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Comedian Chris Parker celebrates campness in new solo show Camp Binch

Comedian Chris Parker channels  his inner All Black. “I think women and straight men can  be camp, too. A  light fixture can be camp. A duvet can  be camp. Everything.” Photo/Mike Rooke.

In his new solo show, Camp Binch, Chris Parker lets his true colours shine.

The word “camp”, much like the word “girl”, hasn’t always been used as a compliment. When actor and comedian Chris Parker was starting out, one reviewer described him as “talented if camp”; another “talentless and camp”. “It was weird,” he says. “And they were saying it as if I’m not aware of it.”

In his new solo show, Camp Binch, which premieres at the Comedy Festival in May, Parker explores the notion that campness is “a really warm, fun, charming energy to have” and that femininity, in women and men alike, is actually something to aspire to. “I thought for a while I could totally pump it up and be like a masc bro walking down the street blending in with the dudes. But I realised I’m very soft, very femme and very camp, and I love that about myself. So that’s my journey.”

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As for “binch”, that’s a new word, born of the internet, for when you don’t want to say “bitch”. “It’s a term of endearment, albeit a bit cheeky, whereas ‘bitch’ has often been used as a negative word against women.”

Growing up, Parker found the Kiwi culture of machismo and All Blacks-worship, and the general disdain for performers and artists, akin to a tidal wave crashing over and threatening to drown him. Even now, when he makes cameo appearances on TV comedy show Seven Days, he angsts over what to wear. “I feel myself desaturating, in a sense – toning down the colours, the vibrancy, so that I can fit in more.”

Parker credits David Halls, who he portrayed in the wildly successful play Hudson & Halls Live!, as an inspiration for letting his true colours shine. The original TV cooking show on which it’s based first aired more than 40 years ago in the conservative 1970s, but Halls and his partner Peter Hudson, and their cheesy, creamy culinary style, were beloved by Kiwi audiences, who must surely have realised they were an item. “David’s style of camp is really different to mine, but I really found my voice as a camp performer in him, and what it’s like to have the audience eat out of the palm of your hand.”

The show also taught him to set aside his natural tendency to improvise, in favour of respecting a finely crafted script. “It’s like baking a cake,” he says. “You can keep adding stuff or you can learn how to cook the same cake perfectly every night. I had to learn how to really listen to the audience, and how to execute every single joke the best way I possibly could.”

During the Comedy Festival, Parker will also appear in Giggly Gerties alongside Tom Sainsbury, best known for impersonating National deputy leader Paula Bennett. The show will be loose, weird, improvisational and possibly involve aliens. It’s a double act in which neither of them plays the straight guy, says Parker. “There’s never been a straight guy in any of my work.” 

Camp Binch runs from May 9-12 at The Basement, Auckland, between two seasons of Giggly Gerties (April 27-May 5, Bats Theatre, Wellington; May 16-19, The Basement, Auckland). Visit comedyfestival.co.nz.

This article was first published in the May 2018 issue of North & South.