Stylist meets comedians Ellie Taylor and Rachel Parris from The Mash Report as they prepare to host the Remarkable Women Awards.
A rainy day in east London and comedians Parris and Taylor are having their photographs taken in advance of Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards on 10 March. This year, the stars of BBC Two’s whip-smart topical satire show The Mash Report are the ceremony hosts, and if today’s shoot is anything to go by, they might just perform a Jay-Z style rap on the night.
“You’re good at singing,” Taylor tells Parris as they dance in front of the camera to Crazy In Love. “I sometimes sing in my stand-up,” says Parris. “In fact, I was once so tired after many nights at the Edinburgh Festival, I couldn’t keep up with my own backing track.”
If you’ve seen The Mash Report, you’ll know it’s a series that mixes comedy and the politics of the moment. If you haven’t, you may well have seen one of Parris’s or Taylor’s segments anyway, given they pretty much all go viral. “After each episode airs, the BBC tweets the show’s best sketches,” explains Parris, “and they basically take on a life of their own.”
So far the most popular skits have included Parris’s How NOT to Sexually Harass Someone, a ‘handy guide’ delivered in smiling assassin-style to highlight the absurdity of the backlash against the #MeToo campaign, and Taylor’s A Message From Women Everywhere (in which news reporter ‘Susan’ reveals that women everywhere who feel judged are in the process of telling “everyone to just fuck off”). And that’s not forgetting Parris’s sketch mocking Piers Morgan’s TV interview love-in with the US president, illustrated by a cartoon of Morgan with his head up Donald Trump’s bum which amassed tens of millions of views online.
Outside of the show, Parris and Taylor are both successful stand-up comics and actors in their own right, with Taylor appearing in sitcoms such as Plebs as well as Mock The Week. Meanwhile, Parris is a founding member of the improv comedy group Austentatious, which acts out satirical stories against a backdrop of Jane Austen novels.
“We’re different, but we’re also similar,” explains Taylor. “In our stand-up, we both talk a lot about what we’re going through in life, whether that’s relationships or family.”
“We’re feminists who talk about relatable things with the odd political joke thrown in,” adds Parris. Which makes them the ideal duo to host the Remarkable Women Awards.
How did you meet?
Taylor: Weirdly, we both started doing comedy around eight or nine years ago, when we were 26, 27. We were on the stand-up circuit at the same time.
Parris: I heard about you before I met you, and then I saw you on Show Me The Funny.
T: Oh yes, that was an ITV show that nobody watched apart from my mum. It was like The X Factor for comedy.
P: I remember watching it and thinking a) how talented you were – I’m not kissing your ass, by the way – and b) that I would never do that.
T: They made us do a new 20-minute comedy set every week, in front of the hardest crowd you could imagine. It was terrifying. I lost a lot of weight through pooping.
How did you both come to work on The Mash Report?
T: We were both asked to make a pilot for the show – I played a news anchor, Rachel played a reporter. It was one of those things where you think, ‘Nothing will ever happen to that.’
P: To be fair, nothing did for three years…
T: I remember coming away thinking, ‘Wow, that’s special.’ And we’re chuffed, the show’s done so well. It’s been received really well by people that we like.
P: Not by Laurence Fox.
T: Nothing is received well by Laurence Fox.
What did Laurence Fox have to say about it?
P: He recently said that Nish Kumar [host of The Mash Report] is a reason not to pay your TV licence [laughs]. I mean, how many people have said that? Kate Hoey said it about me.
T: Who’s that?
P: A Labour MP, very pro-Brexit. She was my MP when I lived in Stockwell and there’s this amazing picture of her on the Brexit boat with Nigel Farage. But yeah, she retweeted a video of mine saying, “Is this what I pay my licence fee for?” [laughs].
Lots of celebrities and fellow comedians have publicly supported you, though…
P: We’ve each got a collection of celebrity crushes who’ve liked our bits. We’ve had our own personal little triumphs. Mine was Anna Kendrick. She retweeted something I put on Twitter and I sent her a proper fan message [cringes].
T: Mine was Sarah Silverman. And Madonna. It was such a strange day because my baby was six weeks old and I was lying in bed with mastitis, like, ‘This is the worst time in my life.’ And then Madonna puts the clip of me playing the woman telling everyone to fuck off on her Instagram.
Is it quite a lively working environment?
[Both look at each other and laugh].
P: It’s quite heads down because we’re usually up against it. One of our problems is if we chat too much about it we don’t get the work done. Otherwise we can talk and talk about how awful that person is or what this person has done…
You’ve spoken about doing politics with a small ‘p’ – what do you mean by that?
T: I had an ex-boyfriend who said that. He used to talk about politics with a small ‘p’ [the politics of everyday life], which I’d never heard of before, but it’s true – the types of things we both cover in our comedy mostly come from a feminist point of view.
P: Someone said to me, if you’re not political about anything, you’re not looking outside your own world. That sounds really worthy but they said it really nicely.
T: Was it one of my ex-boyfriends?
Were you surprised by the reaction to the Donald Trump and Piers Morgan sketch?
P: At the time I just thought it was funny and well deserved. And then of course Piers Morgan perpetuated the amount of attention he got himself on Twitter. He wasn’t happy but I don’t think he did badly out of it.
Did it make you think, ‘Wow, this job is bigger than I thought?’
P: It was definitely a mixed bag of ‘Oh, this is exciting’ and a bit scary.
Have there been any favourite sketches you’ve done on The Mash Report that haven’t made it to air?
P: There’s one they play in the studio every week but it never makes it to the edit. It’s a sketch of a train driver who shuts the door just as a commuter reaches it and it’s so, so funny. Every week we’re like, ‘Surely this time it’s going to go in!’
The show is on a break at the moment. If you were making it right now, what would you be covering?
T: I reckon Nancy Pelosi tearing up the State of the Union speech with Donald Trump would have been a great one.
P: Yes! What a baller move.
T: So cool.
P: She’s so fierce.
Which comedians did you aspire to be growing up?
T: My hero as a kid was Victoria Wood. My mum has always encouraged silliness so we loved watching her.
P: Mine was also Victoria Wood! And then I guess all the sketch shows that were really clownish and physically absurd, like French And Saunders. We were both teenagers when Smack The Pony was around and it was such a good thing to grow up with – it was sort of empowering to see sketches of women with enormous pubic hair.
What about characters in films?
P: I love Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids.
T: Oh my god. “I’m ready to paaaaarty!”
P: “Help me, I’m poor!” [Both laugh].
Why do you think you got into comedy?
T: Definitely to show off. It’s still my base aim.
P: It’s true. Although I took a weird route: I did improv comedy, then musical comedy, then stand-up. I was basically cowarding out of doing stand-up.
What were your first stand-up experiences like?
T: Mine was above a pub called The Miller. I was still working my 9-5 in marketing and got some colleagues to come down. I thought I’d just do one gig, tick it off the bucket list, but my new boyfriend, who is now my husband, wanted to come. Afterwards, he was like, “You’re good at that. You should carry on.” He was 10 years older than me and a correspondent [for CNN], so I was like, “OK!” I carried on to impress a man.
Do you get nervous before performing?
T: Oh yeah. Big rooms can be scary. Or the worst is a smaller room when your mum’s in. Or friends of your husband – aaargh! Familiar faces are the worst.
P: I actually took my mum to watch my husband [comedian Marcus Brigstocke] doing his comedy show and unfortunately for her he was supported by Rob Rouse doing a set almost entirely about farts. She sat there staring in horror [laughs].
You’ve both appeared on a host of panel shows – can they be unnerving?
T: Completely intimidating, but they should be – it’s not natural to be with six other comedians, all trying to shout your jokes the loudest, so you sort of have to learn a process. I feel like the timbre of your voice as a woman doesn’t cut through as well as a loud bassy voice, so you need to noticeably speak up.
P: I ask for extra cushions. The desks are so high, because panel shows weren’t built for women – they’re literally built for men.
T: It’s interesting, the majority of panellists are still blokes. You’ll get one, maybe two women, and they’re often pretty celebrities, not comedians.
P: It’s not quite a level playing field, is it? We seem to be at a weird point where no one wants to be known as a ‘female comedian’, but it’s still a slightly different experience. It’s difficult because you want to talk about it in equal terms, but you don’t want to ignore the fact that it’s not fixed yet.
T: We’re all very supportive of each other, though.
P: Yes, we all talk. There’s even a WhatsApp group of female comedians…
T: Which I left.
P: Did you? [Laughs] So did I!
T: It was too many people.
P: Too much admin.
If you could create your own TV show together, what would it be?
P: Our stand-up is just about normal life. We both quite like a love story…
T: We both like Outlander.
P: A historical, sexy, Scottish, dating, time-travel comedy?
Outside of comedy, who are your remarkable women?
T: Mine is my friend Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka, who I do a podcast with [called Ellie And Anna Have Issues]. She campaigns for flexible working, and the amount of work that she and her husband put in to benefit everyone and change the system in the UK is incredible.
P: I really love Caitlin Moran. She’s a brave, funny writer who has written about some really important things. There are chapters in her book, How To Be A Woman, that I’ve read again and again.
Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards in partnership with philosophy take place on Tuesday 10 March; Ellie Taylor’s Don’t Got This tour starts 9 May, ellietaylorcomedy.com; Rachel Parris’ All Change Please tour starts 24 April, rachelparris.com
philosophy is the wellbeing beauty brand inspiring you to look, live and feel your best, and is the official partner of Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards 2020.
Images: Sarah Brick
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