Andy Parsons is still bafflingly optimistic

Andy Parsons

Since February, Andy Parsons has been touring the UK with his new show, Bafflingly Optimistic, which focuses on seeing the silver lining when the world seems to be falling apart. The sellout tour has recently been extended with new dates being added for this autumn, including a performance at London's Leicester Square Theatre on 15th May.

Recently, we had the chance to speak to Parsons about Bafflingly Optimistic. We discussed how he first got into comedy, what his creative process was like for this show and even what he hopes audience members take away from it.

How did you first get into the world of comedy?

So I did a bit of acting at university, but the actors all seemed to take it very seriously. I didn't actually do English for A-level - I did double maths, physics and chemistry. The state school that I was at, you could either do arts or you could do sciences. I was quite keen to mix them but it just wasn't physically possible with the timetable. So I ended up doing sciences, which I hated. And then I was quite keen to do English at university, but they said, "Oh, you can't do it because you haven't done it for A-level." So then they said, "Oh, you can do law, though, because it's halfway in between science and art!"

Andy Parsons. Credit: Andy Hollingworth

[Laughs]

Of course, it wasn't - it was just a miserable experience all around. So I was very keen to do other things. I got into acting, but because I hadn't done too much English literature, everybody seemed to know far more than I did. So I got in with the comedy crowd and you didn't have to know too much - you just had to muck around. And they seemed much more fun, so that was really how I started doing some comedy!

I was at Cambridge, so everybody thinks it's going to be Footlights and all the rest of it, but I started trying to do some stuff for Footlights and nobody was very interested! So I did this double act with somebody else, a Footlights reject as well. We got involved with the National Student Drama Festival and they took us up to the Edinburgh Festival. We had great fun with them! And it was really only after having some success with the National Student Theatre Company that we then managed to get involved with some Footlights stuff. So in terms of getting our interests going, the National Student Drama Festival and Theatre Company were the ones who first took us up to the Edinburgh Festival, took a punt on us and here we are!

And what made you want to write Bafflingly Optimistic?

Well, everything seems to be going tits up around the world, doesn't it? So it seemed to be slightly counterintuitive to write something that was upbeat. And obviously, if you are on tour, you want people to come out and see the show. You don't want people to come out to the show and get depressed. "Did you enjoy the show?" "Yes, I feel empty inside." That's not the response you're after. You want people to come out, but you also want to talk about everything that's going wrong.

They say that being able to laugh at what's going on is a brilliant response to stress - it reduces the stress. And it's something that we in Britain are supposed to be good at; self-deprecation's supposed to be part of the British sense of humour. It's certainly true, because I come out at the top and list all of the things going wrong with the world at the moment. And then at the end, I say, "Well, you know, there are very few countries in the world where you come out and say 'everything's gone to shit' and actually get a cheer!" The fact is that you can't do that, for instance, in America. I know you can't do that because I have tried!

Andy Parsons

Oh no! [Laughs]

If you go to America and say, "It's all gone to shit here", chances are they just go very, very quiet and then you could hear the click of a safety catch coming off. We talk a little bit about statues, we talk about the transgender debate, we talk about Rwanda, Ukraine quantitative easing - good little section on quantitative easing! - and then trying to find the silver linings round all of these different cultural issues. So if we can pull it all together, that's the dream!

And what is the creative process like for creating a show like Bafflingly Optimistic?

I suppose it's slightly changed! I did 10 years of Mock The Week, so often that would be weekly topical, so you'd have loads of gags that you'd written for the week that you would then tour, trying to mash them together as a show. It was very much gag-heavy whereas this is an opportunity to write more elongated segments, actually taking a chunk like statues, quantitive easing or the transgender debate and following through arguments, taking them further. That's been good fun. So this show is very much more about chunks!

Mock The Week. Image shows left to right: Hugh Dennis, Dara O Briain, Andy Parsons

You mentioned Mock The Week. What is it like performing on stage versus on screen for a show like that?

Well, Mock The Week, as we continued on and on, there was more and more layers of bureaucracy. We got away with a fair amount to begin with and then the BBC compliance came in. So you'd have producers, then executive producers, then another line of management from the BBC and then the bosses. So you'd say all in the recording and then two days later, you'd find out whether it made the edit or not.

With a live show, you can literally write it ten minutes beforehand, and go, "Wow, this has just happened. Let's see what this audience makes of this!" You've written the whole thing and then you just throw it in the air, get on stage and just see where this audience is gonna go. You've got a few pointers that you're expecting to hit as you go through the show but sometimes you never get there. And that's the great fun of the live stuff and why touring around the country is never dull - there's always something that hasn't happened at a previous show.

And how has it been touring this show so far?

It's been great! The response has been lovely and ticket sales have been good, which is always nice. Hopefully, the title, Bafflingly Optimistic, has encouraged more people to come out rather than Understandably Pessimistic! [Laughs]

It's lovely. You get to play all these wonderful theatres. This is maybe the seventh or eighth tour that I've done and I know the venues that I like. Most towns have got a wonderful old theatre, Victorian or Edwardian, and you love playing those. And often you can open up with, "Here we are in a heritage venue with heritage heating and heritage dressing rooms", but it is wonderful that we have these beautiful theatres. And it's lovely to see your name up in lights, that was a dream starting off - can you tour yourself? Can you play these theatres on your own? It's wonderful, and often the name in lights is spelt correctly! Occasionally, there is a letter missing. I was doing one recently, "One night only! Andy Arsons" was performing. But it's been a delight.

And we've extended it so we've now got some dates in the autumn - I think about 110 in all. We've got a few left of the spring tour, including Leicester Square Theatre in London. So it'll be nice to come back to London - I did many, many years of The Cutting Edge at The Comedy Store just around the corner from there, it'll be fun to do!

Andy Parsons

You mentioned before about how Britain is one of the few places where you're able to talk about how badly things have gotten and get a laugh. What do you think it is about the British culture that makes it that way?

Well, part of what we discuss in the show is people getting very offended and everybody's up in arms being cancelled and then actually talking about what laws you have to comply with. It's the Public Order Act 1986 if anybody's interested! [Laughs]

But, the fact is, hardly anybody has ever been cancelled for anything they've said on stage. The only one that arguably was is Jerry Sadowitz - at the Edinburgh Festival, he was due to play two nights and got cancelled for the second night. According to the venue he'd racially abused a member of their staff. Got cancelled, was due to play a venue of capacity 500. And then through all the publicity he got for that cancellation, he got to play the Hammersmith Apollo, capacity 4,000. The whole idea that everybody's been cancelled left, right and centre is simply untrue.

What do you hope audiences take away from bafflingly optimistic?

What I really want them to do is love the show, want to come back for the next tour and also tell everybody that they've loved the show, so more and more people come and see this! That would be that'd be fabulous - that's the dream. And, as I said, the feedback has been great, and people aren't shy of feedback these days, are they? Hopefully, it's been as enjoyable to watch as it has been to perform. There are chunks in the show which are great fun to perform, so it's one of those where you actually look forward to going out and doing it every night!

And finally, how would you describe Bafflingly Optimistic in one word?

I would hyphenate "bafflingly" and "optimistic!"


Bafflingly Optimistic is on tour across the UK until 6th December. More information on venues and tickets can be found via andyparsons.co.uk

Share this page