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Andy Parsons: Spirited Satire

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Sam Bennett
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Andy Parsons is a couple of days away from a preview of his Healing the Nation tour at the time of speaking, and also in the process of sorting out where he’ll be staying as he travels the UK. The former Spitting Image writer isn’t especially fussy, but does like a hotel with swimming facilities. You can begin a tour at a certain weight, he says, and “balloon quite nicely” over its course, “so it’s always good to try and at least pretend you’re going to do some exercise.” Eating well must be difficult when touring, the temptation to just eat crap hard to fight. “It’s those meal deals, isn’t it? This whole idea that you can get an extra bag of crisps for no extra money – it seems financially irresponsible not to take them up on the offer.”

This reminds me of a story he tells in which he’s purchasing a supermarket meal deal, and the lad serving him can’t get the third item to scan through. In the end the lad makes the noise of the scanner himself and pops it in the bagging area. It made the stand-up think this country will be ok again. Is it the case now then, that we have to look for beauty in the tiny things because the larger stuff is simply too rubbish? “I suppose that is one way of looking at it. But I think you can also look at the beauty in some of the bigger things, in the sense that if you take the specific issues out, what everybody wants is often much the same thing. Everybody’s keen on having a job, a country that’s safe and being able to have their own house. If you take it down to those sorts of basics – which are still very large – we can actually see some common ground which, if we exist in this supposed media bubble or whatever it is we’re supposed to exist in, is not often easy to see.” The supermarket story is “illustrative of the fact that it’s the spirit of the people within a country that actually make that [country]. Our spirit is maybe being challenged at the moment but I have confidence we will come through as a group – that’s what the tour is about.” Despite being a country divided, he says, we should be grateful we haven’t become like Turkey or Venezuela, “and we will see where we head.”

In the area of people coming together, the conversation turns to his recent involvement in a Campaign to End Loneliness video which saw him spend time in a shopping centre chatting with strangers in a bid to encourage small connections between people. People might think for a seasoned performer that kind of gig would be a walk in the park, but I suppose it could be potentially more nerve-wracking than playing to an arena of faces you can’t properly see. “Also, the people in an arena come to see you, so they’re supposedly fans of your work. Whereas sitting down in a random shopping centre, it was certainly the case that quite a few people I was chatting to hadn’t a clue who I was – as proved by the video itself. I would very happily do it again,” he says, “it’s not something I would normally do and yet I immensely enjoyed it. Most of the conversations were incredibly rewarding and even if they weren’t, they were all extremely pleasant. There’s a general feeling that the British public don’t want somebody sat next to them talking, but we did it for four hours and could have done it for another four.”

I trek further back to his time on satirical puppet show Spitting Image, his fist television job. Back then there wasn’t much satire and not many television channels. “So ITV, ten o’clock on Sunday was Spitting Image time. To be able to come up with an idea on a Thursday, have it filmed on a Friday, go out on Sunday and be in the papers on the Monday was a great thrill.” What happened on the complaints front? “There were some people who complained, but that’s politicians, they’ll complain at everything – a bit of BBC-bashing, a bit of ITV-bashing – if it helps their particular cause. There were many politicians who weren’t particularly happy with their portrayal, but from our point of view, if everybody was happy with how we were portraying them we hadn’t done our job particularly well.” Does he regret anything he wrote? “Not that I can recall.”

Most of what he’s done in the recent past has been linked to politics, says the once Mock the Week panellist, one example of which being his podcast Slacktivist Action Group. Shortly before we speak, I’d been listening to one from early last year in which he describes the shortcomings of the then health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Now, I point out, there’s a chance he’ll be prime minister – at this stage the final vote is about three weeks away. “I think the chance is slim, I have to say, I don’t think he’s going to be troubling Number 10 Downing Street but who knows? We’re maybe only a couple of Neighbours recordings away from a surprise result.” Boris Johnson as PM doesn’t exactly flood him with confidence, it seriously worries him given the MP’s stint as foreign secretary, which “he made a muck of”.

He doesn’t seem to really talk about himself in his stand-up, though that might have altered a tad recently, he says, due to the fact he has a one-year-old and a seven-year-old. “They will certainly feature a little bit, if only in the sense that there’s a lot of talk about the future of the country and the older generation against the younger generation. But I always found it more interesting talking about what was happening in the world than what was happening in my lounge.”

In regards to his domestic life though, I wonder if he uses humour by way of disciplining. There’s a bit of slapstick, he tells me, “there’s only so much satire you can use on a one-year-old.”

Andy Parsons: Healing the Nation plays South Hill Park, Bracknell 26 September and The Theatre, Chipping Norton 27 September. andyparsons.co.uk

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