‘Comedians are megalomaniacs!’
Neil Delamere on stand-up, school quizzes and St Patrick
By Charlie Mcbride
NEIL DELAMERE, one of the biggest names on the Irish comedy scene, is coming to the Town Hall Theatre this month with his acclaimed new show, Delamere Mortal.
In Delamere Mortal, Neil comes to the realisation that he has now lived in Dublin as long as he has lived in his family home in Offaly. So what has he learned in the 16 years since leaving home? His journey will involve witty self-reflection and a hilarious trip down memory lane aided by original footage from 1990s quiz show, Blackboard Jungle, when he captained his school team to victory.
“There are clips from Blackboard Jungle threaded throughout the show,” Delamere tells me over an afternoon phone call. “We also got all the guys from that episode back, from both teams, and we got Ray D’Arcy back and re-shot a little video of us all 17 years later, that’s kind of the denouement of the show.
“It was great fun to revisit those memories. When I did the show in Edinburgh people enjoyed those parts but when you do it in Ireland is it has that extra layer of nostalgia because people remember the programme, the music, the questions, the prizes, and all that really seems to be connecting with audiences here.”
What were his initial impressions revisiting his teenage self? “My first thoughts were that fashions change, oh my God how they change,” he laughs. “And skin clears up, even though you don’t think it will, it does! I remember going into RTÉ and you’re so nervous, your first time on television. You’re sitting there and the poor make-up lady is trying to cover everything on your face, and it’s like she’s trying to paint bubble-wrap.”
Does the fact he was team captain indicate Delamere was one of the smart kids in his school?
“You may well think I was one of the brighter kids, or maybe I was just one of the few who went to the programme trials, let’s go with the first option!” he replies jocularly. “I was actually quite shy at school – we used to do a school musical but it would have been beyond the realm of possibility for me to do that, I’d have been too nervous. It was leaving home and going to college that started to awaken things in me – that’s where I was exposed to live stand-up for the first time and started to pursue it from there.”
Delamere comes from Edenderry, the Offaly town featured in Eugene O’Brien’s hit stage and screen drama, Eden.
“Eden is a brilliant play,” the comic enthuses. “Edenderry is a small town and we’re very proud of the two or three people who’ve done well in their respective fields and Eugene O’Brien is definitely one of those. I remember once going back to my old national school and a picture of me was up there and I felt really proud but at the time I wasn’t the most famous person who’d been to the school and my picture was below that of Malachy from Fair City so just when you get a big head you’re reminded where your real place is.”
Reviews of Delamere’s live shows frequently note how skilled he is in ad-libbing with the audience and that these parts are just as funny as his scripted material. I ask whether this was something he had to work on.
“When I first started doing stand-up I was very rigid within the structure of the set, yet I always liked the idea of messing around a bit,” he replies. “Then one day a guy made two points to me, he said 1) ‘I think you should improvise more as it’s fun for you’ and 2) ‘From a practical point of view if you want to stay in Ireland, you’re going to have to emcee clubs every week or two and if you have a facility for improvisation that will allow you build a career here.’
“That spurred me on and now every show has some of that ‘messing around’. It makes every show individual and fun, not only for me if I’ve done the show 30 times in the same room in Edinburgh or 60/70 times on tour but for the audience as well. Audiences are very clever and intuitive, they know when something is genuinely spontaneous and they seem to really go for it. They’re the bits that keep everything fresh.”
He does have to deal with the occasional curve ball of course.
“You do get caught every once in a while, like a guide dog had a pee in the front row of my show in Edinburgh last year,” he recalls wryly. “I’m in mid-story and suddenly this puddle of urine starts to slowly approach me on the stage. I look up and it could have been one of the people in the front row for all I knew – there were one or two there that looked like they could have been candidates! Then it transpired it was this guide dog that was only new on the job. So the woman brought the guide dog out and we had some craic with that.”
St Patrick and Barack Obama
While much in demand for radio and TV, performing onstage remains Delamere’s first love.
“All the other stuff feeds into one thing and that is live stand-up,” he says. “If someone said to me you can only do one thing tomorrow, it would only ever be live stand-up. You do everything else so people will come and see your live show. It’s the most fun to do.
“Also, comedians are megalomaniacs and the show is where we get to control everything. If somebody doesn’t laugh it’s our fault so we choreograph it, we direct it, we write it, we edit it and everything is on us so it’s the gig that gives you the most freedom and also the most responsibility and I have to say I love it, and I’ll always love it.”
Last year saw Delamere scoop an IFTA award for his documentary The Only Viking In The Village and he is following that with one on Saint Patrick which will be screened in March.
“We discovered a lot of interesting stuff about Patrick I hadn’t known before,” he tells me. “I didn’t know he was accused of a great crime for example; his best friend betrayed him and this came back to haunt him when he was essentially put on trial over his suitability to become a bishop.
“The cult of Patrick only starts appearing in the 7th century when political factors started coming to the fore and he started to be associated with Armagh as Armagh was contending for the primacy of Ireland – there was no prior evidence that he had any connection with Armagh.
“At first I was disgusted at this idea that people would just associate someone with a town to promote that town but then I suddenly realised, as an Offaly person, which has Moneygall and its claim to Barack Obama that maybe things don’t change that much in 1,600 years!
“When we did the Vikings programme, the academics who watched it were very positive about it and one of them said to me afterward ‘That was one of the finest pieces of stealth learning I’ve ever seen’ which I thought was a great phrase. Hopefully we can do that for Patrick as well where you learn but you don’t realise you’re learning you just enjoy the process of imbibing information.”
Neil Delamere in Delamere Mortal, a ‘Róisín Dubh presents...’ show, takes place in the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday January 24 at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall only on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie