Wednesday, 4 August 2010

SilentMark returns to Diversity FM - Exclusive Interview

When Diversity FM presenter SilentMark Read announced he would be taking a break from the hosting the tri-weekly morning slot The SilentMark Radio Show in June, virtual-lancaster is told his fans were a bit dismayed.

There was more bad news to come: when he returned in late July he announced he'd be tapering off his breakfast slot in line with revisions to the Diversity schedule - and to prepare himself for an upcoming appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Since Mark would be closing one chapter of his radio career and opening a new one with a proposed evening slot, it seemed like an opportune time to catch him with some questions. Fortunately, he was kind enough to answer and, here, SilentMark discusses radio and live comedy with Tom Bramhall: about his return to the airwaves, his contributions to local community radio and some of his experiences writing and performing live comedy.

As something of a fan-boy, Tom counts himself amongst a group of dedicated listeners who contribute regularly to the show, via text, email, call-in or otherwise and he hopes this interview will either serve these listeners well, as well as helping to introduce some new people to Mark s radio and live shows.

(Please note: this interview includes links to several comedians' web sites, whose material may offend some. Virtual-lancaster takes no responsibility for this external content!)

Tom: Mark, it's great to have you back. I strayed - started listening to Alice Cooper! How does it feel to be on-air again?

Mark: Alice Cooper? I am insulted. Ha. I'll be honest -- you could have done worse and strayed to N-Dubz. It's wonderful to be back actually. I have missed it.

Tom: What did you do with your time off?

Mark: I just did my usual. Save the world from natural disasters, granted wishes to 50,000 homeless people and found a cure for Piers Morgan (it's a gun -- shh).

Truth is I just took a rest. It takes it out of me to work nights and do a breakfast show after a while.

Tom: Amazing. I remember you went away before, but maybe that was for a shorter period - It's coming up to three years on air now, right?

Mark: It is, yeah. For me though, in October it will be, I think, seven years since I've been doing Diversity. The same with Evil Lewis, Banksy, Monkey Island and Simon Norfolk, I think. But three years of non stop DFM, it's a scary thought.

Tom: What's changed since the start?

Mark: I've seen lots of people come and go, that's one thing that's changed. In myself, I've found my own way of presenting, which as strange as it may seem suits me: shambolic, pointless, purposefully unorganised. Luckily though, I've managed to be a presenter myself instead of relying on people to do it with me.

When I first started I had a co-presenter (Kim) then met evil Lewis and have been presenting with him since then. We always did shows together, but when we started presenting full time, we did separate shows to make the Friday show the big conglomerate of creativity, chaos and unwarranted laughter you hear on a Friday. Before that, doing shows alone was hard, but I like to think I manage it OK now.

Tom: I think you manage it remarkably well, what's made it easier?

Mark: The same way you get to Carnegie Hall ... use a map. Practice really. I love the music I play and from doing it for many years I've found loads more bands that I enjoy. Having that passion does make it easier.

Tom: Since I'm going to assume some of the people reading this may be new to the show, what can we expect to hear of an average morning?

Mark: There's never an average morning -- OK, yeah, average is about right! I like to think of my show as an alternative to an iPod: songs that might not be singles being played at considerable volume with me talking crap through it. Songs what I like, with a bit of comedy in the middle of it.

Katy Perry. Image via WikiMedia
Tom: It's better than average. You have good ears - maybe you'd like to compile a playlist we can close with? It's interesting how so many of the acts you've played will achieve national success a few months down the line. Is it true that you discovered Katy Perry!?

Mark: Not at all. I'd like to think that I was the first person on radio in the UK to play her, but I'm not 100 per cent sure. I'm just glad I was able to play songs from her album before "I Kissed A GirlI Kissed a Girl" got on Radio 1.

I've played a lot of artists before their official "UK radio play" which is either on Xfm, Radio 1, 6 Music or Kerrang radio.

Tom: You've also championed local bands and musicians...

Mark: Ones I like yes. Including your fine self, I may add. There are some amazing local artists and bands that could easily get air play in national radio, but our station is the best they can do until those stations buck their ideas up.

Tom: That's very kind of you. I think your show, together with The Real Alternative, Northern Skies and Off The Beaten Tracks have all been very supportive of what's been happening locally.

(I wanted to ask if you see any clear differences between community and commercial radio - or else between community level radio and what's happening on the national stations?

Mark: The difference between us and commercial stations is that we actually care about the music we play. Commercial stations seem to have cheesy presenters with a cheesy joke, then a song that nobody actually likes whilst being told they love it, the five adverts that pay for the station... With us, our presenters put time, effort and passion into their shows. You hear our shows and you can tell that these songs mean something to is.

As for national stations, some presenters care about the music, some care about the entertainment side of it (which is also important) but they have the backing of the money, publicity and the staff that make it work. [I think] Chris Moyles wouldn't be popular if he didn't have writers or five people on his staff.

Tom: One of the advantages of Diversity does seem to be their volunteers having ownership on their content. I feel like the shows are more representational of local people and their interests - personalities seem to come through more directly than they do on the commercial stations? It's interesting to me too how rare it is that you'll find people emulating the format of national stations.

Mark: With national stations, they're trying to get an audience. They don't need funding as most of then are owned by the BBC. Commercial stations are looking for customers rather than listeners.

Tom: And yet you seem to have drawn an audience with no apparent advertising or corporate funding?

Mark: It's strange. The whole thing has come about from word of mouth and the odd thing in The Visitor. We've been really lucky. We've got an amazing listener base who tell friends about it, some garages actually tune in their customers cars into us etc. It feels awesome having people think that much of us.

Tom: It's good to know there's so much support for Diversity within the area. Getting away from the radio a bit now, can I ask you how the stand-up is going?

Mark: My stand up is going relatively slowly. I'm having trouble at the moment finding gigs and getting my material tuned well enough to make people laugh.

Writing funny things is very hard. Comedy would be awesome if you didn't have to be funny.

Tom: I assume you to do a lot of preparation for your set pieces, from watching other performers to writing and tuning up the sketches themselves - would that be a fair comment?

Mark: Sort of. Most of the things I have written, I literally come up with in my head and fine tune them there too. Unfortunately for my friends, I try it out on them! I judge how funny it is on them and fine tune those bits there. Not much is written down, which is a downfall as I often forget things.

Tom: What makes you laugh, Mark?

Mark: That's a hard one. I have lots of favourite comedians, but listing them all here would be hard and would fill up the page. Other things make me laugh.

I have a current obsession with Lolcats and clips on the internet of children being kicked in the face with over-sized balls. I'm not a guy that can be easily offended so dark humour can always be a fun thing.

Tom: I think this the dark humour comes across on-air and at the shows. On-air you're clearly bound by Off-Com regulations, but the live stuff - as I know it, seems to skirt the edges of more, uhm, offensive material (for want of a better term). Would you agree?

Mark: I wouldn't disagree. I try not be offensive, and if I'm honest I try to tell people that. I'd like to think that most of the laughter comes from the fact I think the things I say, rather than the things themselves. A section I do about sex is a perfect example. The things are sort of funny, but most of the laughs I get are from the fact that someone thought them.

Tom: how have audiences responded?

Mark: The things I say don't always go down well. Whether that's 'cos my mind is that bad, or the audiences are wrong. Maybe these things should be kept when I have people wanting to come and see me.

Tom: I was reluctant to call it offensive for this reason. The humour seems to play on the expectation that there's probably a more, ah, politically correct take on some of some of things you'll be talking about - and I've seen you exploit this by going somewhere else. But when it's worked best for me, there's also been some pathos. I'll get lulled in by the stories you're telling: the person talking seems funny because he can't be anything else, and the comedy seems to grow out their skewed confrontation with the world. (I guess I'm trying to say that I've enjoyed this about your sketches and I wonder whether some of the impact could be missed if you decided to hold back.

Mark: I actually agree with that. I've always been a nervous person in general and try to give the best impression of myself (I know, a DJ and comic who's nervous!?). My stand up character is supposed to be loud, knowingly obnoxious but who also knows his downfalls.

My problem is that my nervousness in real life still creeps in, so when I do hold back it seems like being actually offensive instead of seeing that I know how ludicrous it is.

Tom: I usually enjoy writers and performers who can let aspects of their personalities colour the material. Maybe it makes things that bit more complete? ... Like I never believed Matt Le Blanc in Friends was ever really dumb, you know? It was cartoon dumb.

Mark: Matt Le Blanc wasn't the only thing I didn't believe in Friends. For example, would anyone be friends with any of them? :)

I know what you mean though. It's nice to see the heart and soul of the performer. That might be why I have trouble watching people like Peter Kay, or Al Murray, or Roy Chubby Brown even. There doesn't seem to be any heart or soul to their performance. Al Murray is good, he gives a brilliant performance as the character "The Pub Landlord" -- but it has now got to the point where this "ironic bigot" and "mirror up to the society we live in now" has started to attract the type of people he was lampooning and has lost the spark in it.

Tom: I wonder how hard it is to keep a spark alive when you've got X-thousand people waiting for you to say something recognisably funny? I guess this was that joke on Extras - getting backed into a corner.

Who are the performers you admire at the moment?

Comedian Daniel Kitson. Image by Charlie Brewer via Wikimedia
Mark: Comedy wise, Daniel Kitson is kind of a hero. Both performance wise and content wise. His method of performing, the shows he does and the passion he puts into them is a special type of amazing. He's a comedian that will never be topped in my opinion. He also has a knack for manipulating you into feeling something. I have never known a comedy show to actually make you feel emotional at the end, but his story show about a church road leaves a lump in my throat at the end no matter how many times I listen to it.

Otherwise, I have a lot of respect for people like Tim Minchin, Rhod Gilbert, I even have respect for Noel Fielding's performing as he has a certain charm that makes people want to watch him... Not me personally, but he puts some people into a trance.

Another performer worth noting is Brendon Burns - an Australian comic based in the UK. He's an offensive comic but with reason. Not bigoted, not overly offensive, but will say things that will shock you. Not because it will shock you, but because of an ulterior motive. He can go from pin-droppingly emotional to belly laughing crude and funny in a second. Watch his DVD "So I Suppose This is Offensive Now!" to see what I mean. I like his performance though, because you know it's scripted, but it seems more like a stream of consciousness.

Tom: Thanks for the tip-offs there. Can I wrap up with a few extra questions ... Do you still wear Vans?

Mark: Of course I do. They're a little haggard if I'm honest. So if anyone from Vans wants to donate a pair, I'm size 9 and checkers would be best.

Tom: You rock the two-tone spiffingly, I should add. What should we look out for from you during the next couple of months?

Mark: Well, these are my last two weeks of doing the breakfast show on Diversity. Circumstances have changed and I cannot do breakfast anymore, so I'm changing time slot. I will tell you as soon as I get it but it will be just as good if not better in the new slot.

Apart from that I am doing a little something at the Edinburgh festival this year (just for a day). I'm doing a part in a quiz called "Quiz In Your Pants". It's a comedy panel show that's done live. I've no idea what I'm doing yet, but it's gonna be fun anyway. I'm doing that on the 22nd August.

Tom: Well best wishes with that, very pleased for you there Mark. In the meantime, you'll be sorely missed of a morning.

Mark: It's going to suck not being there in the morning. But I will say, you haven't heard the last from me sir. Anything else you want to ask?

Tom: Aside from asking if you can leave us SilentMark's Infinite Playlist, I guess there's room here for you to say anything you think we might have missed off...

Mark: Well, it has been an actual honour to present radio towards your faces for the past two and a half years. It's been very very wonderful. I should be back on air on Monday evenings from the 9th  August, but I will let you know. See Tom, it's people like you that have made my job an enjoyable one. It sounds very very "lovey" but it is the listeners that make my job worth it, and every text or email I get means the world to me. Even the ones off Dave the Listener.

OK... so here's my Infinite Play list - a list of ten songs I've played that mean a lot to me:

1) Bouncing Souls - Gone
2) POS - Purexed
3) Black Nazarene - System
4) Shanti Wintergate - Novocain
5) Reel Big Fish - One Hit Wonderful
6) Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between
7) Imperial Leisure - The Landlord's Daughter
8) TAT - Bloodstain
9) Alkaline Trio - Mercy Me
10) Ponies - Hammer

Tom: Mark, thanks for brightening up my morning's the past couple of years. I wouldn't listen to anything else given the choice. It's been great, hilarious and really nice to see it develop. Here's wishing you all the best for future adventures - comedy and otherwise.

Web Links

• SilentMark can be heard on Diversity 103.5FM on Monday evenings and online at For information on upcoming performances check

• Tom Bramhall writes and plays for Ponies ( A selection of Ponies recordings can be heard at

and you can see them play live this Thursday evening 5 August at the Golden Lion, Lancaster, where they're appearing with Moll Baxter.

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