The Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway is less than two weeks away and kicking off this jamboree of japes and jollity is Ireland’s own Patrick Kielty who brings his new show, Help, to the Róisín Dubh on Tuesday October 20 at 8pm.
Born in Dundrum, County Down, Patrick began doing stand up whilst studying psychology at Queen's University Belfast. He quickly made a name for himself as the host of Northern Ireland’s first comedy club, The Empire Laughs Back, and was soon snapped up by the BBC, and has since gone on to become one of the best-known comics in these islands. Ahead of his Galway appearance, Patrick took some time to chat about his career so far and his latest show. I began by noting that were he a musician, singer, or dancer he would probably have daily exercises to keep himself sharp, so what does he do as a comedian to keep those ‘funny muscles’ supple?
“There are two things,” he replies. “First of all, if you are an Irishman you’ve got the one main advantage that most comedians need, which is the ability to talk and to tell a story. I think that genetically, thankfully, is in us. The other thing you have to do as a comedian in order to keep sharp is to keep your eye out for any wee bit of behaviour you think is worth commenting on. I did a Marie Jones play, A Night in November, a few years back and she said to me that all the best writers are social spies and I definitely think there is something in that. For a comedian, even if you are just travelling about the place, meeting people, having a look at what’s going on in the world, you always have to have your antenna switched on, so that if something comes up, you mightn’t use it straightaway, but you think ‘Oh there might be something in that’. You have to have the ability to suck it in and you have to have the ability to put it out, so those would be my two things.”
'Theatre gave me an appetite to write more'
That Marie Jones play marked Kielty’s acting debut in 2007, opening in Belfast before enjoying a successful transfer to the West End. How did he find the experience of coming to straight theatre from a background in stand-up? “It really helped me to be honest,” he states. “Comedians can be very much ‘lone wolves’; they go onstage and think the only thing that can help them is doing more gigs or sitting with their own thoughts. Doing that play made me a much better comedian, it made me think a lot more about what you say on stage. It gave me a lot more confidence that sometimes in the type of show you are doing, not everything need necessarily be for laughs. My current show, Help, is probably the first one I’ve written which isn’t just ‘Here’s an hour and a half of stand-up’, it has a story and there is an arc to it and I’d never have been able to write it unless I had done theatre and worked with a director and people saying ‘Oh what about trying that?’. I really have to thank theatre for that. It gave me an appetite as well to write more. I’m currently writing a sitcom for BBC, and, again I would never have had the confidence in myself to write it if I hadn’t worked with people in the theatre.”
Kielty cut his stand-up teeth back in Belfast’s bad old pre-ceasefire days when he would regularly satirise both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries. Was he never worried about provoking their ire, I ask?
“What’s interesting to me looking back on all that now was how ordinary we all thought it was at the time,” he recalls. “I remember when we had that comedy club, film crews and journalists were coming over to tell this story about people who were laughing about what was going on, as if that was newsworthy. Now I look back and read quotes about the fearlessness of the performers and smile wryly, most of the people who wrote stuff like that had never actually seen the show! The English papers were praising these fearless routines in the midst of paramilitaries and it’s only when you look back and see how far everything has since come that you realise it was an extraordinary time. All we were doing was trying to reflect how life was and what we were going through. I was probably threatened a couple of times but didn’t realise it! That might have been naivety on my part but those were the times we were living in.”Often when interviewing comedians they will sprinkle quips and one-liners among their replies, as if affirming their comic credentials, but this is not the case with Kielty. His replies are thoughtful and considered and are none the less interesting for that. Reviewers of Help have observed that it reflects a more mature side to his comedy, would he agree with this?
“It brings you on to that thing that you have to be honest whenever you’re on stage and I wanted this show to be a very honest show,” he declares. “There is a lot more of what is going on inside my head in this show rather than previously where I’d be talking about what’s going on in the rest of the world. I don’t know whether that makes it more mature but I am putting a bit more of me ‘out there’ I suppose.”
'I’m fascinated by how our brains trip us up'
Help sees Kielty reflect on his own success and his happy marriage to model and TV presenter Cat Deeley. How does he manage to avoid coming across as if he’s gloating over the rest of us not-so-lucky folk? “I studied psychology for my degree and I’ve always been fascinated by how our brains trip us up,” he explains. “People always strive for happiness and I wanted to write something based on the fact that if you are happy does that mean you have ‘cracked’ life? Have you got to a point where you’ve learned all its lessons and you can say ‘I’ve now reached happiness so therefore this will continue’? The show is not a celebration of happiness, because I have stumbled through much of my own life.
"I’ve never really planned anything so there’s that idea of ‘Oh my God, how have I got here? I don’t really know but I am here and it’s nice.’ Then you wonder, ‘Shit! If I stumbled to this point, is it likely to continue or could I stumble back out of it?’ What was interesting for me was that sometimes you go and see people on stage who think that they’ve got all the answers and I know that I don’t. What I wanted to do was to say ‘Hang on, everybody out here has got some lesson in life and maybe if I tell you what my worries are have you any answers?’ That was the idea behind it.”
Indeed, the show sees Kielty invite the audience to offer their own insights and ‘life hacks’. He must have garnered some choice nuggets of advice? “Writing the show I was thinking ‘I might get some pearls of wisdom here that I can carry forward with me in life’” he agrees. “There definitely are one or two which are in the show so I don’t want to give them away! But because every city you perform in is different, what makes me laugh is that you pour your heart out and tell people how you’re feeling and it’s a comedy gig so a lot of the stuff that they send up is not good advice but it is very, very funny. I’ve had people trying to get me to buy a donkey or asking if I’d want to own half of a Reliant Robin. After I’ve done the first hour of the show I say, ‘Right, it’s over to you’. I don’t choose the advice, the audience by their applause will choose so you get really mad stuff like, ‘Never take a sleeping tablet and a laxative on the same night!'”
Patrick Kielty performs at the Róisín Dubh, along with Gerry McBride on Tuesday October 20 at 8pm. Tickets are €20 through www.vodafonecomedycarnival.com; OMG @ Zhivago, Shop Street; and www.ticketmaster.ie