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InterviewsMay 20, 2015

My Life in TV: Weed Jokes and New World Ads with the 2015 Billy T Winner Hamish Parkinson

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Alex Casey talks to the 2015 Billy T Winner Hamish Parkinson about being raised by TV, playing the New World guy, and what he’ll do with the coveted yellow towel. 

Hamish became a national star a while back, when these New World ads played before every pre-roll on the internet, and the image of a turtleneck-wearing man floating through a supermarket was at peak saturation. That’s our TV hook right there, and you are just going to have to deal with it. Interview = justified. But there’s a lot more to Hamish than yam-handling and being hoisted through the fruit and veg aisle. He’s a deeply accomplished writer, filmmaker, actor and comedian, who took home the coveted yellow Billy T towel this year for his show ‘Fly or Die’.

I saw the show, it was incredible. Every traditional element of stand-up show was magnified, amplified and, to use a phrase from our X Factor winner Beau, “buzzed out” the wazoo. The dynamic entrance. The snappy audience interaction. The cool music. All of these normal conventions were reshaped, regurgitated and reborn in a unique entity. It was amazing to witness a performer truly thinking out of the box and going absolute balls to the wall. Those lazy clichés pack a lot more punch if you’ve seen the show, trust me.

Anyway, it was an award-winner for sure – deserving of a towel for the amount of clean up required alone. I thought I would catch up with Hamish after his triumphant win, to talk about his small time on the small screen, and how life is going with a new luxury neck towel.

Let’s take it back a bit – did you love TV growing up?

My sister and I would watch Sesame Street and Playschool all the time. I watched Ren and Stimpy and The Simpsons from a very early age. My parents had no filter when it came to TV. I feel like I could confidently say that TV sort of brought me up. I watched a lot of Spin City – it weirdly dawned on me the other day that I had seen all of it as a child and never thought about it again.

Did you think you wanted to be on TV when you were younger?

No. I’ve never really planned anything in my life. It’s just one of those things that happened when I moved to Auckland [from Christchurch]. I just thought, ‘I guess it’s time to do that thing that everyone does’. I did do one Japanese commercial when I was a kid. I played a smiley fox, because I had good teeth. I wore a full-on mask so the only human part was the mouth, and had to play the accordion to this little girl. I’ve never actually seen the ad.

Definitely sounds like that wasn’t an ad.

At least that’s what they told us… I don’t know, when I was younger I couldn’t play a sport or a musical instrument so Mum put me in a drama class. I went on to do Theatresports, still back in the day where I thought Whose Line Is It Anyway was actually funny.

Since the fox you’ve done some pretty successful ad campaigns, did you ever worry about being stuck to “The New World Guy” character?

Not really, I think I’m very separate from it. I’ve done so much stuff that is my own and that I’m creatively responsible for, so it’s another thing altogether. The people who see me as The New World Guy are definitely not the people who will come to my comedy shows.

Do you get recognised for it still?

Yes, but it comes in waves. The campaign played at the movies for ages. I walked in once as it started and my girlfriend at the time burst out laughing. All these 13-year-old boys turned around and would not stop staring at me. Just like it was some sort of 3D experience. That’s also the day that I realised being in an ad is not a great brag for a date. It’s nothing to be proud of, it’s very shameful.

I got recognised every 30 minutes at Laneway earlier this year. People would just run up to me drunkenly and slur “I like that ad bro”. Two dudes came up and got their photo taken with me, but they forced me to take off my glasses to look more like the ad.

What do you think they’ll do with that photo?

I honestly don’t know. Famous Guy Williams was right behind me as well. I guess those people just watch only the ads and go and make a cup of tea whilst the TV shows are playing, “I love the ads, they’re so nice and loud”.

What are you watching on TV at the moment?

Broad City. Parks and Recreation, Bob’s Burgers. I haven’t really had the me-time to watch a lot of TV at the moment. I really think New Zealand should have gone for The Bachelorette. The guys would be amazing, all these mumbling kiwi blokes trying to compete for love, and just getting absolutely crushed. I would watch the shit out of that.

There was a great bit in one season of The Bachelor US where the guy finds out that one of the Bachelorettes used to date Fabio. He storms into the ocean and is like “I can’t believe this shit”. It’s like, you’ve just been kissing 20 girls and you’re upset about one guy who used to be on the cover of romance novels?!

I guess we should probably talk about comedy. Congratulations on your now award-winning show, where in the hell did it come from?

I originally had this idea to use a spinning wheel, and whatever trick it lands on I’ll do a bit based on that. That turned out to be impossible, so I changed it and honed it a bit into this garbled thing. I tested it in Dunedin in it’s very early forms.

Your show is a huge departure from bog standard stand-up, did you make an effort to have a point of difference?

Not really, it’s just me. I’m mostly just bit of a structure nerd. I did my Masters in scriptwriting so I’ve always worked in that discipline. I think I’m probably more clown than stand-up, I’m much more of a theatre guy.

I’ve heard people say this, I think – do you think it’s easier for actors to do stand up comedy?

I don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of actors try stand up and fail hard. People sometimes say it’s easier for writers too, and that’s wrong as well. I think there’s a million ways to get into comedy, and there’s no one easy way to do it. I come from a theatre background not an acting background, I just learnt acting out of necessity. I was a weird kid, and I made friends by making people laugh.

In my seventh form play we did this real serious WW1 play set in a bunker. My character was supposed to kill himself at the end. They gave me this huge ’70s moustache to wear. To enter this real sombre scene, I had to walk down the stairs very seriously and place my helmet down. As soon as the audience saw me coming they started laughing raucously. That’s when I knew I could never do serious.

I think the biggest part of comedy is accepting who you are, and knowing what you’re funny at. If you look at the Monty Python cast – none of them are very good actors but they know what they can do well. John Cleese has one character – shouty guy. And he’s still going strong today.

Did you notice some similarities across shows in the festival? I couldn’t help but notice some massive Mary J parallels.

It’s very weird, it seems like there were a huge amount of 420 jokes, as there was audience mind-reading. A lot of us comedians are friends and we obviously all talk to each other and are interested in the same things. Like all the Snort people will always go out of their way to point out 420. That private joke in particular has come through in a few shows for sure, including mine.

Why do you reckon weed is so damn funny?

There’s something about the reverence it gets, it’s like a mystical secret that absolutely no one is good at hiding.

You involved the audience quite heavily in your show, how did you go about getting people to play along?

I generally try to have a rule that audience interaction is something that I could deal with if I was an audience member. Because I hate being singled out at shows. But I also really like playing around, so it’s just finding a balance between the two. I think I might have broke that rule this year when I put my butt in someone’s face.

Your finalé was one of the most tremendous things I saw in the festival, was that always part of your plan?

Originally I was going to get the audience to carry me on a little trike and get me to fly through the air. Another finale idea was going to be me wearing a knapsack and leaving to kill Hitler. Eventually I found something that fit a little better with the arc of the show, but those were all on the cards for a while.

And I have to ask, how did it feel to win the coveted Billy T towel?

It was weird. Probably because I had already pounded a few beers already backstage. It’s a pretty good towel, very plush. 100% cotton, you can’t get any better than that.

Is it possible that, through all of this, you just needed a new towel?

I actually really did. I have this white towel with a whole lot of coffee stains on it. It looks so bad. I mean it’s clean, but it’s disgusting. Would I be able to use this as a towel do you think?

The colour might run but I’d say go for it. What are you going to do next? Will we see your show again?

I have no idea. I’d like to do some tweaks to my show and take it down to Christchurch. It might be good to bring it back because also, nobody saw it. They have to put me on 7 Days now, so that will be funny. It’s a great show, but I have no idea what Hamish Parkinson on 7 Days will look like. We’ll see.

It’s a late enough time slot for you to take your clothes off if you need too.

That’s true, maybe I’ll just become the naked comedian. The problem is that it’s going to get sadder the older I get. I often wonder about what we’ll all be like at the Dai Henwood stage of our careers. Who knows what comedy will look like then? Hopefully things just keep progressing and getting weirder.

Anything else you want to say?

[Fart noise] Thanks for the money everyone. That’s the type of comedian I am now, the naked farting man with nothing but a towel around my neck.

Keep going!