Deirdre O'Kane - coming back to stand-up comedy

Actor/comedian talks Galway, Nobel, Moone Boy, and Garth Brooks

Deirdre O'Kane.

Deirdre O'Kane.

DEIRDRE O'KANE is back doing stand-up comedy. After years away from the circuit, during which she returned to her original calling of acting, winning acclaim for her roles in the film Nobel and the comedy series Moone Boy, she entered 2015 with time on her hands, and an itch to put pen to paper.

"It was the start of the year. It was January, and I started writing," Deirdre tells me during our Tuesday morning interview. "I had a weird year last year. It looked as if I was very busy, but I wasn't. I needed something for my sanity, and I rediscovered writing material for stand-up. I thought writing could be good for me, but I had no choice. I needed something and then I found I had a lot to say."

So when Deirdre plays the Róisín Dubh on Saturday June 27 at 8.30pm, as part of that return to stand-up comedy, what is it she wants to get off her chest? "It'll be very much about ageing reaching middle age, and parenting - I've been a full time parent for the last number of years. Life generally, it's very indulgent with whatever is going on with me and people my age."

Middle age can be a time when a person stops caring so much about the small things and allows him/herself a freedom his/heryounger incarnations could never have coped with. For others, it a more distressing period, coming to terms with the fact 'they ain't getting any younger'.

"It's a double edged sword," says Deirdre. "You do feel liberated in yourself, and you know yourself a bit more, but your looks are fading, which is definitely hard, unless you make a decision in your head that it isn't going to be that important, but until you reach that point, you fight against it. I wouldn't want to be younger, but I'd like to hold on to my looks a while longer - sure I'll keep throwing money at it!"

Galway, The Stunning, and the Moone Boy connection

Deirdre recently came out in support of Galway's bid to become the 2020 European Capital of Culture. Her reasons are both artistic and personal, and she considers herself fortunate to have lived and worked here during a very exciting period for the arts in the city.

"It's because I have a special love for Galway, it's a great artistic city," she says. "I started my acting career here. I was acting with Druid, and my first two professional years were in the city. That was 1992. I loved that time. There was a whole gang of us, just hanging out, and the buzz was incredible. Macnas were causing a stir, The Stunning were around. I was acting in At The Black Pig's Dyke [Deirdre played Miss Funny], and there was a lot of music in the play with Cora Smyth and Brendan Laird. Through them I got in touch with musicians. Cora was hanging out with Sharon Shannon, and through them I met Joe and Steve Wall of The Stunning. It was a nice time, it was electric, it was magical, and that's my memory of Galway."

Thanks to Chris O'Dowd's wonderful series Moone Boy, Deirdre has been able to re-connect with Steve Wall, who played Uncle Danny, and re-live the early 1990s, the period when the show is set.

"It's so nostalgic," she laughs. "I've reconnected with Steve and there was all that music as well, The Waterboys were always on. In the show there are four kids, nobody has any money - we were all equal then. I can identify with that as one of five children. There was no fighting with screen time for the television. As a mother I spend a lot of energy policing the TV screen. Back then the TV was only on for a certain number of hours of the day, so if something was on you just had to sit down and watch it, there was no 'I'll watch it later'. Looking back, it was a time of simplicity."

The three seasons of Moone Boy were a ratings and critical hit for Sky, and while many factors contributed to that success, Deirdre, who played Debra Moone, Martin Moone's mother, thinks its focus on a family unit was significant. "We don't have very many shows centered around a family, and family situations," she says.

The drive of Chris O'Dowd was the other key to the show's success. "Chris can be great fun to work with, but he is also quite demanding," she says. "He's very driven. People think it's a laugh a minute on set, but when shooting a series you're under massive time pressure. I think Chris is gifted, massively brilliant. He has a very strong work ethic and demands a lot from himself as well as others. That's what made it a very good show."

From Christina Nobel to Garth Brooks

If January saw the first stirrings of a desire to return to stand-up comedy for Deirdre, February saw her finally win an IFTA - after six previous nominations - for her portayal of Irish humanitarian and children's rights campaigner Christina Nobel in the film Nobel. The win was a very satisfying one for the comedian and actress.

"I really didn't fancy losing again!" she admits. "It wasn't that I never cared, but the other occasions you took in your stride, you didn't really focus on whether you won or lost, but this time, I had put six years of my life and so much into that film, that I wasn't in the mood for runner-up."

It was an accolade well deserved given that Deirdre had gone to almost method like lengths to get into the mind and world of Christina Nobel. "I spent a lot of time with her," she says. "We had 10 days together and I watched her working in Vietnam. She would go from working in the slums to talking with politicians and officials, and I saw she has an incredible brain, she is very smart. You don't build up an something like The Christina Nobel Children's Foundation without being smart. I had her voice down very quickly, she has a very specific speech pattern. After that I had a couple of months before going to Vietnam to shoot the film where I would spend four hours a day with the script, so I knew it backwards. When I turned up to the shoot I didn't need the page in front of me. I was in the zone. It was a lovely experience. I didn't feel stressed. I felt I was in her skin."

Christina Nobel's own verdict on Deirdre's performance was "She did a great job playing me...she got it just right." "That is the endorsement," says Deirdre.

After her current stand-up tour, Deirdre takes the lead role in Fiona Looney's Are You There Garth? It's Me Margaret, about the Garth Brooks/Croke Park concerts that never were (the play is due to come to Galway later in the year ), and she will also be developing further material for stand-up shows. Apart from that, she says, "if anybody wants to hire me or wants me to do a play, let me know. For once, I'd love to get asked to do something. I'm fed up having to initiate it all myself! In fairness though, I was asked to do Moone Boy and Fiona Looney did ask me to do the Garth play!"

Support is from Karl Spain and Gearoid Farrelly. Tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net, the Ticket Desk at OMG Zhivago, Shop Street, and The Róisín Dubh.

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