Backstage with…Mark Olver

Backstage With Mark Olver
Backstage with…Mark Olver

This week, YTL Arena goes backstage with Mark Olver, a stand-up comedian and television warm-up artist from Bristol. Mark has warmed up the crowd for some staples of British TV comedy, including 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Pointless, Deal or No Deal, Thronecast, The Last Leg, Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled.

In 2018, Mark launched Belly Laughs, a series of pop-up comedy gigs across some of Bristol’s best independent restaurants. January is slow month for both restaurants and comedians, so Mark had the ingenious ideas to combine the two, whilst also raising money for The Julian Trust, a Bristol charity that runs an emergency night shelter for homeless people and rough sleepers.

This summer, Mark has hosted a number of pop-up gigs for fellow Bristolian comic Russell Howard, bringing much needed laughter to local venues such as Bambalan, Lakota and The Gloucester Old Spot. For a great night out, make sure you are following @markolver on Twitter and be the first to hear about any exciting gigs happening in Bristol.

1. What led you down this fascinating career path as a compere?

I started doing stand-up over 20 years ago and specialised in compering and hosting gigs quite quickly. I got quite good at it and then was asked to do some warm-up for a small comedy tv show filmed in Bristol. It went well and so I got some more. And more. And now I do more warm-up than I do stand up. But stand up is still my first love.

2. I imagine this is going to be a very difficult question to answer, but has there been a particular gig you have performed that stands out as a real career highlight for you?

There are two that come to mind, one stand-up and one warm-up. Stand-up it’s hosting the Sunday night midday gig at Greenman festival. For the last five years I’ve been given a slower when the comedy tent goes empty at midnight for headliners and burning the Greenman. I then do stupid things like live performances of Die Hard and game shows made up on the spot.

As for warm-up, there’s so many, but doing two weeks in Buenos Aires for an Australian TV and warming up there was magical. As was Rio for the Last Leg in 2016.

3. How would you summarise the feeling you get just before going on stage?

Calmness. Being on stage is the place I feel most comfortable in the world. It’s hard to explain but I do it so often, and love it so much, and know what I’m doing by now, that just before I go on I feel like this is where I’m most in control.

4. Do you listen to any music before performing? Any songs that help to calm or energise you?

I love Dolly Parton! And Motown. And musicals. Honestly, anything loud in my car on the way to a gig will do it. But mainly Dolly.

5. What advice would you give someone who wanted to start a career in live comedy? How can an amateur get their foot in the door?

It’s really easy to get your foot in the door, it’s more difficult to make a career in it. There are loads of new act nights and new material nights and Bristol has an amazing comedy scene. So, starting isn’t too difficult if you want to try it. But then you have to become addicted and gig all the time, everywhere and get better and better on stage. That’s the hard bit.

6. Your comedy shows, Belly Laughs, bring a much-needed bit of joy to the sometimes-gloomy month of January, combing delicious food from some of Bristol’s best independent restaurants with stand-up comedy. How did Belly Laughs come about?

I was doing some TV warm-up in December 2017 and saw restaurants doing deals for January, a free bottle of wine, 30 percent off and realised that there’s a gap where I can use comedy to get people into their restaurants and we can make people pay money for the comedy as well and that can go straight to charity. It’s a simple idea and works brilliantly.

Belly Laughs,
Mark Olver,

7. What’s been your proudest moment since starting Belly Laughs?

I’m so proud of all the comedians in Bristol who do it for free, my friends who come from everywhere and anywhere to do it. I’m proud that the food scene and comedy scene has come together. When we do the night at Wapping Wharf we do as many venues as possible and just standing there and watching all these comedians running around and gigging and raising money in a cold January night is amazing.

8. What do you love most about Bristol’s live comedy scene?

I think I answered this is my proudest Belly Laughs moment. I love the Bristol comedy scene because it’s full of people who want to do amazing things, silly things, who support each other. We need the scene to be more diverse, to represent all the amazing communities that make Bristol such a great city but we are getting there.

Listen to Mark Olver's new podcast, Who Said That?

Quick Fire Questions:

9. First gig, last gig, favourite gig?

An open mic night on Park St called virgin mirth. Last gig? As of writing this, my last gig was at Lakota outside, with Russell Howard. It was a magical night. Favourite gig? Greenman. But actually. At the moment. My favourite is my last gig!

10. Can you name a song that can instantly boost your mood? (and why?) 

Waiting for The Great Leap Forward by Billy Bragg. I love Billy Bragg and I love the singalong bit at the end of this song. I always sing along.

11. Which artist/band/performer would you like to see perform at YTL Arena Bristol (...and why?)

Dolly. Why? There doesn’t need to be a why. Not with Dolly. Why? Because it’s Dolly. I love Dolly. Everyone loves Dolly.

12. And finally, can you share an all-time favourite song/ a song that means a lot to you so we can add it to our YTL Arena Backstage Pass playlist?

I love Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher by Jackie Wilson. This is one of the most uplifting songs ever made.

Jackie Wilson - (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher

To listen to our Backstage Playlist on Spotify, click here. For exciting updates at YTL Arena Bristol, follow @ytlarenabristol on social media or sign up to our newsletter here.