It’s no exaggeration to say that if you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter in the past three weeks, you’ve probably seen Rachel Parris.
The video titled ‘How Not To Sexually Harass Someone’, featuring a comedian with a smile reaching from ear to ear, offering an answer to “what could possibly be wrong with spanking a colleague”? That’s Rachel.
Or perhaps you saw Piers Morgan kicking off about a cartoon that depicted him in a, shall we say, very friendly position with Donald Trump. The comedian who presented that drawing to the UK, at just gone 10pm on BBC Two? Also Rachel.
She’s been performing comedy for eight years, and improv shows for 10, but her involvement in BBC Two’s ‘The Mash Report’ has led to a swift change of pace and sudden internet fame, with one clip from the show - the aforementioned harassment sketch - clocking up over 26 million views.
“I’ve got a few things on YouTube and the most I’ve ever had is about 8,000 clicks over five years,” she admits. “When we started doing the show [in July 2017], it’d get some viewers for the slot that it’s in. But the way this second series has taken off is the viral clips, no one expected that.
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“We were totally taken by surprise. It has been a totally new phenomenon.”
Rachel spends approximately two days a week in the writing room, collaborating with a team of equally talented writers, before performing her sketches in front of a live studio audience.
Together, Rachel and the team survey the news landscape and decide which topic should be covered, but when it came to the harassment sketch, she says the choice was “obvious”.
“The angle was obvious, too,” she adds. “It was: Don’t pretend to be confused about this.”
However, despite being certain that this potentially contentious path was the right one to go down, Rachel admits there was a point when the resulting sketch could have been entirely different.
“I got so in my head about it, of course I did,” she says, when asked about writing the sketch. “It’s such a personal thing for all of us and I nearly ended up writing this whole angry diatribe that would have been a war cry. And that has its place, definitely.
“But I also think, as we saw with the sexual harassment bit, people do need to laugh otherwise they’ll scream. And sometimes you can make your point better with comedy than you can through shouting about it.
“Don’t get me wrong I love shouting as well. I love the protest - but comedy has its place. There is almost no topic that can’t benefit from being talked about in a humorous way.
“You can still have comedy which is sensitive to the topic, where you’re laughing at the right part of it, you’re not mocking the things that shouldn’t be mocked.”
When the clip began doing the rounds online, Rachel says it didn’t take long for responses from “women all over the world” to start rolling in.
“I’ve had so, so many from men and women,” Rachel says. “Coming out and saying they not only found it funny but, a lot of men saying that they genuinely found it helpful.”
Just as the global hype that followed the sexual harassment clip began to die down, Rachel struck gold yet again, this time, with a tongue-in-cheek report on Piers Morgan’s much-publicised (yet largely uneventful) interview with Donald Trump.
“This is my quick guide to the difference between hard-hitting journalism and a celebrity puff piece,” she cheerily said to camera, opening the sketch with a look at the set-up of the interview.
“The staging of the Trump interview hinted at a greater intimacy between the two men,” she quipped, before pointing to the drawing being displayed on the studio’s large TV screen.
Depending on whether you’re the viewing public, Piers himself or an avid Trump supporter, your response to this sketch will fall somewhere between howls of laughter and total outrage.
Piers, of course, was typically unimpressed and his response was “inevitable”, Rachel says. “I thought, knowing Piers Morgan as we do, [that] he would probably react to it.
“But I think you can never… Even though in my head I thought that was likely to happen to some degree, until it starts kicking off, you don’t really know what it feels like.
“It was quite scary, I had talks with my mum about it and putting double security on social media accounts and things like that. It was quite scary.
“Some people sort of court that kind of attention because they enjoy it and that is not me. I didn’t want or anticipate that.”
Rachel’s surprise at the huge reaction was partly down to the fact the joke itself had “already been made a week before I made it”.
“Everyone had already said, ‘This interview is an astonishing example of prime ass-kissing’,” she explains.
In his Twitter critique of the cartoon, Piers claimed if it depicted two high-profile women, there would be outrage. “Gender equality shouldn’t just apply to pay - should it?” he cried.
This is something Rachel has clearly pondered a lot in the weeks since and she has a response ready.
“I would say that if, if, there was a female President and there was a female interviewer who had conducted the interview in the same way,” she begins. “And that female President had signed off on laws which would affect the rights of women, and done all the things Trump has done. And if there was a strange feeling about those two women, if they enjoyed the same position of immense social and financial privilege that those two men do, then yes I think we would have drawn the cartoon.
“Personally, I’d be very happy to be seen in the same position,” she laughs. “Say if I interviewed Oprah Winfrey, I would definitely kiss her ass. Feel free to draw that, that’s fine.”
Piers’ critique isn’t the only negative response to be thrown the show’s way and among the many positive tweets are plenty claiming ‘The Mash Report’ is a prime example of “leftie BBC bias”. As with her response about Piers, Rachel has clearly thought these through.
“For one thing, on a lot of issues the show does try to have different opinions,” she says. “It takes the piss out of middle class leftism, it has loads of bits on that. It takes the piss out of Corbyn, it has anti-snowflake pieces.
“But on the other hand, yes in terms of Brexit and Trump, it is pretty one-sided because that is what satire is. It attacks the establishment.
“You can’t have satire that is on the side of what is currently taking place, otherwise it’s not satire. So, of course, it’s going to criticise Brexit because Brexit is what’s currently happening to this country and it’s definitely not going well.
“In terms of our jobs as satirists, it’s to take the piss out of that. We’re not going to present a show just shaking the hand of everyone in government going ‘You’re doing a great job’. That is not our job.”
While the immediate aftermath of the Piers cartoon had its downsides - “I’ve changed my [social media] settings, as you might imagine, just so I don’t get all the Trump supporters dropping the c-bomb at me” - it seems the bonuses of the show’s popularity outweigh the negatives.
“It’s been a really strange month, or the last three weeks, since the second series,” she says. “It’s funny. I’d reached a certain level with that, and I’ve been doing tours and making a living off it and doing a bit of TV, but things have been happening in the last few weeks.
“Events like suddenly selling out [a gig], whereas before I had to really struggle to sell 50 tickets.
“A lot more of a social media following and a lot of... I think there’s offers coming in. Not loads, but more than before. There has been a change.
Fans who’ve snapped up tickets for Rachel’s upcoming tour after seeing her on ‘The Mash Report’ can expect a similar experience to the show, just with a few small differences.
“It isn’t exactly the same kind of thing,” she explains. “My live show is not a million miles off, that character I do is still based on me and I think my on-stage persona is still quite bouncy, like that, but it’s not quite the same.
“I talk a lot about real-life situations and feminism, I touch on politics. But whereas on ‘The Mash Report’, it’s entirely satire and socio-political stuff, my live shows are much broader.
“They’re about things in real-life, things that affect you day-to-day.... And they’ve got songs in as well!”
Rachel’s tour ‘It’s Fun To Pretend’ begins in September. Tickets are on sale now.