Andy Parsons: 'There are few better feelings than hearing a whole theatre laughing'
Andy Parsons talks to Whatsonstage.com ahead of his forthcoming tour stop at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne
As Andy Parsons prepares to bring his tour to the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle on 26 October, we took the chance to chat with the great man himself. To be fair, Parsons 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 11 highly successful series as a regular on BBC2's 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 Parsons' audiences.
The comedian also relishes the fact that anything can happen when you are performing live. "It keeps you on your toes," observes Parsons, 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 Parsons? "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!"
Parsons 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? Parsons 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."
Parsons 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. Parsons 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 Parsons' 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, Parsons 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, Parsons 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?"
Parsons' 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," Parsons adds with a smile, "is that when you fall off the bus front of a queue, the humiliation is that much greater!"
Finally, Parsons 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!'"
As part of his national tour, Andy Parsons is at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle on 26 October