Andy Parsons: Gruntled

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s a typical scene in a typical market town on a typical Friday night: a large crowd of lairy lads make their way from their Wetherspoon’s session through a deserted shopping centre, some still brandishing pints, loudly and incoherently wahay-ing every asinine comment. Not aggressive, just inconsiderate and domineering.

Sadly they were making their way to Andy Parsons’ gig. In Andover’s The Lights they vociferously demolished the preamble, and quite a few of the punchlines with moronic comments or primal grunts they considered wittier than anything a mere professional comic could come up with. In a decent club, bulky bouncers would have had a quiet word, but this is a middle-class arts centre where all we have is ushers – community-minded women in late-middle age – and the silent disdain of everyone else.

Maybe this is the audience Mock The Week brings you, via the double-edged sword of fame. Maybe it’s just a random group of lads drawn to any form of weekend entertainment. Either way, it doesn’t sit well with Parsons’ attempts to talk politics – it’s like Chubby Brown’s audience being presented with Mark Thomas. He mentions Zarganar, the Burmese comic jailed for 35 years for trying to aid the victims of the 2008 cyclone. ‘Good!’ the lads snigger. Fucking twats.

They eventually settle down – and in the second half are quiet completely, the interval drink presumably tipping them into catatonia – but it’s like being in a show with a Speed-style bomb in the auditorium. Say the wrong thing, and all will erupt. Add a more coherent, but equally vocal, heckler quizzing Parsons on his communist tendencies, like a low-lever McCarthy witch-hunt, and you have the recipe for a weird gig indeed.

Still, there is a show to be performed amid all this; and Parsons soldiers on unfazed, acknowledging the problem but not feeding it with attention.

For this year’s tour, he mixes his usual topical messages with more personal anecdotes. He’s even got a bar stool he can perch on to differentiate between the two, sitting for stories, standing for invective. The mix works well, stopping the issues-based material becoming too preachy, and humanising that slightly robotic nasal grunt that gives him such a distinctive cadence.

Even though he works on a competitive topical show that demands pithy wit, the newsier material is probably the weaker part of the equation. In both cases, he’s heavy on the set-up: but when he has to establish the pertinent facts and his own philosophies on current affairs, it feels like he’s on his soapbox; yet with the stories, exposition is clearly a more integral part of the scenarios.

His portfolio is wide-ranging, encompassing NHS reforms, looting, the Coalition’s attitude to benefits, the Islamic call to prayer and America’s far-right Tea Party – and he proves that material about politicians’ idiocy writes itself. He describes his approach as simply remembering and repeating the things he shouts at the TV, which is a fair summary. Sometimes, however, this means his gags are first-base ideas, not really developed, but always striking a chord with the many people who would have thought the same.

Of himself, he takes us through the questions most often asked of stand-ups - how he got started, poorly-attended Edinburgh debuts, awful gigs – as well as a couple of personal medical tales and some more immediately relevant issues, such as the matter of offence in comedy, particularly on the BBC. But the one story you’ll remember – as he freely admits – is the foreign object he found in jar of mayonnaise. Forget Helmand, his misery is Helmann’s.

The strands are loosely linked by the idea of happiness, and how the increasing iniquity of British society is linked to national malaise – especially relevant in the wake of the recent riots – but that’s a bit of an afterthought to help him reach a satisfying conclusion.

Still the device works, and although this is a solid show rather than a spectacular one, it provides plenty of decent laughs while allowing Parsons to reveal a little more of himself – even if it’s strictly rationed – than ever before.

Review date: 10 Sep 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Andover The Lights

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