Billy T 2015 // Hamish Parkinson

The last Billy T nominee we interviewed was Hamish Parkinson. I know less about him than many of the others. In the show he co-wrote and produced with Eli Matthewson, Velcro City, I was charmed by his expressiveness, the way he managed to lend a sense of humanity to even the most ridiculous and far-fetched of characters. His style of comedy is, in his own words, “very silly”. There is a clown-like physicality about it, and a steady strain of absurdity that runs through everything he does. Hamish feels like the most unexpected and unexpected of the nominees, which is why I’m particularly excited to see his show.

How’s your show coming along?
Pretty good. The structure of it’s all there. There’s just quite a lot of writing to do. I might have been a little too ambitious. It’s going to be quite theatrical. I definitely take on more of a character than just myself… though maybe that is me. There’s a lot of blatant metaphors that are hopefully funny. There’s a lot of audience interaction but none of it’s mean, I don’t put anyone on the spot.

How did you get into comedy?
In Christchurch, where I’m from, there’s an improv group called The Court Jesters. They do high school improv things as well and from that I got asked to join them straight out of high school.

So you’ve been doing it ever since?
Yeah, maybe like eight, seven or nine years? Almost a decade? So I should be better at it. I’m so old. I’ve only been doing stand up for like two years though. If it’s stand up. I’ve been doing stand up gigs [for two years]. That’s not a very clear answer is it?

I feel like you’re just figuring out these things yourself so I’m just going to let you work through them.
Yeah I’m just working through some issues here, it’s good. I can’t afford a therapist so I’ve come to you. 

A lot of the other nominees’ comedy seems to be about working through stuff that’s happened to them.
It’s definitely our own horrible inward thoughts about how useless we are – hopefully you people find that funny. I try to fight that but you can’t. I guess when you start with a piece of paper and you have to write about your own life experiences that’s what comes out. 

Well I guess it’s not like writing a CV, it would be pretty weird if your show were just about how great you are.
Even when you write a CV you feel so bad about yourself! Like, ‘I’ve got to make stuff up to make me sound better than I actually am.’

That’s very true. What comedians inspire your material?
Lots. At the moment I watch a lot of Broad City. Steve Martin – I grew up on all the classics. I grew up on Monty Python. I feel weird about saying that because I feel like everyone grew up on Monty Python. I grew up on Mr Bean as well. Again, that’s quite bad but I just have to accept that.  Saturday Night Live, I watch a lot of that. Tig Notaro, I love her. Emo Phillips and I also watch a lot of sitcoms. I like clowns, like Dr Brown – I think he’s a dirty and disgusting man but he’s so charming about it. There’s so many dirty and disgusting men out there, you could hate him, but he’s so good at it. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t a comedian? You act as well, right?
I guess so, but it’s comedy acting. Someone called me a dramatic actor the other day and I have no idea where they got that from. I guess I play a lot of sad characters. I’ve got a degree in filmmaking and a masters in scriptwriting. So I don’t know if I’d be able to do any of those… I entertained the idea of being a journalist at one point, so I guess maybe that? I’m kind of interested in what people are up to and I like the news. 

What do you like about the news?
Politics especially. It’s not like a joyful thing ‘cause most of the news is sad and depressing. There’s a lot of murders. But it’s such an interesting beast in terms of what is curated. You have to have happy stories in there and you also have to present it in a way that’s palatable to people – that’s interesting to me. I guess that’s what comedy is as well, it’s all about your own neuroses and fears done in a way that makes it okay. So I guess that’s like the news, or an art gallery. Or maybe [I’d like to be a] drug dealer. I feel like I could do that quite easily, ‘cause I would never take it. That’s what makes a good drug dealer, right? What would you do? Would you do comedy?

No. Never.
Why not?

It would be really scary – I guess that’s the most obvious thing. Do you find it scary?
Sometimes. Well especially with what I’m about to do tonight [the Billy T showcase]. We don’t really know how well it will go. It is a crafted piece of writing but it’s very much reliant on the audience and how they like me.

How do you get an audience to like you?
I don’t know. I try not to be a dick, I guess? That’s something I notice with a lot of people who start doing Raw comedy or starter comedy nights, a lot of comedians fail because they don’t look at the audience. It seems like such a simple thing because comedy is a conversation between you and the audience and them relating to your story, right? So why wouldn’t you look at them and engage with them?

Yeah, it does seem obvious, but engaging with so many people at once wouldn’t come naturally to many people. 
Yeah, maybe I’m really narcissistic. I don’t like being the centre of attention but on stage it doesn’t feel like you are. That’s quite a philosophical, whimsical thing to say. I never feel like it’s about me – it is about me – but like all storytelling, I’m trying to find the truth in an experience. So my job seems to be to make that as silly as possible and not reflect on it too much but kind of cut into something deeper there. I’ll probably change my mind about that tomorrow. Also, I come from quite a strong improv background and it’s been drilled into me that it’s about the other players. So when I’m doing [stand up] and it’s just me, the only other players are the audience, so for me it’s more about me than my ego. But my ego must come into it because I go up there. I don’t know how to live with that. 

Do you think about that often?
Yeah, I’m more neurotic than I think people realise. I’m never sure, I guess, which is where a lot of my comedy comes from. I do think about everything obsessively. But then again, I do improv, so you have to learn to let everything go. I think and think and then am like, “Don’t worry about that” but it’s still in the back of my mind burying a little weevil hole in my brain. 

Do you find stand up any easier after doing improv?
It’s different, especially when you’re doing 10 minute slots because the audience has such a mind maze to go through in terms of all these different people performing different styles and with all these different things to say – usually on the same things. It’s kind of like speed dating, right? You’ve got to get inside a whole new world very quickly. I’m surprised audiences aren’t exhausted by that. 

What do you like about the other nominees’ comedy?
Their comedy styles?

Yeah. Or them as people.
I like them all as people, they’re all my friends. Matt I’ve only met this year, but he’s a real nice guy, he’s real cool. He’s so cruisy, so laidback. He always looks like he’s just come from the beach, it’s so lovely. I’ve been working with Eli since The Court Jesters and we make plays together. I think he’s a genius, a sneaky little genius which is annoying for me, I wish he wasn’t. He’s going to do amazing things I think. Nic Sampson’s also quite a cruisy guy, eh? Not as cruisy [as Matt] – a little bit more self-aware maybe.

All the nominees have beautiful eyes I’ve noticed. Just looking at them in the dressing room, they’ve all got these playful little eyes. I guess I love that about all of them. Everyone seems to know who they are which is cool I think. In a nice kind of way that when you’re hanging out with them at any moment they could give you a hug. The loudmouth you can’t help but love – that’s kind of everyone. Maybe that’s just a white, millennial thing, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m like that though. I don’t know if anyone would want to hug me. I’m just like the creepy guy in the corner like, ‘Yeah, everyone’s having a good time.’ [Looking at Tim’s flyer]. He has the best eyes I reckon, he wins the eyes. Eli has the best arms. 

Have you always wanted to be a comedian?
I‘ve always loved comedy. This sounds really nerdy but I remember watching the Billy Ts when it was Rhys Darby and all of those guys doing their weird, forced style of stand up and thinking, ‘This is amazing, New Zealand stand up is cool!’ I wanted to be a cartoonist, I still draw quite a lot. And a historian. I really like NZ history, I feel like no one knows anything about it. This is quite a dark turn for the conversation to take, I was about to bring up the graves under the highways that we forgot about. Most of the comedy I like is dark. All the comedians I mentioned before are quite dark. Maybe it’s good to be dark because then you’re not hiding anything. If you’re hiding who you are it’s suspicious: why do you want people to like you? How many bodies have you got in your closet?

You can see Hamish in his show Fly or Die at the Basement Theatre from the 12 – 16 May. GET TICKETS HERE.