of having not done our respective silly tasks as well as we might haunts us all. The real world can seem less focused, stripped of the heightened reality of the show. Perhaps, we think, it would be best not to do one again. Perhaps, we decide, we should give our poor brains and our bodies a rest. We settle down to our routines, our everyday jobs, our relationships, our own non-Watson based creative endeavours. The years pass. And then one day we get the call again. 29 hours. 48? We should be able to manage. We can do this, one last time.
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