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Rachel Parris on Austen, Comedy & Christmas

This Christmas get ready for a Rachel Parris spectacular, the 2010 Funny Women Awards finalist has two live shows coming to town! Our editor Kate Stone caught up with Rachel to talk about Austentatious, Thirty Christmases and why comedians should never compare themselves…

Kate Stone: You’ve got quite a busy Christmas season ahead of you with not one but two shows on the go, tell us about them.

Rachel Parris: Well, my improv group Austentatious have been getting ready to go into the West End! We’ve been busy making preparations – new set, new costume and new format, for months, and we open for the first of our monthly shows on December 5th! As we are a rotating cast, I will be joining them from January onwards, because I’ll be busy in December appearing in a play called Thirty Christmases at the New Diorama, which is a joyful, heartfelt, musical show!

KS: What has it been like working with Jonny Donahoe of Jonny & The Baptists on Thirty Christmases?

RP: I have known Jonny and Paddy for quite a few years now – we met in Edinburgh around 2012 I think, and we got on straight away, so when they approached me to be in the show, I had a pretty good feeling it would be fun! They are both hugely talented and genuinely lovely men and, as you might expect from them if you know their comedy, the rehearsal process has a certain democracy to it. We all have an opinion. But having done the show in Oxford last year, and then again this year, we have become very close friends and I feel like we are bound to work together again. (Jonny?!)

KS: Austentatious has been a huge success, why do you think Jane Austen inspired comedy impro has proved so popular?

RP: It has been surprising to us too! We never expected to still be doing Austentatious this many years on and we are still amazed people are interested and keep coming! I think that the stories that Austen tells, the ones we use as our inspiration, are still universal – the love/hate relationship, the frustrations with your mum, the terrible ex-boyfriend, the user, the stirrer, the embarrassing friend – the romantic dreamer and the pragmatic over-thinker, I think there are things to recognise in all of them, and we try to draw on those. Also Mr Darcy-esque gents in top hats.

KS: You’re known for both, but which do you prefer (and you have to pick) improvisation or musical comedy…

RP: Oooh! That’s hard! The difference between performing as a group and performing solo is the biggest difference, and that’s massive. I think, if I could only do one, it would be improv, as the group dynamic is really good for your life and a purely solo career could make for a lonelier life.

KS: You were a Funny Women Awards finalist in 2010! We’re currently in the midst of the 2017 Awards, have you got a message this year’s entrants?

RP: Don’t try to copy or compare yourself to other comics – just do your own thing. I often watch successful comics and think “Oh I should be doing that!” but I am wrong! Do your own thing, not someone else’s!

KS: Who are your favourite funny women?

RP: Suzi Ruffell, Jenny Bede, Ellie Taylor, Anna Morris, Cariad Lloyd, and I’m loving watching Diane Morgan and Roisin Conaty on TV right now, they are hilarious. As for heroes, mine will always be Victoria Wood.

Thirty Christmases opens at New Diorama on 4th December. Austentatious’ monthly residency at Piccadilly Theatre kicks off on 5th December