Joe Rooney talks to Claire O’Brien about charity,
air-kissing, Fr Damo,
and how he longs to be as cool as The Aftermath’s Johnny and Mick Cronin.
By Claire O’Brien
That’s the first word that comes to mind when Joe Rooney appears on the scene.
But there’s much more to the man than an unforgettable role as Fr Damo, or Timmy in Killinaskully. He has performed in several radio plays, short films, and in his own Joe Rooney Live comedy show, which comes to Athlone next month.
There’s a big, shy, little-boy heart behind that madcap, intense comic persona.
He’ll be in Westmeath on Wednesday, with a hundred people who are cycling to Galway for Tedfest. The cycle is for charity Turn2Me.org, an online mental health community for people in distress.
Joe’s a modest man, who denies that he’s a very decent person. He was asked to help promote the cycle, but realised it was a very good idea and wanted to get involved.
Even though he’s never done anything like that before.
He says he’s “kinda fit” because he jogs every day, and when I mention that saddles create all kinds of pain that running doesn’t, his reply is prim and humorous at the same time.
“Any sort of exercise can result in chafing, so I’ll just have to live with it.”
“It’s a good cause, a lot of young people commit suicide, and to have online counselling available, well, that’s a good thing,” he adds.
And his recent stint on Celebrity Come Dine with Me earned a small fortune, €5,000 for CanTeen Ireland, the charity that supports young people with cancer.
But again, it’s not because he’s a good person.
He did a comedy gig at CanTeen’s annual dinner a few years ago, and had such a good night that he stayed on afterwards with the young people he met, calling them “a great crowd,” and “mad, crazy”.
Hence Come Dine with Me, which I suggest was one of the weirdest social experiments ever seen on TV, pitting a hard-working actor (himself ), with red carpet luvvies like Celia Holman Lee, Geraldine O’Callaghan, Rosanna Davison, and celebrity photographer Brian McEvoy.
There are few stranger Irish television moments than when the other four recognized each other with squeals and hugs and kisses, while Joe looked on like the new boy in school.
He admits that he’s not involved in that celebrity scene and tactfully described that first incident as “a moment of bewilderment that I soon got over”.
And he became very bold.
He says he did try to undermine it all with his humour, a move that (with his cooking ) eventually won him the competition.
“I’m not really into that whole scene with the air-kissing and all that lark,” he admits.
Did his seven-year-old self come out to play?
“Yeah. You’re right there. It’s part of my personality sometimes, the messer in the class, that childish part of myself.”
Since then he has met Celia Holman-Lee, whom he describes as “really nice”, and said he enjoyed Rosanna’s company too.
His latest venture is with Mullingar band The Aftermath, whom he met at a gig in Glanmire, Cork.
They got chatting, he did a song with them - something rebellious, ska, or punk-inspired of course, and it was the beginning of a great relationship.
The plan for their upcoming tour is that he’ll do stand-up and then sing with the band, something he practised in Marty Mulligan’s tent at Electric Picnic.
Will he ever be as cool as either of the Cronin brothers, who have a very stylish knack for sharp dressing?
No, he admits.
“You can’t dress as cool as any of the Cronins, but I try my best.”
And he was quietly chuffed when Johnny Cronin complimented him on a suit he recently bought.
“I didn’t realise how cool it was until Johnny saw it,” he says with a laugh.
When Tedfest is over, he’s going to China, and he can’t wait. He’s never been.
The gigs will be with two other comedians and they’ll play to English speaking ex-pats at Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong.
“I heard you can get suits made over there. I’ll come back looking sharp,” he quips.
On his website and Twitter accounts he introduces himself as an actor, comedian, writer, father, singer - but not in that order.
What order should they be in?
He has no hesitation in saying that he’s a father first to his 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.
“Father first, then stand-up that’s the order,” he says determinedly.
He’s fairly bursting with pride, and sounds almost slightly surprised that they have such a good relationship.
They all watched Come Dine with Me together. What did the kids think?
“They were slightly embarrassed at some of the things I said, but I think they were, kinda…” and the sentence trails off until he remembers that some of his daughter’s school friends told her “Your dad’s really funny”.
His son plays the guitar and they go to gigs together, and his kids are clearly a precious part of his life that he’s making the best of, while trying hard not to be a cool dad.
“We’re still hanging out together until, waiting for that time when I don’t exist any more,” he says, almost wistfully.
He’s tickled when I tell him he’s got a page on Meath’s tourism website even though it hasn’t been updated in five years.
“I’ve got a full page?” he asks.
Indeed he has, alongside Pierce Brosnan. He’s not envious of the former James Bond, but would probably like the free parking that comes with getting the freedom of Navan.
“Am I up there with Newgrange?” he asks, still surprised and slightly chuffed.
Fame is strange. And everywhere he goes, he’s remembered for a half hour episode in Father Ted where he was Fr Damo.
It’s a blessing (no pun intended ) and a curse.
“People think you’re loaded if you’re on the telly. It’s not like that,” he says, adding that he’s like everyone else. Sometimes skint.
He’s excited about his first serious stage acting role. It hasn’t been confirmed yet, and modestly he says it’s not a major role. But it will be a great production.
Does he sit down at a desk and wait for funny ideas to land? Is he inspired by day-to-day life?
And does he make himself laugh?
There’s a long pause. And a little laugh.
And another long pause.
“Yeah, I suppose. But just because I laugh doesn’t mean someone else is going to laugh,” he says, pointing out that a sketch is never finished until an audience has heard it a few times and decides it doesn’t need more work.
He works by talking out loud, after things come to him.
He’s busy now. He’ll be in Roisin Dubh in Galway on Wednesday February 20 and up early the next morning to cycle back to Galway for another gig that night at Roisin Dubh.
Then it’s off to Inis Mor for Tedfest for Friday night.
And if he’s not still saddle-sore, you can catch Joe Rooney in Athlone on March 1. Details on www.joerooney comedian.com