Mark Nelson on the future of live comedy

We speak to Mark Nelson, passionate Scottish comedy advocate and regular compere at The Stand, about the future of Scottish comedy and the struggle to get the artform its rightful recognition

Article by Yasmin Hackett | 28 Sep 2020
  • Mark Nelson

Few could have envisaged the length and impact of the pandemic-induced lockdown we still find ourselves in. It has been an incredibly tough process for all businesses, but immeasurably so for those in the creative industries. Countless venues are on the brink of collapse and some acts have had to go back to their day jobs.

What’s more, while some emergency funding for comedy has been announced, comedy as an artform has not seen the same level of recognition from Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government that other artforms have. As a result, a spate of comedy clubs across Scotland and the rest of the UK have found themselves in crisis without emergency funding. Mark Nelson has been one of the Scottish comics at the helm of efforts to keep the comedy industry alive, and to get comedy the recognition it deserves.

He’s hosted an online gig dubbed Saturday Night Live At The Stand since March, which only came to an end recently, but kept comedy fans laughing throughout lockdown. We chat to him about how gigging has changed, the importance of funding for the industry and the future of comedy.

What do you miss most about live gigs?

I miss talking to the crowd. The most exciting parts of a show have come from interactions with the crowd. It is unique every time and only stand-up provides that.

What is the best thing about club stand-up? 

You get to see true professionals doing what they are supposed to do in life. Comedians raw and in the moment, not edited or filtered, just making people laugh.

What does performing at venues like The Stand mean to you?

It means everything. I have honestly wanted to be a comedian since I was about eight years old so to be doing my dream job in the best venues in the world is incredible.

What’s the most innovative bit of lockdown comedy you’ve seen?

I think some of the stuff people have been doing on Twitch has been awesome, Rosco McLelland in particular. It is like that platform was custom-made for him.

Do you have any other plans or ideas for virtual comedy shows in the near future if things continue as they are?

Yeah I would love to experiment with some stuff and see what I can put out. I don’t think anyone has truly nailed it yet.

Is the current situation of virtual/online comedy sustainable for comics?

No, absolutely not. It is not viable for the future from either a comic or an audience point of view.

Has performing online brought in new audiences for you personally? 

Definitely but I think that audience has always been available, I just haven’t been exposed to them. It has shown the reach that online can have and is a much greater leveller than TV. The constant use by TV companies of the same 12 comedians for every single show does not do justice to comedy in this country and is actually harmful.

Do you think this wider audience reach has raised awareness about the threat posed to live comedy?

I really do think it has. It has reminded people of the fact that there really is nothing else in culture that is like live comedy and also reminded them of how much they miss it. I also don’t imagine many people will have realised how shoddily and dismissively our industry has been treated by Creative Scotland.

What are your thoughts on the future of funding for comedy and the ongoing feeling that Creative Scotland are not recognising comedy as an art form?

Well due to the very hard work of ASCA (Association of Scottish Comedic Arts) and idiots like me shouting a lot, the tide is slowly turning and Creative Scotland are recognising us. What remains to be seen is if the government will stick to their word and provide the much-needed funding. At the moment I am very dubious about that. 

What has been your biggest takeaway from lockdown?

One night I got a salt and chilli sharing munch box from our local Chinese. Way too much food for one person.
Mark Nelson plays The Stand, Glasgow, 18-21 March 2021 – get tickets here