Rachel Parris: Offenders’ rights

Rachel Parris faced trial by social media after her Mash Report segment went viral but the comic defends her right to cause offence

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Earlier this year, Rachel Parris went viral. The satirical guides to current affairs she presented on BBC2’s The Mash Report catapulted her into the public consciousness when they were viewed by millions online. She deconstructed tabloid journalism with a knowing smile and mocked the likes of Piers Morgan for brown-nosing Donald Trump. But not everybody saw the funny side and she got stick from Trump supporters and those who saw her as perpetuating a leftie BBC bias.

“The people that I got backlash from could be quite vicious,” admits the 34-year-old comedian, presenter and actor. “Someone hacked my email account and sent messages dropping the C-bomb, so that was bad, but it has calmed down. I didn’t really mind it, but there were moments where it became a bit scary.”

Much of the outcry arrived via social media. Does Parris consider such platforms can also be a force for good? “They are if you use them in a sensible way,” she says, as a user of Twitter and Instagram. “There is a lot of negativity but there’s also a lot of positivity – it’s about what you make of it and who you follow.”

Parris believes the negative responses the show received highlight a significant social problem. “I really think there is a culture of offence and demanding apologies,” she says. “I have seen things taken completely out of context and people going ‘I demand you apologise’ when there’s absolutely nothing to apologise for.”

Parris studied music at Oxford University before receiving a master’s degree for acting from the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama in London. These qualifications paved the way for her unplanned path to success.

“It was fairly accidental,” she admits. “The crux of it all is that I’ve always loved performing in one way or another. I was a musician, then came improv and then through doing that I worked out that I probably could be funny on stage.”

Parris will soon tour her latest solo stage show, It’s Fun To Pretend, which mixes musical comedy with traditional stand-up. It features a blend of old and new material with an overall theme of imposter syndrome.

“It’s the idea that you get put in certain positions but don’t feel in any way qualified to do them. The general positive message is ‘just go for it’ because actually, no one’s really qualified to do anything,” she laughs.

Shortly afterwards, she will regroup with Austentatious – her longstanding comedy troupe who perform entirely improvised plays in the style of Jane Austen adaptations. Each night, they simply receive a title from the audience and run with it. Parris believes it serves as perfect escapism.

“There’s a lot of comedy at the moment that’s really engaging with the tough topics – and much of what I do does that – but this show is about leaving that behind for the evening and just watching people in silly frocks and top hats fall in love.”

The Mash Report returns this autumn. The subject matter of Parris’s segments currently remain unknown, but those who fail to see beyond the satire will inevitably resurface online. “I’m sure they’ll get riled up again when the show comes back,” she says.

“I’m going to use humour to target and make fun of things that need addressing. If you’re doing satire you are unfortunately going to offend someone.”

It’s Fun To Pretend visits the Wardrobe, Leeds, 13 Sept; Sheffield Leadmill, 14 Sept; Lowry, Salford, 23 Sept (rachelparris.com). Austentatious visits Burnley Mechanics, 18 Oct; Dukes, Lancaster, 19 Oct (austentatiousimpro.com)

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