In Conversation with Tom Parry, No Direction Home

No Direction Home, a collective of refugee and migrant comedians, created by the charity Counterpoints and Camden People’s Theatre, is embarking on a virtual UK Tour.

Starting this Saturday and continuing over autumn, a series of online gigs – headlined by Sindhu Vee, Mo Omar and Dane Baptiste – will be coming to a screen near you… as in your very own computer screen.

Following previous live gigs that featured the likes of Romesh Ranganathan and Lou Sanders, No Direction Home has turned to virtual gigs following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The stand-up acts who have all migrated to the UK from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia and Uganda, have entered the world of comedy under the mentorship of award-winning comedian Tom Parry. The group of amateurs-turned-comedians share their personal experience and backgrounds through the power of laughter.

Tom Parry, who also hosts the online tour, discusses with us the process of creating stand-up during a pandemic and his experience as a mentor on this on-going project.

Creating a group of comedians from scratch seems like a daunting task. What was the first piece of advice you offered the No Direction Home performers?

Our first rule is the most important one- don’t think about being funny just think about being interesting. The idea of being funny brings with it an immediate pressure, and the request to say something funny can immediately lead to a brain jam. But when you’re just encouraged to make things interesting it feels a lot more achievable, and if something is interesting then it stands a good chance of ending up being funny!

During COVID-19 it seems we all are finding new ways to adapt and carry on. No Direction Home has really embraced the new age of online and Zoom performances. How did you personally find the leap from live gigs to virtual ones?

It’s definitely different but in a really exciting way. I think a few comics have come unstuck comparing live gigs to online gigs, instead of approaching them as their own thing. Our [No Direction Home] acts have really adapted brilliantly – some have now done more online gigs than live gigs, so they’ve become true veterans of the online gig scene! I enjoy the intimacy you share with the audience online and I think there is still that crucial connection between performer and audience that makes comedy so special.

No Direction Home has already had a successful virtual debut over summer, but has anything since been adapted for the online tour? What lessons were learnt and what changes were made?

The big thing for the tour is that we want it to have a ‘local’ feel, by having headliners connected to the different areas. We know the audience and performers may well come from all over, but we want each gig to have a ‘local’ feel like it is coming directly from that place. That is the challenge.

As mentor to the group and host of the gigs, you must have a very close relationship with all the performers. Is there anything that they have taught you about comedy, stand-up or life?

Oh, so much. Their honesty and openness is truly inspiring and I’m learning as much as they are. I think any group of comedians working together inspire one another and that is definitely true here. The energy around new comics is particularly infectious and this group has that in spades.

Lastly, after this unique experience, how do you think stand-up and gigs will change in the future? What does a post-pandemic comedy scene look like to you?

God knows. What I do know is the desire and need for the universal experience of getting together and laughing in the same space- be it physical or virtual- has never been more keenly felt. This year has really shown just how important comedy and live events are to us as individuals. It is a special joy to be laughing together- it is a celebration of our humanity! And the comedy scene is a tough beast that has had to evolve through all different kinds of circumstances. The one thing I am sure of is one way or another it will survive!

If you would like to tune in to No Direction Home’s virtual tour, you can find the dates here

Jess Saunders
Jess Saunders

is a writer and actor, in her third year of a Drama and English degree, at The University of Birmingham. She is currently spinning many (creative) plates and absolutely loving it. Theatre has always been especially close to her heart, from prancing about onstage at a young age, to acting and directing. She has a particular interest in new writing, multimedia productions and getting the most out of a Tesco meal deal.


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