Here For a Good Time
Organised thoughts from a disorganised mind
Comedian Chris Parker brings his brilliant comic wit to the page. Star of stand-up, winner of Celebrity Treasure Island and lockdown Instagram sensation, Chris Parker shares a series of short stories, essays and musings. Chris has made a name for himself as an outspoken, witty and charming personality who is consistently exceeding his own and others’ expectations. Be it his lockdown felting journey, which saw him creating a felt hat that was bought by Auckland Museum for their permanent collection, or winning Celebrity Treasure Island thanks to his knowledge of his garden’s exotic weeds, or just living the dream as a larger than life openly gay unapologetically camp man in Aotearoa. Chris can turn his mind to anything and he’s ready to share his insights on the world. Chris Parker has built a large audience with his charismatic storytelling and online video sketches. Here for a Good Time allows you to take Chris home for a much-needed pick me up whenever you need.
Here for a good time
I only ever had one dream as a child — to be cast as a ‘Super Trooper’ on the show McDonald’s Young Entertainers. It was a show that would basically be impossible to make now, even more so because the internet has destroyed an entire generation’s ability to be able to withstand any kind of stimulation that is over one minute in length before they grow impatient and feel a strong impulse to scroll to a new video. The idea of ‘light entertainment viewing’ now has dramatically shifted from watching Country Calendar with the family to me being curled up like a garlic and cheese scroll in the corner of my bed watching a video of a young woman eating an entire banquet meal on her own one minute, and then seconds later scrolling to a video of a family weeping over a grave as they bury their family dog of ten years. Tonally, it’s very jarring. But in the early ’90s we were making television shows you would make time for. McDonald’s Young Entertainers wasn’t just a TV show to me, it was a cultural re-set. Sunday evening television-watching was an event for which I would clear my busy schedule of lip-syncing to Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat from the musical Cats, make myself a bowl of two-minute noodles with a slice of some gorgeously thin white sandwich bread on the side, then park myself in front of the television to watch our nation’s rising child stars perform their hidden talents in an act that had been thoroughly rehearsed by their overbearing parents for National Television. It was, and still is to this day, my favourite thing on TV.
The show was hosted by television royalty, a man who in my eyes is the biggest star we have in New Zealand: Jason Gunn. Each week a handful of incredibly nervous, inexperienced wallflowers would be forced to share their talent with the country under bright lights on national television. It could be anything from sheepishly singing their mother’s favourite song into a microphone while shaking with fear, to Irish dancing in a dress hand-sewn by their mother, to playing a Christmas carol on a flute with lovely slicked back hair done by their mother — whatever the talent, you got the sense that the mothers were always heavily involved. The child contestants were then judged by two adult celebrities, who were given the difficult task of criticising a child who was already on the verge of tears. They would then give them some constructive feedback and a score out of 50, while the child disassociated and stared blankly into the camera. At the end of each episode, there was one child star who would be announced as the winner and would go on to the semi-finals, then the finals, and then potentially be crowned with the prestigious title of McDonald’s Young Entertainer and would go on to such illustrious career highs as singing on a little pop-up stage outside the DEKA at the mall.
While watching local teens around the country share their hidden talents was the drawcard for many to watch the show, I was glued to the screen for another reason entirely: the McDonald’s Young Entertainers Super Troopers. They were the house performance troupe, an ensemble of the most talented people I had ever laid eyes on, ageing from the youngest, Holly Walmsley, at nine or ten years old, to the eldest, Ainslie Allen, who was maybe seventeen and would wear baggy jeans with a bandana as a top so was basically the coolest person I had ever seen in my life. Much like the Mickey Mouse Club, the Super Troopers would travel around with Jason Gunn, learning songs and dance routines that were emotionally far too mature for them and perform them in ill-fitting costumes and headset microphones that made them look like underage call-centre workers every Sunday night on live TV. Even though I was only a child at the time with no real understanding of what a job was, I couldn’t think of any other way I would rather make a living in this world than doing ‘kick ball changes’ in sateen shirts and jazz boots. There was nothing this group couldn’t do, from ABBA to the Bee Gees, from Moana and the Moahunters to The Beatles. They were singing in harmony, dancing like cheerleaders and smiling like someone had a gun to their head — I was utterly obsessed. Throughout the show the Super Troopers would be given the opportunity to perform their own little numbers solo or in pairs or little groups, like all the boys singing ‘She’s a Mod’ or all the girls singing ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boys’ — again, two songs that feel slightly uncomfortable coming out of the mouth of a ten-year-old. The strangest pairing was when they made the brother and sister duo Michael and Holly sing love ballads to each other while gazing into each other’s eyes, as strange and incestual as it sounds, they always made it work because the kids were stars; well, more than stars. They were Super Troopers.
Seeing those kids at such a young age performing their little hearts out and entertaining our nation, on what I can only imagine was some pretty dodgy-looking pocket-money contract, set a fire within me. I needed to be a Super Trooper. It just feels wrong seeing someone else live your dream — you feel robbed despite nothing of yours being taken. My strong desire to become a Super Trooper was the exact thing that propelled me into singing, dancing and acting at such a young age, which then led me on to wanting to do it for the rest of my life. Even now there will always be a little bit of me that hopes they will bring the show back, and when they do I will be ready — just devastatingly twenty years too old.
While there’s always going to be a little part of any performer whose reason for doing this job is the ego stroking — and any performer who denies that is totally lying to you and to themselves — I do truly feel like I was put on this Earth for one reason only, and that is to entertain people. I don’t have any hard skills so I’m never going to be that guy who will fix the whadoyoucallit in your car, I’m certainly not the smartest cookie in the cookie jar so don’t look at me to discover any lifesaving vaccines, and if a world war broke out, which feels ever more likely day by day, you can’t count on me on the front line. I was once told by my parents that when they were enlisting soldiers to fight in the First World War they would deny any man with flat feet the right to serve his country. I think it had something to do with all the marching they had to do, maybe they didn’t want to give them sore knees? Who’s to say. Regardless I’ve always held on to that as my excuse out of the front line if war did in fact break out and we were all conscripted to fight. So much so that when I was given orthotics as a teenager to raise the arches of incredibly flat feet, I purposely kept taking them out and ‘forgetting’ to wear them. Just to make sure I held on to my precious ticket out of the war. Flat feet aside, I’m no good with a gun to anyone out there — I’m such a sissy that I’ll drop to my knees and quiver if I hear a car backfire in town. I think in the context of war I’d be much better applied as one of those travelling performers who get sent around the army bases to keep the boys entertained. I think back in the day those performers were always women so that they could remind the troops of their ladies back home, but times have changed and I reckon it would be healthy to have a bit of gay representation in The Andrews Sisters line-up.
I do consider myself a bit of a human Koosh ball. Those stringy, elastic balls that get used in HR meetings to give adults permission to speak out loud about how they feel invisible in the office. As a child of the ’90s we had them advertised to us in every commercial break while we tried to watch our Saturday-morning cartoons. We were being brainwashed into believing that we simply had to have one; what you were supposed to do with it beyond wanting it was anyone’s guess. That’s the thing about a Koosh ball, they really aren’t for anything in particular. There’s no sport attached to the ball, no games or craft activities; they are just simply fun to have around — and weirdly I respect that. This isn’t some kind of tactless effort to fish for compliments, either, like that friend who hosts you for dinner and keeps going on about how casual and low-fuss the dinner is and how sorry they are that they aren’t a better cook, while simultaneously cooking and bringing out half of Ottolenghi’s NOPI cookbook to the table. Much like my emblematic Koosh ball, I’m aware that I can be a lot for people to take in. I’m entertaining, playful and at times can be a little ‘too much’. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a bit of an attention-grabber. When I first started becoming more self-aware of how much energy I was bringing into any social gathering, be it brunch or a wake, I tried to reject it and play it down. The last thing anyone wants to be seen as in this country is a show-off. It’s ingrained in us as New Zealanders to want to come across as quiet, humble, laid-back people. I’m always confronted by this fact when I’m travelling overseas — whenever anyone finds out you’re from New Zealand you always hear the same thing: ‘You’re a Kiwi! Oh I love Kiwis, so down to earth, so modest and chill.’ Well, not this one. I’m a total handful. I’ll sing my own praises when I’ve done a good job, I’m highly emotional and will constantly talk about my feelings and, again, I really love to show off. While these are not usually qualities that a Kiwi would pride themselves on, I have had to because I’m not really applicable to any other context than entertainment. If this was a formal job interview, I would say confidently that my biggest strength is being a total show-off. If anything, I really am more of a peacock than a Kiwi.
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