My 25 hours of being funny for money

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In 2009 the comedian Mark Watson vowed that he would be doing no more sanity-threatening marathon shows. Here he explains how he spectacularly broke his own promise in aid of this year's Red Nose Day

Shortly before midnight on 1 March, I surveyed the scene from the stage of the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, north London. I had been on that stage for 24 hours and 45 minutes consecutively, only escaping from it when I took the audience out into the forecourt at 6.30am to give them a glimpse of the sun rising.

Now, members of that audience – most of whom had also been here throughout the 25 hours – were in various states of disarray. Some were asleep or nearly so; others were notionally awake, but seemed to have little idea of what they were experiencing; some wore the strained cheer of hostages thinking it better to stay on their captor's good side; and a good number seemed absolutely normal and bright. On the stage itself was a woman in a tent, who had been there as long as I had; a man in a onesie whose sallow, red-eyed face had been custard-pied 24 times; a couple of people who had just played 407 consecutive rounds of Countdown; and a well-known comedian who was about to perform an obscene feat involving eggs and his genitals, in exchange for contributions totalling £2,500. We had just auctioned a piece of paper, salvaged by Krishnan Guru-Murthy from a bin, for £100. Strewn across the space in front of me were – among other things – party poppers, Babybel wrappers, and the remains of a lasagne I had attempted to eat in the 18th hour of my performance.

"Do something funny for money" has been Red Nose Day's rallying cry for some time, but not everyone takes those words to heart in quite this manner.

Admittedly, it wasn't the first time in my career I had done something as ill-advised as this, and in the past I didn't even have the excuse of charity. The "marathon show" accidentally became my trademark in the last decade, when what began as a whimsical stunt at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe snowballed into a psychologically punishing annual tradition. I performed 33-hour and even 36-hour shows, showing scant regard for my wellbeing, that of my family, and of course of the audiences who stupidly continued to attend these monstrous exhibitions of attention-seeking. They were never exactly stand-up comedy shows: to interviewers who asked how I was planning to generate enough "material" to get through the hours, I would often merrily reply that I generally managed it without any jokes at all. It was half true. There were jokes, all right, but they all arose from the audience's growing complicity in a Sixties-style "happening". The show rapidly became, as it were, about itself, developing its own culture of in-jokes and references, until a newcomer walking in towards the end would get the impression they'd entered an entirely different country. Or a madhouse.

This was all very well, but after seven of these shows in Edinburgh and Melbourne, I felt I'd made my point: that point being that I was an idiot, prepared to sacrifice my voice and large portions of my sanity in a quest for what passes as love from people too tired to know better. In 2009, after a total of 189 hours on stage, I announced that I was leaving the arena of the medically unwise endurance show. Never again would I perform for so long that many spectators arrived with sleeping bags and food supplies; for so long that audience members could – as someone once did – go to France and still make it back in time for the climax.

But then came the request from Comic Relief to revive the day-long format for charity. Actually, slightly more than a day: 25 hours to mark their 25 years in existence. While ennobling what had always previously been a massive exercise in self-indulgence, the charity aspect introduced some new pressures. A live internet feed would mean the content would have to be at least partly comprehensible to the casual viewer. And, in order to entice people into donating, some of it would even have to be good. I'd never worried about that sort of thing before.

Luckily, I wasn't alone. A couple of appeals via Twitter and my blog led to some astounding suggestions for 25-hour challenges which would run alongside mine. One man, Oliver Fisher, watched the execrable film Beverly Hills Chihuahua on a loop, chalking up 14 viewings; even by the end of the second, he was visibly weakening. There was a 25-hour piggyback and a 25-hour hug (the latter ratified as a Guinness World Record). There were houses made out of cake, there were day-long baths, 25-hour dating marathons; there was busking, knitting, and that custard-pie-enduring feat. Tiernan Douieb raised more than £1,500 by taking a pie in the eyes to mark the turn of each hour, while also trying to learn the piano from scratch in the allotted time. One of the pies was administered by a pair of professional clowns, who then dumped him in a bath of custard for good measure. Normally this would be an odd moment in a show, but at the 14-hour mark of this one, the audience barely turned a hair.

With all this activity, the Pleasance by the end had an atmosphere somewhere between a correctional facility, a primary school, a circus tent and – though less obviously – a comedy venue. I, as usual on these occasions, went through an unpredictable gradient of emotions. There was relief that things were somehow working out, concern for my shredding voice, a kind of benevolent capitalist fervour at the sight of the Comic Relief tally skyrocketing, and from time to time – as I admitted out loud when Jennifer Saunders was in the process of bidding £1,000 for Emma Kennedy to urinate on stage – absolute confusion as to the question: '"How did I cause these things to happen?" But at the bottom of it all was a woozy pride. As we were reminded by a visiting Richard Curtis – one of the more dignified figures to stand on the increasingly squalid stage – Simon Amstell, David Schneider, Janet Ellis, Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Jonathan Ross were among the many others who also called in – even 50p can help to provide essential inoculations in the areas of Africa where Comic Relief works; £10 or £20 can provide food, counselling and support for desperate people in that continent and in the UK. With that in mind, our overall total – £58,334 at the last count – feels like something to be happy with, even if having stood on stage for 25 hours is less an achievement than a sort of comedic cry for help.

Previous shows proved that I could perform for a very long time. This one proved that many other people can, too, and that the sum total of their seemingly pointless efforts can be a stupid but valuable one.

Highlights from Mark Watson's 25-hour show will be broadcast on Comic Relief on Friday at 7pm on BBC1. You can still sponsor Mark Watson at If he has inspired you to do your own fundraising for Red Nose Day, go to to find out more

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own