FOR MORE than two decades Irish actor and comedian Jimeoin has been a household name in Australia but on Thursday October 21 he returns to Ireland to play The Galway Comedy Festival.
On the night, Jimeoin will be the headline act on a bill that also includes Tom Rhodes, Ian Coppinger, and guest MC David O’Doherty.
Jimeoin arrived in Sydney in the early 1990s at the age of 22 and began working in construction alongside other Irish immigrants. One night at an amateur comedy slot in the city he got up and told a few jokes. His observations as an innocent abroad and quirky way of looking at life in his newly adopted homeland struck a chord with the Aussie audience.
The man born Jim Eoin McKeown, in Portstewart, near Derry, enjoyed a rapid ascendancy in the Australian comedy scene and became a regular face on television. His own show Jimeoin on the Seven Network in 1994-95 became a ratings winner and his live CDs Goin Off, Crack, and Forklift Truck sold well.
In 1999 Jimeoin’s debut feature film The Craic - which he wrote, co-produced, and starred in - was well received around the world, especially in Ireland. It is the second highest grossing box office movie in Australian film history.
In recent years the Northern Irish funny man has toured everywhere from New York to the Middle East. He is a regular box-office smash at prestigious events such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, and Melbourne Comedy Festival.
The popular seaside resort town of Portstewart has a population of just under 8,000 people. It is one of the most integrated towns in Northern Ireland and is often praised for its Catholic/Protestant community relations. It is also one of the most desirable places to own a holiday home with Alan Sugar and Salman Rushdie owning second homes there.
The town has produced many notable sporting, entertainment, and political figures through the years. These include former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg, ex-Wings’ guitarist Henry McCullough, SDLP politician Sean Farren, and former The Beautiful South vocalist Briana Corrigan.
“I’d know Briana very well, I was actually at school with her,” Jimeoin tells me. “We were in the musical Oklahoma together. She had the main part and I was in the male chorus. We ended up doing a bit of dance routine together. The actor James Nesbitt is from the area too. So I grew up with him as well.”
Of course Nesbitt is similarly follicularly challenged like Jimeoin himself. “Ha, ha” he laughs “Aye, there must be something in the water up there!”
In his late teens Jimeoin left his idyllic home behind and moved to London, where he lived and worked for four years. He had dreams of becoming a musician and never even considered comedy as a viable career option.
“Any time anybody asked me what my biggest comedy influences were I always said The Sex Pistols,” he admits. “When I was growing up and watching them on TV I thought they were hilarious. I always thought it was a bit odd that you were told that there were certain people you were meant to take seriously and there were other people that you were meant to laugh at.
“I never really tuned into the establishment comedy as a kid and thought the Pistols were the funniest thing around because they were just taking the p**s. You get that in stand-up now and lots of young people who would’ve been in garage bands 15-20 years ago are giving comedy a go instead. It’s seen as a very viable alternative art form”
Since the mid-90s thousands of Irish backpackers have descended upon the Bondi and Waverley regions south of Sydney city centre. The proliferation of GAA county jerseys on the beach area has led to the area being nicknamed ‘County Bondi’.
“That’s where I stayed initially,” Jimeoin says. “There’s always been a big contingent of Irish in Sydney. A year in Australia seems to be a rite of passage and it’s not just among the Irish, the Swedes and other European countries do it too.
“Then you have the Australians going to the UK and Ireland for a year or two to see that part of the world. I was always very negative towards London but then when I looked at it through Australian eyes I got a fresh perspective. Also, I’ve spent such a long time in Australia that when I go back to Ireland now I really enjoy it. If I’d grown up in Australia I would probably be living in Ireland at this stage. Actually I’d probably be living in Galway because it’s quite interesting.”
It was in Sydney that Jimeoin first found his comedy voice and he developed a sizeable following for his strange everyday life observations.
“I never went to a comedy show when I was living in London or when I was living in Ireland,” Jimeoin recalls. “I didn’t even know it existed as a night out. The first time I saw a stand-up gig was in Australia. I really thought it was the best craic ever and I couldn’t believe that complete strangers were laughing at simple, silly stuff. I gave it a go and it went really well. Even before I got my TV show I had a core following.”
In the late 1990s the comedian moved to Melbourne and soon after he married a local girl. Together they have three children and Jimeoin has settled into an Australian way of life.
“The Irish people that I met in Australia kept moving on and I had to make new friends,” he confides. “I decided to go to Melbourne and see a different perspective and while there I met mainly Australians.
“I got really into Aussie Rules and all that and actually I just watched the grand final there today. There’s this breakfast thing that the AFL have on the day of the final and I’ve appeared at that loads of times. The thing about doing stand-up in Australia is that you can go from playing a pub to a theatre to a TV slot to a cattle ranch in the space of a couple of days.”
There is no doubt that Jimeoin is a phenomenon in the Southern Hemisphere and it is only a matter of time before he becomes equally famous in Ireland and Britain.
“I’ve never been a word person or a very lyrical stand-up,” he says. “I’m kind of half way between being wordy and being visual. People generally have a hard time understanding me so maybe it’s just as well”
For tickets contact Zhivago, Shop Street (091 - 569777 ), or see www.galway comedyfestival.com. A limited number of tickets will also be available on the door.