Over the last couple of years I’ve been watching the emergence of theatre-based comedians at the NZ International Comedy Festival with great interest.
Performers that come to the festival from the theatre world offer a lot to a festival that had previously been the domain of stand-up. From the clever staging and intricate scripting, to the vibrancy and diversity of the performances. However, what I’ve appreciated most from the comedy takeover that is being orchestrated by the likes of Chris Parker, Tom Sainsbury, Nic Sampson, Brynley Stent, and Ashton Brown is the fearlessness that these performers bring with them.
On the flip side I have, from time to time, been left a little frustrated by the seeing a potentially great hour of comedy wasted by an over-reliance on high concept at the expense of actually providing an audience with the opportunity to laugh.
As someone who seemingly lives at the Basement Theatre, I was very aware of the immense comedic toolkit that Chris Parker has at his disposal. The a frequent star of stage and screen can craft compelling characters as well as Tom Sainsbury, he’s got the quickfire wit of Nic Sampson, the infectious energy of Rhys Mathewson, and the stage presence of Eli Matthewson. Basically he’s talented – very talented.
That said, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Parker’s show Camp Binch. I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to successfully put aside his flair for improvisation that he’d so keenly honed with the Snort brigade. Stand-up comedy is also very relational – the give and take between performer and audience – would Parker be able to bring the audience along with him? Could he resist the urge that some comedians get to ‘broaden’ or ‘water down’ his undeniable comedic appeal to satisfy a festival crowd?
The answer was a resounding YES. The show absolutely floored me.
Bursting onto the stage through a shimmering black curtain Parker dove right into a song about being ‘one of the lads’. This was the Chris Parker I hoped would be present.
In interviews Parker has mentioned that growing up he found the stoicism and machismo present in All Black worshiping Kiwi culture hard to reconcile with his loud, vibrant, and “feminine” personality. With a lack of gay role models growing up, it was hard for Parker to truly be who he was and this, and our nations general disdain for the arts, akin to a tidal wave that consumed his childhood and even today has forced him to ‘tone down’ the undeniable vibrancy of his personality in order to fit in more.
It’s with this context that the next hour of comedy unfolds, as Parker takes the audience on a journey through his childhood and Christchurch and his experience growing up gay.
The topic matter was far heavier and autobiographical than I expected and in the hands of a lesser performer may have been too much to handle.
Fortunately Parker was able to extract universal truths out of his autobiographical subject matter, and take the audience along with him throughout. While in no way similar to my experiences growing up, so much of what Chris Parker shared resonated, and also unexpectedly inspired me.
But this was a comedy show and not a TED talk, and what really stood out was how often the comedian was able to reduce the audience to a hysterical, laughing mess. This was in no small part due to the comic’s unbridled joy and undeniable enthusiasm for performing.
In typical Parker style, he tapped into a variety of characters (some verging on the outright absurd) that helped paint the totality of his experiences, though it was the moments where he was on stage without the shield that a wig or voice provides that I found him at his most arresting.
Parker calls Camp Binch “a work in progress” and has performed previous iterations of it at the likes of the Dunedin Fringe Festival. And sure, there are times when I felt that the show could have benefited from a little editing here and there, but at the same time maybe that’s what works best about it?
This is a living and breathing show that grows and evolves with the comedian – as all good art should. It’s devil may care elements and the loose energy present, are intrinsically tied to what makes Chris Parker so special.
Some might bristle at the show for being more monologue than stand up, but so what? Grow up. It’s one of the funniest hours of comedy that I’ve witnessed at the Festival so far, but its also so much more. For me, this show is an example of comedy at it’s very best. It’s real, it’s inspiring, it’s deeply personal, and it’s utterly affecting. I’m pretty sure I cried a little.
You should definitely watch it.
What: Camp Binch
Who: Chris Parker
When: 9-12 May
Where: Basement Theatre
Facebook – Chris Parker
Twitter – @crobker
Instagram – @chrisparker11
- Charming delivery
- Brilliantly rendered characters
- Utterly affecting comedy