Mark Dolan – In Conversation

The food and beverage industry, in some people’s eyes, remains totally unrelated from the world of entertainment and many of you reading this may have already resigned to the fact that I’m attempting to make a somewhat tenuous connection between two different cultures. However, for writer, broadcaster and comedian Mark Dolan, growing up in a pub offered endless opportunities to entertain. Being the son of a Camden pub landlord, Mark observed the intricacies of being a welcoming, accommodating host and despite being in the world of hospitality, the fundamental aim was always to entertain guests. As Mark grew older, this lure of entertaining became something of a passion and the pub provided the perfect environment for this to take shape. 

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Drunk crowds were something which never phased the young comedian which was a blessing when joining the comedy club circuit. Heckling or boisterous audiences never seemed to bother him and this arguably offered an advantage over some of his peers. When you’ve been forced to sing or tell jokes in front of friends of your parents from a young age, suddenly you have no fear and Dolan has always used this as an incentive to push his career forward. In 2000 he reached the final of Channel Four’s So You Think You’re Funny alongside Matthew Horne and a certain Russell Brand at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Having been involved in such a prestigious competition catapulted Dolan on to the next stage of his career.


Accepting the offer to join Sky’s The Mad Bad Ad Show put Mark alongside future comedy heavyweight Micky Flanagan for this somewhat forgotten series. On meeting Flanagan for the first time, it was obvious to Dolan that he was destined to become one of the biggest names in comedy and was already on the path to do so. This was the era before the influx of original comedy programming for the broadcaster and therefore The Mad Bad Ad Show arguably went under the radar for mass audiences. Yet to work alongside the great Micky Flanagan and have a front seat to chart his astonishing success has been a pleasure for Mark and acts as the ultimate lesson in persistence for anyone wanting to enter the comedy fraternity.


By 2005 the entire television landscape was changing, thanks in part to the interactive nature of reality shows such as Big Brother. Scripted comedy was becoming increasingly more nuanced, inspired by Ricky Gervais’ groundbreaking sitcom The Office. However, entertainment shows had yet to find a way of incorporating realism and were still associated with Saturday night family ratings winners. This was all about to change when Channel Four commissioned a hidden camera show with a twist. In the era before YouTube and TikTok, prank videos were always reserved for mainstream shows like You’ve Been Framed and the like. Yet Channel Four were inspired to take the hidden camera show to uncharted territory.


On the 19th August 2005 Balls Of Steel burst on to the Channel Four Friday night lineup, continuing the naughty, cheeky mantel left by Graham Norton and Bo Selecta. Mark presided over an array of stooges including The Big Gay Following, The Annoying Devil and comedian Alex Zane as they carried out elaborate pranks on unsuspecting members of the public. The series proved a hit with the public, spawning three seasons and a Christmas special which all enjoyed good ratings for the time. However, Channel Four decided not to re-commission the show following the third series which remains a mystery to Mark and the millions of fans who tuned in for the regular anarchy on a Friday night. Yet with the birth of YouTube, the prank video lives on throughout the social media landscape and the embers of Balls of Steel live large in the memory of the comedy fan.


Fascinated by the art of broadcasting and presentation, Mark’s interest in the idiosyncratic behaviours of ordinary people made him the perfect documentary filmmaker.  Whether it’s the world’s tallest woman, the world’s strongest child or the world’s shortest man, Mark was interested to discover the anthropological aspect behind these extraordinary people and how they function in society. He was adamant not to make the series into a freak show and instead wanted to convey the story behind their exterior image and how they felt about who they were. This was a role that he took incredibly seriously and treated every subject with the utmost respect and dignity in order to paint the most accurate picture of their lives.


As a broadcaster, Mark has always been happy to metamorphosise into any desirable figure which a network requires and has enough talent to do so. Having been the newspaper reviewer for TalkRadio, Mark was promptly offered his own show on the network. Being a former radio producer, Dolan was extremely comfortable with the medium and knew his way around a studio deck. Therefore radio seemed the most obvious medium and his natural, jovial patter seemed the perfect accompaniment for the daily rat race. It’s become somewhat of a common theme throughout my interviews that when performers make the transition from television to radio, they thrive on the ability to create a unique intimacy between them and the audience and Mark is no exception. For a performer, to be given three hours of airtime to do whatever they wish must be a joyous, rewarding experience. Yet no one envisioned what Dolan would do next.


In 2021, right at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, Mark was approached by the highly publicised right wing organisation GB News surrounding the possibility of him joining the new channel. Still within the comedy fraternity and with the intention to return to the stand up circuit, this was a decision that he would have to really consider. Yet when he realised the extent of the free reign he could attain and the scope to create a show that represented him and his passion for new comedy, there was very little not to like. Mark Dolan Tonight takes an irreverent look at the biggest weekly stories alongside some which didn’t make the headlines. Essentially it’s an entertainment show on a rolling news channel and Mark relishes in the ability to find the wackiest stories to showcase as a light interlude to the frequent negativity in daily politics. Irrespective of his own views Mark Dolan Tonight in its many guises, acts as a vital relief to the controversy which surrounds the news outlet.


The word versatile is a frequent term used in many Beyond The Title articles, sometimes without adequate justification. Yet from comedian to documentary filmmaker to news anchor, Mark Dolan has done it all; the most impressive thing is that he’s still only 50 years old. It was an absolute pleasure to welcome this entertainment polymath to Beyond The Title and with such a formidable career behind him, absolutely anything could be possible!