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Mark Simmons: Escapism, Pressure, and Life Advice – University of … – The Tab

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The Tab sat down with comedian Mark Simmons to discuss his upcoming tour, social media and lockdown, escapism, and career advice!
On Sunday, The Cambridge Junction will host comedian Mark Simmons as he continues his UK tour Quip Off the Mark. Having appeared on Mock the Week and performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Simmons has become well-known for his quick wit and one-liners, which took off on TikTok over lockdown.
(Credits: Steve Ullathorne)
On Tour
Simmons will be going to Cambridge as one of over 25 tour dates, half of which have already sold out. The Cambridge show has even been moved to the Junction due to the sheer demand for tickets – an indictment of his gradual rise from doing gigs in bars in Kent. He explained that to go on tour is what he has been “working towards for forever” and is ultimately “the dream.”
When asked about what he is most looking forward to on tour, Mark noted how the variety across the shows is what makes it exciting. He claimed that the shows have a sense of spontaneity, as “every venue is different and every audience is different.” He added that he does a “lot of improvised little bits and pieces in the show, so you never know what you’re going to get” – something that he says makes him excited for every date, as they will not get repetitive!
Social Media
Mark took off on TikTok over lockdown, where he has amassed over 165,000 followers after posting short snippets of his previous shows. These little clips highlight his quick wit with the audience, who he gets very involved with.
Speaking about how TikTok has influenced his career, Simmons claimed that it “absolutely changed the game for me, because it’s a way to get so many more eyeballs.” Social media has undoubtedly helped many other comedians to kickstart their own careers, without “relying on these little lucky breaks with television.”
A post shared by Mark Simmons (@jokeswithmark)
He reflected on the independence that social media gave him by explaining that he felt “in charge of [his] own destiny,” allowing him to tap into his entrepreneurial nature. Mark explained that it “blew up because I don’t think anyone else was doing that at the time,” so he now records every gig to expand his audience where he can!
The story so far
Simmons never intended to go into stand-up, though his rise to success goes all the way back to his childhood. He reminisced on how his one-liners came about through his “dad and brother,” so it was a “natural” product of his household. He had been inspired from the first Jimmy Carr show he went to, which he claimed “blew my mind”, and it led to his quick wit among his friends.
Mark reflected on how he had “never considered” going into comedy since he doubted how realistic it was, crediting the start of his career to his friend who “convinced [him] to have a go.” He explained that the first laugh gave him confidence, and this grew as he did more and more. Despite not doing a comedy course, as he did not think that he would make it, he accredits a lot of his success to “learning everything the hard way, just through failure.”
The biggest challenge so far was the transition from having a separate full-time job to doing comedy full time, and it was the “most tired” he has ever been in his life. Simmons claimed that it was “more like a hobby” as he “couldn’t afford to live off the money at that point.” Mark made the jump to full-time comedy when Sean Walsh asked him to support him on tour, which gave him some job security and a consistent stream of income since it was over 50 guaranteed gigs.
He joked about going to an old work reunion where his former co-workers claimed that he used to turn up to work with “bloodshot eyes, with hardly any sleep.” He was quick to add that, while he was tired, he “always turned up” and worked very hard to make the transition to comedy!

A post shared by Mark Simmons (@jokeswithmark)
Simmons described his career as a gradual rise, where he kept doing “slightly bigger gigs,” where he noted that he was able to mix with the bigger names during his smaller shows, because of how line-ups are built. This helped to halt any imposter syndrome when appearing on major shows such as Mock the Week, helped by how “welcoming” comedians such as Dara O’Briain were.
Dealing with the pressure
Mark spoke about how “uncomfortable” he felt under pressure – something that I’m sure all Cambridge students have experienced at some point. He claimed that he used to “get so sick before” the shows, particularly early on when he was “hiding behind this weird character.”
His confidence grew as he continued to perform and he told me how he has come on leaps and bounds from his first gig- one which he said he “doesn’t really remember,” but laughed about his mate telling him that “he was staring at the floor the whole time.”
To get over the nerves, Mark has his rituals before shows to get into a relaxed mindset. He expressed how he has to find himself in a state “where I’m completely myself,” and “calm and relaxed.” He divulged one of his early habits before shows, where he would tell himself “I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. Doesn’t matter,” to “trick myself into thinking I don’t care.” He laughed about how odd this was, as he “does care more than anything,” but needed to be himself to do well!
Simmons aims to give the audience an escape from the stresses of everyday life in his comedy, where he tries not talk about politics or the state of world affairs. For him, the purpose of comedy is for “everyone to have a really nice time,” allowing everyone to be able to “just forget about what’s happening in the country at the moment.”
A post shared by Mark Simmons (@jokeswithmark)
Life advice with Simmons
Simmons spoke about what aspiring comedians in Cambridge should do, particularly in the context of the Cambridge Footlights. He advises students that “if you work hard, you’ll be successful.”
More generally, he encourages students that the most important thing to do is to “find the thing that you love and go for it.” While he acknowledges how cliched this advice is, he noted how he has never had the feeling of going to work while doing comedy full-time, and this is what everyone should aspire to. He also added that you should “not worry if your qualifications aren’t matching up to what you want to do,” and, if you really love something you should not let anything get in the way of it.
Mark’s show in Cambridge is at The Junction, at 8pm on Sunday 6 November.
Feature image credits: Steve Ullathorne
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