Christina Parrish is an actor, comedian, and writer based in Austin. Her interview parody series, The Chip Show, which she created and hosts, showcases some of Austin’s best-known comics.
Parrish is also the screenwriter and star of Call Me Brother, the David Howe-directed feature which will have its World Premiere at the Florida Film Festival. Call Me Brother co-stars Saturday Night Live writer Andrew Dismukes, Funniest Person in Austin winner Enzo Priesnitz, Asaf Ronen, and Danu Uribe.
Ahead of the film’s premiere, Parrish spoke with Sean L. Malin of CineMalin about Radiohead’s “Creep”, transitioning from stand-up to cinema, and labeling her movie “an incest comedy.” This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sean Malin: This is exciting because it’s not so long since you started doing comedy altogether that you now have a screenplay that has been made into a feature.
Christina Parrish: No, I know! It’s awesome, but I would never have known that my first feature would be a dark comedy about incest. It is a surreal feeling.
SM: I first heard about this movie from [Call Me Brother co-producer] Shannon Cloud, who had reached out to me about another film. I immediately thought that the idea for an “incest film” was funny because incest and abortion are the last great taboos, but those subjects are not at all off-limits to you when you perform stand-up. Because at this point I’ve now seen you onstage several times since 2013, and the character you do onstage is like a sex maniac. Is that a good way of putting it?
CP: *Laughs* Yeah, yeah.
SM: Well, because of that, I knew that whatever you made was going to be satirical and tapped into those taboos. And now, having seen the film just as it is about to have its World Premiere, that prediction seemed to be correct.
CP: Definitely. My goal for the film was to make the audience think about incest in a sort of…well, all the other characters in the movie are pretty extreme, very vulgar and gross. The only pure relationship – pure in this context – is between the brother and sister. They are just so nice to each other, not mean like everybody else in the movie.
We did a screening for our Kickstarter backers, and a lot of the feedback we got was that they craved seeing the brother and sister [characters] make-out. The whole movie was like one big tease to them. It’s funny to make the audience want that kind of thing, or to make them think about it.
SM: It seems like every male stand-up I see has something to say about pornography, and the prevalence of incest-themed pornography on all the major streaming sites. We are invited whenever we look at Pornhub to imagine relationships between a son and his step-mother, step-siblings, cousins…that kind of imagery has become increasingly prevalent online. Had you made this film ten years ago, that might not have been the case, and it might have seemed ten times more disgusting. But these days, many of us are prepared to go into an incest comedy with a tacit acceptance of that premise. Did you observe that phenomenon when you screened it?
CP: Yes. I hesitate to use the word “fetish,” but there is a lot of incestuous porn. Honestly, while we were making [the film], we had someone reach out to us who claimed to have been in a relationship with their brother for the past 15 years. They were really interested to see my take. Some people thought that it might be offensive: that it might be about the brother forcing the sister, or something. But when I watch it, I think it is more of the sister, Lisa, who pushes that agenda forward.
SM: No doubt about that, I think. She bears the agency in that decision-making.
CP: I think that is rare in this time. There are these sorts of men – brothers taking advantage – but in this, the sister is the more perverted in her mind, and has a deeper fantasy about [incest].
SM: Did you write “Lisa” with yourself in mind?
CP: Honestly, my first thought was not to make an incest movie – I wasn’t trying to do that so I stood out or whatever. I was just thinking about my own experiences being close to my step-brother, though not in a sexual way. We were so close that we relied on each other, and I was just exploring that.
Originally, it was going to be a short film. I worked on the script for two years. I would let my close friends read it and give me feedback over those two years. Then one friend told me, “It’s so funny that you are making an incest movie.” And I was like, “Oh! Is that what I’m doing? Weird.” So I decided to explore that.
When I was a year into writing it, [director] David Howe told me, “You should make this a feature.” And I just wrote it – no production deals, no nothing. I was coming from the bottom; but then I started grabbing friends, and friends of friends, who all made films. It became this real team effort to make. I’m in awe that it even got shot and made.
SM: David Howe is one of the many recognizable faces from around the Austin comedy scene that appears in the film. He is an improv guy, right?
CP: That is how he came into the scene. But he studied film, and he’s a big film buff. We have been friends for a long time, and we’ve shot a lot of short sketches and stuff together over the years. He made his own short film called The Woo about the Goodall Wooten on The Drag in Austin, that mysterious building.
So when I think of him, although he is a comedy guy, I think of him as a director, first and foremost. He has a vision. We had such a connection creatively as to what we wanted, and we’ve always worked really well together when making something visually interesting. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted him to be a part of this film.
SM: Did you also know his brother, Justin Howe? When the credits for Call Me Brother roll, the whole film seems to have come together between the two of them, basically. Justin is the cinematographer, DIT, the co-editor with David. What was your relationship with him going into the production?
CP: Justin is a really great cinematographer who lives in Chicago. We had met a few times, and he came down just before we shot it. I had never shot anything with him before. But he had such a capture on the film that I felt really safe working with him. Justin is also a musician, and he wrote some tracks for the movie, too. He is a very, very creative mind.
SM: In the few years since I first saw you perform, you have also been spectacularly prolific in the Austin comedy world. You’ve got The Chip Show which I wrote about for the Chronicle last year. You make these one-off shorts with people like Sara June. Take me through your writing process a little bit.
CP: I don’t write every single day, but I do write most days. I think it’s really important if you’re coming up in comedy that you have your own tools: your own things, which you have made, that let people know your “brand,” quote unquote. During the writing of Call Me Brother, throughout the months I would write things down in the Notes folder on my phone. Lines of dialogue, or something weird that happened.
SM: For example?
CP: In the movie, there is somebody who is singing “I’m a creep…” in a Bob Dylan voice.
SM: I love that moment.
CP: That guy does video stuff at the Fallout Theater with their set designer, Nathaniel Hendricks, who did a great job with Call Me Brother. That scene was something that actually happened to me at the Spiderhouse Café where there was literally nobody else there besides me and this strange guy who went up and started singing Radiohead’s “Creep” in a Bob Dylan voice. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. The big thing for me is to take an idea like that or The Chip Show, and to just drive with it without letting go. See how far you can go to get people on your side.
SM: It’s so easy to use the phrase “incest comedy” for nefarious marketing purposes. But as soon as you and Tony [the character played by Andrew Dismukes] walk into a liquor store, and see the guy behind the counter humping a cigarette shelf, we realize the film is a put-on, a gag. It’s playful – this is not a Vincent Gallo movie where the point is to get a rise out of anyone who sees it.
Many people who just hear about “that incest comedy” touring film festivals will not realize that until you see it. Have you gotten messages from people saying, “This is going to offend me. It’s ungodly. Do not screen this film”?
CP: Before we did the preview for our backers and crew, there was a handful of people who had told me, “I’m really interested to see where you take this.” When I say that I made a comedy about incest, I get The Look. “I’m not sure where you’re going…”
Maybe it’s because I’m in a bubble of people that just want to see what I do with that idea and aren’t necessarily put off by it, but I think the movie changed some of their ideas about what we were going to do with it. It is a silly, playful movie contrasted with these deep feelings that people start to have when they’re so close in age and grow up together in an unhealthy or traumatizing in environment.
If this were to be distributed on a platform at some point, I would just ask people to give it a chance, because this is not putting down people who are in incestuous relationships. It doesn’t make fun of that.
SM: Now that it is about to have its World Premiere, and soon it will be too late to go back, do you get the feeling that Call Me Brother successfully goes as full-throttle towards the edge as you had hoped to go in your first produced screenplay?
CP: Yes, definitely, 100%, no doubt. We shot Call Me Brother in 2 weeks over Thanksgiving. When I tell producers and film people that, they go, “2 weeks for a feature film? That’s crazy.” We were working 12-plus hour days. So just the fact that so many people came together and worked for half their rate or a quarter of their rates just to help us do it is a success on its own. This film was the first feature for a lot of [our crew]. It was [producer] David Bukstein’s first feature, David Howe’s first feature, my first feature. But we pulled it off, and it looks really beautiful.
Call Me Brother screens in competition at the Florida Film Festival Saturday, April 7th, and Thursday, April 12.