This article is from 2007.
Mark Dolan’s comedy debut was as a child in front of some drunks. Yet Camilla Pia finds that a love of the audience helps drive him on
If there’s no rest for the wicked, then Mark Dolan must be a very bad man. Not content with writing, producing and presenting for both television and radio on such successful efforts as Balls of Steel and the Weekly Show, the bespectacled comedian has recently decided to return to his stand-up roots, and after a run of successful previews is bringing his debut full-length work to Edinburgh. I’m Here to Help! is designed to make audience members laugh and sort out any problems they may have; from cats who won’t stop urinating in kitchen cupboards to hair neuroses and overly jealous other halves, Dolan has heard it all and is keen to have a crack at more.
The well-spoken, self-deprecating and extremely witty chap seems genuinely excited about his latest venture, not least because it allows him to return to Scotland’s capital city.
‘Edinburgh was where I started out in showbiz,’ he explains animatedly. ‘I was at uni there from 1992 to 96 and it was the most incredible time of my life, although I’m surprised I wasn’t kicked out. I was studying politics but spent most of my time at the Bedlam Theatre involved in an improvisation show. I remember at one point I was working in a tea-room in Victoria Street in the mornings and afternoons, had a play on at the Gilded Balloon at lunchtime and then had the show at midnight. I was drinking in-between and I look back now and wonder how all that was physically possible.’
I’m Here to Help! is the result of an idea which came to him while out jogging in ‘very short shorts and an ill-fitting top’. It involves audience members filling out a form before the show detailing a problem in their lives. Dolan then invites a few on stage to try to solve their problems.
‘I was hesitant to do an hour of straight stand-up because my favourite thing as a comedian is to engage and interact with the crowd,’ he says. ‘And I didn’t want to do a stretched version of my circuit 20 minutes because I think that when it comes to Edinburgh you’ve got to make it special. After years of being obsessed with self-help books and agony aunts, I came up with an idea my wife didn’t rubbish, so I decided to run with it and it’s been going really well. It’s kind of like being an emotional detective. Often you really have to probe to get to the root of the problem. Fundamentally of course this is comedy so I’m unlikely to get anything horrifically dark but people can trust me with anything.’
His love of and ability to bond with an audience means that this might not necessarily be the overly-cruel show that it at first sounds. ‘It’s none of the things that it might seem to be,’ he insists. ‘It’s not a satire on self-help, it’s not even about self-help. It’s simply a comedy show where I try to help. For it to work, the audience have to laugh and I have to feel like I’ve really helped someone with their lives so it’s a twin challenge for me but one that I’m really looking forward to.’
All going well in Edinburgh, Dolan eventually hopes to be able to combine his current broadcasting work and stand-up stints with an I’m Here to Help! tour of the UK. However, after dozens of odd jobs throughout his varied career including everything from radio producer to selling pensions, telesales, performing in front of drunk punters in his parents’ North London pub as a child and working in a nightclub where he ‘constantly wore a thick tweed jacket and stuck out like a sore thumb’, he has recently set his mind to achieving one more major goal. ‘I would love to be able to combine what I do live with television and develop a format for that. So what I’m really saying is I’d like to do I’m Here to Help the TV show.’ Watch this space.
Mark Dolan, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 668 1633, 5–27 Aug (not 7, 14), 6.30pm, £9–£10 (£8–£8.50). Previews until 4 Aug, £5