An interview with Andy Parsons

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Is there a finer sight in British comedy than Andy Parsons in full flow? Possessed of dazzling comic powers, the stand-up is one of the most compelling performers around. A man driven by a rare passion for politics, he flies on stage. He is, quite simply, a wonder to behold.

Which is why it is such good news that Andy will be coming to the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill. After three previous sell-out nationwide tours, he is hitting the road once more with his brand-new show, “I’ve Got a Shed.” So leave your shed behind and come to see the show. It’s going to be a cracker.

It’s not just me who raves about Andy as a performer. The critics have been lining up to lavish praise on the comic, who has also released two very successful stand-up DVDs, “Britain’s Got Idiots” and “Gruntled.”

The Guardian enthuses that, “It’s great to welcome sharp, topical comedy onto the live circuit – and Parsons remains one of its most skilful exponents.” The Times, meanwhile, declares that, “Andy Parsons’ lethal mixture of anger and ridicule leaves the Big Society in tatters.”

Chatting to me on the eve of the tour, Andy proves as funny and feisty as he is on stage. He begins by asserting that he simply can’t wait to get back on tour. “I love doing live comedy,” beams the stand-up, who has built up a huge following after eleven highly successful series as a regular on BBC2’s very popular topical panel show, Mock the Week.

“There are few better feelings than hearing a whole theatre laughing at something you’ve written. Sometimes a room just goes ‘Bang!’ When that happens, you can almost have a sit down and make yourself a cup of tea before coming back thirty seconds later. It’s an extremely enjoyable thing. I’ve never got bored of it.” And nor have Andy’s audiences.

The comedian also relishes the fact that anything can happen when you are performing live. “It keeps you on your toes,” observes Andy, who has also proved a big hit on such TV shows as Live at the Apollo, QI, The World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Saturday Live and Channel 4’s Comedy Gala at the 02.

“You know that the moment you get complacent, that will be the show that bites you on the backside. You have to be ready to deal with anything. You could have a black-out or a fire alarm in the theatre. You could trip up on stage or someone in the audience could fall ill.”

Has that ever happened to Andy? “Yes,” replies the comic, who was one of the main writers on the original Spitting Image. “I once had someone vomiting in the front row. I was the only person who could see what was going on. I was describing it to the audience who had no idea anyone was being sick. The first laugh came from the other comedians at the back of the room who realised what I had to deal with!”

Andy is also renowned for the brilliant rapport he has with his audiences (at least, those who aren’t throwing up!) He reflects that, “On a hundred-date tour, if you had no interaction and you just did the show unchanged, it would soon become pedestrian. The best bits of any show are where you’re interacting with the audience. The great thing is that with Twitter now you can carry on interacting after the show has finished.”

So what can we expect from “I’ve Got a Shed”? Andy starts by explaining the title. “The initial premise was how more than anything else, I enjoy being in the shed at the end of my garden doing absolutely nothing. I have to fight my own laziness to do this show – or indeed to do anything at all! So to write two hours of new material every couple of years is something of a challenge.”

Andy goes on to reveal that the first half of the show will be more personal than usual. “’I’ve Got a Shed’ is more about me and my feelings. I’m not getting out a big mallet and whopping people over the head with it. I start off the show by getting off my soapbox and being introspective, which is unusual for me ”

His material is fuelled by a marvellous comic anger. Andy admits that, “I do get angry about things. Part of the show details the minor things that have upset me and how ridiculous they are. For instance, Kendal Mint Cake recently came across my radar. I have a rant about that, particularly its taste.

“They say it’s good for emergencies, but that’s because it’s the only food guaranteed to be left by the time an emergency comes around. It’s not a mint, and it’s not a cake!”

What is particularly appealing about “I’ve Got a Shed” is that many of Andy’s best jokes are at his own expense. He says that, “I talk about how lazy and careless I am and how I have a disappointing medical history. If you dish it out, can you take it? Now I’m dishing it out to myself.”

Continuing in this self-deprecating vein, Andy says, “I tell a story about how I recently fell off a Routemaster bus. It was entirely my fault. I was trying to jump off at exactly the right point, and I ended up cartwheeling down the road right in front of a bus queue. They all found it terribly amusing. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I bowed and then went round the corner for a little cry.”

In the second half of “I’ve Got a Shed”, Andy returns to more familiar current-affairs territory. The comedian explains that, “I am a news junkie and politics will always come into it. In the show, I discuss why politics is at such a low ebb at the moment. People are saying we should regulate journalists, but in fact now the public trust journalists more than they trust politicians. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs.”

He continues that, “The economy is taking most of our attention. I talk about the breakup of the banks. But what other choices do you have, if you don’t want to use a bank? I have an elongated discussion during the show about a phone call to my bank on the subject of – very unusually for a comedian! – trying to pay a tax bill.

“I discovered the reason I couldn’t pay was because they had limits to prevent fraud. I told the operator that she knew who I was because I’d just been through five minutes of security checks with her. And in the whole history of crime, has anyone ever tried to defraud anyone else by paying their tax bill for them?”

Andy’s profile was already high, but it is only being increased by the immense popularity of Mock the Week. He says that, “Not too many TV comedy shows are still going after seven years. You can’t turn on Dave without seeing it. Everyone thought it would be done and dusted after two series, but it is now on series 11.

“It’s very good in terms of profile and enabling me to do bigger tours. It works because people really enjoy watching the bun-fight between seven hungry comedians fighting for space. Also, people get their news from comedy shows these days. So if you can get your news and have a laugh at the same time, that’s not a bad way to spend half an hour.”

The comic carries on that, “The best panel shows are like sitcoms. On Mock the Week, we’ve been going long enough now for viewers to have a fair idea what our personalities are. So they’re turning on to see what comedians they know think about the news.

“The flipside of people knowing who you are,” Andy adds with a smile, “is that when you fall off the bus front of a queue, the humiliation is that much greater!”

Finally, Andy is so skilled at talking about politics, would he ever consider standing for public office himself? “That idea is mentioned in the show. But it’s very quickly pooh-poohed on the grounds that I am obviously not suitable for political office, given the characteristics I’ve talked about during the first half.”

However, he concludes, “The more we make politicians a laughing stock, the more comedians are standing for office. Comedians have been elected in Italy, Iceland and America. And there are certain politicians in this country where you think, ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve just elected a comedian!’”

Andy Parsons brings his tour, I’ve Got A Shed, to De La Warr Pavilion on March 1. For more details and to book tickets click here.

National Theatre Live at DLWP

When the National Theatre production  of She Stoops to Conquer  came to the  Pavilion in 2003 there was a Q & A session after  one of the performances where someone asked “  When will the National Theatre be coming back to Bexhill? “ I’m happy to say that this January, the National Theatre will return – broadcast  live  on to the big screen in  the Pavilion’s auditorium with its production of The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero starring John Lithgow.

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If you have not seen an NTLive production, you are in for a real treat. I’ve seen Frankenstein, Fela! and King Lear all broadcast live on screen . With Frankenstein, we actually travelled up to London to see it at a cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue  – only across the river from where the performance was simultaneously taking place.  Initially I was a bit snobby about the concept and thought that it would be a lesser  experience than watching it on stage. But  strangely I  found it that not to be so.  Being able to view the play from all different angles, including close-ups and in extraordinary high definition, was a different, if not better, way to see the play.  And it is performed live, so you don’t miss out on all the excitement, tension and impact that a live performance has.  You also feel very much part of the theatre audience, who you can see and hear before the curtain goes up.  The sound is so good that you actually feel as though you are sitting in the theatre with them.  In fact, you are part of a worldwide audience,  as the play is being broadcast simultaneously to theatres and cinemas throughout the world.   In previous NTLive broadcasts that I have seen, they have also interviewed the director before the show , which is a real bonus.

The real bonus for me is that it will be broadcast live on my birthday, January 17th.  I’m really excited that I don’t have to travel anywhere other than my home town to see this play – a real birthday treat for me.

To find out more about NTLive’s broadcast of The Magistrate at DLWP visit NTLive at DLWP.

Sally Ann Lycett, Director of External Relations at DLWP

Twitter Interview With Marcus Brigstocke

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Marcus Brigstocke comes to the De La Warr Pavilion on Friday 9 Nov 2012. In the run up to his show we decided to interview Marcus via social media site Twitter.

De La Warr Pavilion (Dlwp): Good Afternoon @marcusbrig! How are you today?

Marcus Brigstocke (MB): Very well and more than a little relieved… No Mitt. Phew. Hi by the way. How are you?

Dlwp: Good thank you. Talking of politics, your new show has been on tour a while now. How is it going?

MB: We’re gonna change the world… One silly policy at a time.

Dlwp: Has there been any truly memorable moments of the tour so far?

MB: A lady last week (71) was made minister for the elderly. I said what policies would you like? ‘Raise the age of consent to 47’ I said why? She said – “I just want to improve my odds.” Memorable moments – a softly spoken GP (late 50s) said from a medical perspective shed like to sever Andrew Landsleys head with a biro.

Dlwp: It seems the audience is key to your show? What sort of thing can they expect?

MB: Comedy… Mostly. Some light indoctrination and mild violence. They should leave having laughed a lot but with the just fire of rebellion smouldering in their bellies. (Extinguish with wine).

Dlwp: For those who might not understand, what exactly is ‘The Brig Society’?

MB: Brig Society is a stand up show where We take the government at their word and actually run more of own shit. It scares them. The Big Society is thin veneer painted over a load of ideologically driven cuts aimed at the poor They dont expect us to really do it.

Dlwp: How did the idea come about?

MB: I hadn’t written a new show since the coalition began – so it was either do a tour or explode. I’ve been writing the show for the last year… Maybe longer actually. It was time. And it feels good.

Dlwp: If given the chance do you think you would make a great Prime Minister?

MB: Oh NO! I’d be terrible. The LAST thing the UK needs is another nobby over privileged, entitled, privately educated posh boy in power. No – I’ll stick to the jokes thanks. Westminster has more than enough of my sort.

Dlwp: Apart from our own government, what other areas can we expect you to delve into in the show?

MB: The Olympics! We didn’t bugger it up! We did it really well. Really really well. Not even Boris ruined it. It was a shame no one realised when he was dangling over that park – that he was a lovely celebratory piñata. I also discuss the delightful flame haired hate crime that is Rebecca Brooks… A bit of science and religion… You know – all the usual hilarious comedy topics.

Dlwp: We have already established the audience will play a large part in the show, but what can expect to be doing?

MB: Oh nothing much other than laughing… And if they wish suggesting policies to improve the world… Oh and lending me money. The money bit is pretty important. I’m afraid bankers take a bit if a kicking in the show… Shame that. Eh?

Dlwp: Alot of people will know you from TV, are you different live? Are you pretty much what you see is what you get?

MB: Pretty much. It depends why they’ve seen. I’ve played a singing King Arthur and dressed as an elderly woman on tv. So not that. I rant a bit. I’m pretty passionate & essentially I only tackle subject I care about. I care about politics an silliness. They overlap. I’m about to interview Dame Evelyn Glennie (percussionist from Olympic Opening Ceremony) for I’ve Never Seen Star Wars on Radio 4.

Dlwp: So to sum up, what’s Marcus Brigstocke and the Brig Society and why should people come see it?

MB: Brig Society is a riotous, silly & funny show and people should come and see it only if they like that sort of thing. If not its cack. Gotta go – its been lovely. Thanks and see you soon. M x

Dlwp: Thanks for talking to us Marcus. See you Friday!

MB: Oh – and I you don’t come and see it I’ll run for PM. You’ve been warned.