Lots to Laff about
?“CHRISPEN YOU real foolish, yuh know”.
That loving description from friend Sharon Banfield to nudge him into taking his natural ability to wider audiences propelled the multi-talented Chrispen Hackett on to the national stage.
It started with the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) in 2006, where he gained a silver medal and some incentive awards for a piece called JC Penny, which was a combination of martial arts and comedy.
So shocked was he with that achievement, that he entered again the following year.
?Chrispen got another silver and some other awards and there was no turning back.
His next exploit was as co-emcee with Jherad Alleyne in the Headliners Calypso Tent. They started off really well and became an instant hit with fans and some members of the Press, but fizzled towards the end. All eyes and ears were on them on judging night but it was a major flop.
“That was a real tough night, boy,” Chrispen recalled with a knowing smile.
He was not permanently scarred by that episode, and the thousands of people in Barbados and further afield have no doubt come to the same conclusion as Banfield.
These days he is a jack of several things – student, DJ, tour guide, martial arts instructor, acting sub-lieutenant in the Barbados Coast Guard and actor.
He said he enjoys all his roles, and does not see any of them as work. He has been able to manage the activities over the years and they rarely clash.
“Each and every week I have some different things to look forward to, and new challenges to try to meet,” he said.
Chrispen is arguably best known as the actor, and especially as a cast member of Laff-If-Off, which he joined in 2008.
His acting debut was much better than the emceeing, but he admitted to being a bit intimidated at the start.
“Being in a room with Tony Thompson and Peta Alleyne, people you would have watched coming up as a youngster on TV, so it was really intimidating for me, especially in my first two years of doing Laff-It-Off,” he explained.
“It’s easier now because obviously I’ve developed over the years through Laff-It-Off,” he said. “I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve never done theatre training or anything of the sort, so everything that I’ve been doing has just been natural. And I’ve learnt a lot from Cecily [Spencer-Cross] and also the others in the cast about the jargon associated with the theatre, and what certain things mean. Each and every year I learn something new.”
Having done six years with the group, Chrispen, who is currently pursuing a master’s in tourism and events management at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill, said he would consider taking some formal classes in theatre and that he had already been scouting some short courses at overseas universities.
He said he stopped pressuring himself about the lack of training after having a chat with Thompson, who was also untrained at the start.
The 29-year-old plays Woodall and takes on several other personas, including a gay one. As if knowing what was coming next, he smiled at that observation.
Explaining that it was not something deliberate on his part, or something he had planned, Chrispen said he played a role in a skit at rehearsal, and that the then director thought it was funny and liked it.
While he does not think a statement will change the perception, Chrispen stated for the record that he was not gay. He has employed a strategy to deal with the stigma, however.
“What I’ve found is that I have to balance it, because Barbadian people are an interesting type of crowd. So they don’t just sit there in the audience and say ‘oh Chrispen, he plays a gay role very well’, and leave it at that [or] ‘he’s a good actor’, they won’t say that. They will add on then ‘so he got to be gay’. So I balance it now.
“When I first started the show, the first two, three years I would just do it and not think about it. Then it occurred to me when one or two people asked me ‘wha’ Chrispen somebody asked if you gay’, and I took a back step. I said ‘okay, this year I might do it, next two years I wouldn’t do it, take a break from it’. Although it don’t really matter, people gine still think so,” he said.
Chrispen does not have a significant other currently, but he said he was not overly bothered by the stigma.
“You can’t do nothing ‘bout it. Previous to Laff-If-Off I didn’t have that issue. . . .I don’t be worried ‘bout it or anything so. If I know who I am, and my friends and my family know who I am, I have no problem with that.”
The actor, who loves to do anything adventurous during downtime, laughed when told that he did a pretty impressive Rihanna, and her use of the “C” word.
“Yeah, that was a big thing boy,” Chrispen said, adding that he has been stopped on the street and in airports in Miami and London by people who wanted to commend him for that performance.
“I guess because I played one or two of the funny roles previously, they said I would be the best one to do it. . . .but also because I dance too. Of the cast, I tend to do the most physical of things. Each of us has our own strong points,” he explained.
In addition to being a fan, Chrispen said he and Rihanna went to the same primary school and that their mothers worked together then. The two of them and her brother would leave Charles F Broome together and go down to Harrisons to wait for their mothers on evenings.
That Rihanna portrayal is on Youtube and Chrispen said he would make a point of finding out if Rihanna had ever seen it.
Chrispen’s hands appear to be full right now, but there is one other vocation he is very keen on pursuing. The ultimate for him is to be a radio announcer.
This is where his bachelor’s in linguistics and experience in all the other things should serve him in good stead.
Growing up around a dad, Lieutenant Commander Carson Hackett, who played a lot of music, Chrispen was exposed to the art from a young age.
He got into deejaying while pursuing an associate degree in mass communications at the Barbados Community College. The free jobs to establish himself gradually become financially rewarding. His goal of becoming an announcer started with an internship at Starcom Network to fulfil the requirements for the programme.
“I always was intrigued by radio. I hope to bring my wit, humour and style to my radio show along with my talents as a DJ (especially when it comes to back-in-time music). I love to reach out to audiences,” he said.