Despite being in his early 40s, the star of Mock the Week and a comedy staple in the UK for nearly two decades, Andy Parsons has only just recorded his first live stand up show for release on DVD. He recorded it on Monday, in fact, at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue. I went along for t5m to see whether his likable onscreen personality translated into a good live performance.
The auditorium filled slowly as I sipped my £4 bottle of Corona poured into a plastic cup and squinted against the extremely bright lights which shone out over the crowd. A camera man was scuttling around at the front, taking what everyone assumed were establishing shots for the DVD menus or whatever. But we’ll come back to that. Projected onto the rear of the stage was a publicity picture of Parsons, which will adorn the DVD when it comes out. He is wearing a dressing gown and holding aloft an ice cream and a newspaper in order to look like a bald, goateed Statue of Liberty.
At 8pm (ish) the lights dimmed and Andy Parsons’ unique vocal stylings boomed out from offstage, modestly mocking the fact that he had to do his own introduction. Then ‘Beat It’ blasted out from the theatre’s PA system and from the top of one on-stage staircase Andy Parsons danced his way very competently down to greet us. Or rather a man who had looked at first like Andy Parsons but turned out to be a dancer with a shaven head and identical facial hair boogied on down. The real Parsons soon emerged, dancing rather more like a comedian than a member of the cast of Cats, thanked his lookalike, and began the show.
Parsons began his set with a little bit of audience interaction, identifying several city types in the front row and eliciting the seemingly mandatory boos from some of the audience. It was at this point that I realised that the hulking, bald bodybuilding chap who I was sitting next to seemed to be enjoying the show. Really enjoying it. He was laughing at every word spoken, and often pre-emptively chuckling or quietly answering some rhetorical questions that Parsons posed. And his whooping was near deafening. Literally. By the end more than a third of Parsons’ set seemed to involve him improvising and playing off the audience. He picked out seven or eight people in the stalls and kept making references back to them from time to time. And so inevitably he picked out the fellow sitting next to me to chat to. At two points during the show he also displayed that video recorded as everyone was taking their seats on the main screen for further semi-improvised audience-based mickey-taking. Though there is certainly skill and wit required to talk to the crowd and make jokes out of someone’s profession, Parsons fell back upon this trick far too often for my liking. It’s something other comics use to get people warmed up, not as the founding principle of their act.
When he finally got around to telling some jokes he had written things improved slightly. However, it was obvious based on the broad appeal of his jokes and the extremely safe topics he covered that the pressures of filming a DVD had quashed the chances of any edgy, rebellious material being included. The moments of truly topical humour were few and far between, woven into a set full of jokes based on old, established comedy staples like illegal immigration and the death of Diana. If you don’t watch a lot of stand up then this isn’t a problem, but even regular viewers of Mock the Week will find some material feeling a bit familiar even though it is arguably original. Some people like to hear well-worn jokes about topics with which they are familiar. I don’t.
Parsons is not a man who needs to prove himself. His comedy CV is impressive and there’s no doubt that he has a nimble, witty mind at his disposal. There is also little doubt that this stand up show will be a common stocking filler across the country. It won’t offend anyone, but it won’t excite or stimulate anyone either. My main problem may be that I’m a bit of a stand up snob, preferring the political surrealism of Stewart Lee, the intelligent observations of Larry David and the crass honesty of Louis C.K. In general Andy Parsons’ first DVD show will undoubtedly satisfy his fans and will probably appeal as a Christmas Day viewing option. It’s just not vital, exciting or funny enough to be truly good.
Andy Parsons’ Britain’s Got Idiots is out on 23rd November 2009.