WHETHER IT be on RTE’s The Panel or The Republic of Telly, Irish audiences are well acquainted with the name Neil Delamere.
Over the years Delamere has become a regular feature at comedy festivals across Ireland, the UK, and beyond too, appearing at the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Montreal’s Just For Laughs, and of course our own Bulmers Galway Comedy Festival.
Known for his stress-relieving rants and his quick wit with audiences, he has established himself as one of the top Irish comedy acts around. Amid a hilariously busy schedule, Delamere brings his new show Smartbomb to Galway in the new year, exploding at the Town Hall Theatre on January 16.
Delamere has already started touring his latest creation, leaving glowing reviews in his wake. The title Smartbomb gives nothing away; a moniker Delamere admits was conceived well before the finished product was ever written, due to a requirement by the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to name a scheduled show for its brochure publication. “It’s like you have been forced to name a child before it’s born,” says an upbeat Delamere. “They won’t tell you the sex of the child but you have to name it so you have to pick a title that can somehow suit the ending.”
Nevertheless the show has garnered high praise, from the cleverly-written anecdotal stories to Neil’s natural propensity towards audience participation and the back-and-forth banter which is interwoven throughout. “The show should be called ‘Six people who think slightly less of me than they did last year’ but that might be too long a title for a listing in a brochure.
“The show is essentially me venting about the tiny run-ins that I have had with various people in the last year. It is a good cathartic way for me to kind of rant and get rid of this negative energy that you can sometimes carry around with you.”
Smartbomb promises to be a thoroughly entertaining and immersive experience for onlookers. One of Neil Delamere’s defining qualities as a comic is his ability to engage, converse, and have a laugh with his audience, breaking that fourth wall regularly. “It starts with the usual messing with the audience. When you go out on tour you are in front of an audience who are giving you a night out of their lives. I haven’t toured this show for long but by the end of it you can get weary. The joy of improvisation is you’re keeping it fresh every night, you never get jaded or cynical.”
On occasion the audience can change the direction of a gig with small insights into their own lives, airing out madcap secrets. A master wordsmith and improviser like Delamere can spot these moments and realise their potential. “I was at a gig where I asked a couple what was the weirdest thing they do as part of their relationship and they said that sometimes they send pictures of each other on the loo. In front of 200 people,” he exclaims. “It was a short set and the audience and I were more interested in what weird stuff this couple were involved in so I focused on that mainly for the remainder of the set.”
While improvisation is a treasured aspect of the profession for the Offaly-born comic, Delamere maintains that the job appeals to him in many ways, not least the nervous excitement he feels when producing a new show: “There is a great joy in the initial copulation stage, in honing and performing it. If you aren’t excited about trying out new jokes anymore then it’s probably time to get out. Audiences are intuitive, they know if you are being genuine and catch you out if you’re just going through the motions.”
One term lurking in the shadows of both stand-up and televised comedy is political correctness, the line that many a comic has straddled or stepped over entirely. For Neil Delamere, it has little influence over his own output and style. “It keeps people from being hurt, however I do stand over the idea that every subject can be joked about depending on its context,” he says. “That said, I don’t have a particular interest in being controversial, I don’t think there is any harm in it as long as it gets people thinking. It is a comedian's job sometimes to be contrary; sometimes the court jester can shine a light on things.”
Initially, Delamere never considered comedy to be a serious profession. At the time it was a very difficult and unclear career to pursue, requiring a lucky break or two along the way as he himself admits: “God no, I never thought of it as a job, whereas nowadays people probably do because there’s a well-worn path. That didn’t really exist when I started, most of us were kind of floundering around really. If you get a bit of television exposure on a successful show then that should hopefully be the start of something.”
Neil Delamere is known for his enlightening opinions on life, poking fun at the establishment like any good comedian should. His effortless comedic abilities, his good-natured and smooth talking style and tone, has earned him starring roles on comedy panel shows like The Panel and BBC’s The Blame Game, three DVDs, radio show stand-ins, and presenting duties for documentaries The Only Viking in the Village and There’s Something About Patrick and on other possible projects down the road; great exposure upon which to build an impressive career. Neil sees his status as a household name as nothing but a good thing which has opened doors into new career opportunities as well as some surprising perks.
“In Ennis I got the best possible freebie of all time. I was in a carvery and I was told I could have as much turkey and ham as I wanted because I was off The Panel. Britney Spears gets a car, I am more than happy with some turkey and ham.”
Delamere credits his particular rise to public attention to his stints on panel style shows and, with an interesting new project on the horizon, he sees his career coming full circle. RTE’s Next Week’s News, debuting to Irish audiences with a New Year’s Eve special, will feature Delamere with fellow comedians PJ Gallagher and Eoghan McDermott, taking a light-hearted look back over the top stories of 2013, while also casting an eye forward as they figure out what 2014 has in store. Without giving too much away, the project will have elements of The Panel and no doubt appeal to its audience, a gap in the market for which Delamere believes an appetite still exists.
For those starting out, Delamere believes in a strong work ethic, to keep writing as much as possible and to take any opportunity to perform, thus building confidence. He says that when trying to distinguish themselves from other comics, the most difficult thing facing a newcomer is to find their angle or shtick. His best advice is to stick to what makes them chuckle, not to pander too much to his or her audience. To sum it up however, Neil does it best: “Focus on what you think is funny, write as much as you can, perform as much as you can, and sleep your way to the top.”
Neil Delamere’s Smartbomb arrives at the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday January 16. Tickets are €20, available at the venue or at www.tht.ie