Welcome to our Fringe Debuts series, where comedians taking their first show to Edinburgh Fringe will give you a little taster of what to expect, an insight into their world, or really super weird musings on something equally bizarre — to be honest, we just let them run with it. If you’re readying yourself for a giant lol injection in August, now’s your chance to find something NEW to add to your list.
Joseph Parsons is performing Equaliser, a show about being a gay sports fan in a world where LGBTQIA+ hostility is still rife. Here he tells us about coming out at university and what it means, 10 years later, to delve into those memories.
I’m a massive gay and a massive sports fan. When I started stand up, I didn’t really talk about either topic. Instead I was more interested in making stories last 10 minutes with one unsatisfying punchline at the end. I’m delighted to say that the punchline hit rate has increased and the storytelling has remained a constant in my comedy.
I grew up in a small seaside town in Somerset where gay was very much at concept level in the late 90’s, early 00’s. My teenage hobbies consisted of watching sport, playing football manager and batting away any gay thoughts like a cricketer at a test match. Being gay never really felt like an option to me and spending time in traditionally masculine environments didn’t really help. As a teenager, I had no reference point for homosexuality that I could connect with. However, if there were more openly gay sports stars, I think it would have made growing up easier.
Representation is absolutely everything, particularly for those confused about their sexuality at a young age. Now, the landscape is changing. Footballer Jake Daniels has recently come out courageously at the age of 17. With Josh Cavallo coming out months before, Daniels was inspired to do the same. Cavallo was inspired by Tom Daley. The last Olympics had more than 100 LGBTQIA+ athletes. It is an incredibly exciting time to be a gay sports fan in 2022.
I came out accidentally when the inevitable pressure of keeping homosexuality a secret got a bit too much for my delicate little brain. I was at university at the time and I was going on loads of walks. During the pandemic, the socially distant walks became a highlight from the mundanity of life indoors. In a similar vein at university, I treated myself to a daily long walk at 1am in the rain to escape the lockdown of my mind. My brain was a tangle of repressed gay thoughts and I found walking was a convenient way of tiring myself out a bit.
My housemate noticed I was going on these walks and that I’d been a little bit low. She asked what was going on with me. With my brain fatigued by repression, I couldn’t really come up with a valid excuse for the late night cardio. I simply blurted out the words ‘I’m gay’. As I did that another housemate walked in hearing my news. This led to what can only be described as a coming out relay where I’d pass the baton of my news to spread amongst family, friends, loved ones and any random person walking the streets of Bournemouth at 2am drunk. It spread like wildfire. I was out of the closet and it felt unusual.
I moved swiftly to Rotterdam after university to give being gay a whirl in a new location. In one year, I successfully had sex once, apologised and left the country immediately after. There was a lot of work to do. You see, what they don’t tell you about coming out is that once you do it, you aren’t just immediately comfortable with yourself. You have spent years changing the way you are to fit a straight society. You treat homosexuality like a back alley drugs deal. The lies and the reality get blurred into one. The invented straight sexual excursions to save face during games of “spin the bottle” with straight peers. The fictional ex-girlfriend you for some reason called Sandra — a name that made you sound like you were having an affair with a supply teacher. All of these lies are hard to just move on from when you come out. There’s a process of learning about the LGBTQIA+ community. There’s a process of getting it wrong.
It’s been 10 years since I came out. The interesting thing about stand up is that you’re able to delve into your past for ideas and memories. It helps you contextualise how you were feeling at a certain point and understand where the little anxieties have come from. It also gives you a bank of shame memories that are so embarrassing it would be rude not to turn into a routine. So my debut show at the Edinburgh Fringe has plenty of red-faced moments. There’s something cathartic about turning a memory that makes you want to shit your own stomach out of your arse with shame into a shared experience of laughter on a stage.
So 10 years later, I’m now doing stand up about being gay and talking about sport. I’m opening up about the wounds it has left. For stand up has been my saviour; a way to grow and not fear homosexuality but to get stuck in and love it. My show marks the start of writing about something important to me: about being a gay sports fan in a world where LGBTQIA+ hostility is still rife and where the worlds biggest sporting events are held in countries where it is illegal to be gay...
And about how I learnt how to sext on MSN.
Joseph Parsons: Equaliser runs from 4-28th Aug, 3:30pm at Just the Tonic. Tickets here
Joseph is on Twitter @josephparsonsha and Instagram at @josephparsonscomedy
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It was created by the wonderful MICHAEL JULINGS, whose work you can find here