Treasuring the opportunity

Chris Parker performs at the NZ International Comedy Festival.
Chris Parker performs at the NZ International Comedy Festival.
It’s time to cash in on celebrity, Chris Parker tells Tom McKinlay.

Chris Parker has lots of material.

So much he forgets about some of it.

"You do all these funny weird little projects and I always forget about them, then I’m ‘oh my gosh, yes of course that short film’. That was quite a lot of fun," he says with a chuckle.

He’s just been reminded of the short film, Blue Lake, in which he starred as a YouTuber desperate for likes, that screened as part of last year’s Show Me Shorts film festival. It’s all flooding back.

"We were shooting in St Bathans, which is just, like, gorgeous, oh my God, an amazing gem," Parker enthuses.

It is one of a growing list of reasons to have laughed along with the comedian.

Among others, he’s been a regular at Dunedin’s Fringe Festival, toured nationally with a fondly nostalgic piece of theatre based on the Hudson and Halls TV show, and become a fixture on TV comedy panels.

And then he went and won Celebrity Treasure Island, accruing more likes than you could shake a cursor at.

"They did a really good job of lining up that show with national lockdown," Parker says, "so everyone was kind of sad in their houses over winter watching a bunch of New Zealand celebrities prance around on a beach — that was shot at the beginning of the year. And I think people found it a great outlet of escapism."

As a result he was introduced to a whole new range of New Zealanders, he says, people who hadn’t seen his comedy before.

"I talked so much about being a stand-up on that show that I was, ‘I should probably put my money where my mouth is and do a show’."

The original plan was for the tour, "Gentle Man: The Best of Chris Parker", to have travelled down the motu at the start of the year. But then there was Omicron — Covid giveth and Covid taketh away. Parker sat tight.

The air having cleared sufficiently, he’s now doing Dunedin, Oamaru and Queenstown next month.

As "The Best of" implies, the show draws from Parker’s previous stand-up routines, including NZ International Comedy Festival performances and his Edinburgh Fringe appearance, mixed in with new material. But it sounds like Celebrity Treasure Island, for all its promotional gold, might not feature largely.

"It’s so funny, I wish it was a funnier experience, so I would have more to joke about," he says, "but it was honestly such a genuinely challenging and inspiring experience.

"Deeply earnest and felt more like a self-help book," he adds with a cackle.

The challenges weren’t all physical, or even mainly.

"It was just living on the beach next to Buck Shelford, Sir Buck Shelford, and trying to get along with him. You couldn’t think of two more different guys, New Zealand men, than me and Buck Shelford. All we had in common was the fact that we were doing that show together. Having to be comfortable in that environment and get along with him, I think a lot of the social dynamics of a show like that were probably the hardest part. The rest of it was games. The difficulty of the games sat between a Christian school camp and a drunken hens’ do."

He muses about the possibility of a show based on drunken hens’ nights, and may not be joking.

As for the dubious distinction of being marked out as a celebrity, Parker’s fully on board.

"Anyone can call themselves a celebrity who has been on a show called Celebrity Treasure Island, that’s a wonderful hack I’ve learned," he says, wryly.

It’s a notoriously ephemeral distinction though, and Parker clearly wasn’t counting on more than the proverbial 15 minutes.

"I thought I’d do a week and just be funny and then I ended up winning the bloody thing. It was a bit of a shock actually."

And alongside any career benefits, there was also the little matter of winning $100,000 for his charity, Rainbow Youth, a "life changing" sort of sum.

In a way, "Gentle Man: The Best of Chris Parker" picks up where that effort left off.

"It’s a show about me not necessarily being the most typical picture of a New Zealand Kiwi bloke, but learning about being my version of what that is," he says. "So it is a bit of a reflective hour on, I guess, identity and authenticity and being yourself, and the many funny ways I have tried to be like everyone else and have failed miserably."

The show

Chris Parker, Gentle Man

 - Dunedin, August 11

 - Queenstown, August 12-13

 - Oamaru, August 14

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