Halifax comedian Pardis Parker is fast becoming a star, but still hecklers call him a terrorist. Alison Lang finds out how real pain fuels the funny.
When you ask Pardis Parker how he managed to perform in front of thousands of industry bigwigs at the Hammersmith Apollo Theatre in London, England earlier this month, the Halifax comedian will say it was chance. "It was luck more than anything," he says. "It's a small, personal, memorable experience that for me happened to take place in front of 3,700 people."
Parker had heard about a Facebook-hosted contest held by the producers of The Infidel, a film starring British comedian Omid Djalili, in which contestants submitted their funniest religious joke. Parker was one of two winners, sending in a video of a joke about Palestinian and Jewish office workers fighting over a shared parking space. Like many of Parker's jokes, it's clever, a little dark and suggests a deep level of thoughtfulness.
The contest win allowed him to perform alongside Djalili, one of his idols, and it's yet another item in his stacked resume. Over the past few years, Parker became the first Canadian to perform at CBS's annual industry showcase, directed an acclaimed short, Afghan, and is acting in Mike Clattenburg's upcoming Afghan Luke and the Burgundy of Hash. He's busy this week, too, performing at both the opening gala and Saturday's closing gala of the Halifax Comedy Festival.
"Writing, directing, acting and stand-up totally overlap," he says. "You're trying to find the most efficient way to tell a story and to elicit and manipulate certain specific emotions."
Parker's work displays a wide range of emotion, and occasionally he addresses darker issues. In Afghan, Parker and co-star Mark Little play two friends searching for levity and meaning when a random tagger sprays "Go home, Arab" on Parker's character's car. The film plays with black humour---at one point, Little constructs twin towers out of cardboard boxes and takes photos of them crashing over the hood---but it also comes from a place of hurt that's real. The Sri-Lankan-born Parker says in his earlier days of stand-up, he used humour to exorcise his frustrations over people who made judgments related to his appearance.
"Flight attendants asking me if I want chicken or pork," he says, "and then when I say chicken, they say 'Sorry, I should have known better.' Should have known what? That chicken is delicious?"
Parker says over the past few months, he'll be onstage and people in the audience have shouted "Terrorist!" before he's even begun his set. "How do you think that would affect you?" he asks. "It can't not affect you."
Parker's perspectives on religious and cultural relations stem largely from his travels. He waxes poetic about a stint volunteering in the Solomon Islands, where he dodged an attack from a rebel group, ate deadly blowfish and later blew up its belly to use as a soccer ball, and bathed in waterfalls "that looked like mounds of ice cream pyramiding down a lagoon in the jungle," he says. "It's influenced me in that I don't see the differences between cultures the same way others do. I more often see the similarities."
Parker says as he works certain issues out through his act, new ones will invariably replace them. He has come to terms with the fact that he has little choice in determining what comes next. "I don't know if you ever make a decision about what to discuss as a comedian," he says. "Life does a lot of the deciding for you."