ONE OF the most popular comedy performers in Britain and Ireland is without doubt foul-mouthed funny man Mike Wilmot. Prowling the stage like a caged animal he strikes with lightning precision with a one-liner that leaves the audience helpless with laughter.
The subject matter of his material frequently touches upon the subjects of sex, drugs ,and rock‘n’roll but he delivers it with such conviction that you are almost inclined to follow this preacher of filth and fornication.
Mike Wilmot makes a welcome return to Irish shores when he plays The Laughter Lounge at Róisín Dubh next Wednesday at 9pm.
There is an award-winning Canadian sitcom called Corner Gas created by actor/comedian Brent Butt which currently airs late at night on RTÉ 1. Butt came up with the idea for the show upon wondering what life would have been like if he hadn’t become a stand-up comedian and figured he’d probably be at home working as a petrol pump attendant.
That very same thought runs through the head of Mike Wilmot when he thinks over his 15 year career as a comedy performer.
“Brent and I were actually on tour together when he was writing the pilot for Corner Gas,” says Wilmot. “We go back years together and so he told me that if it got picked up by the television networks he would have me on there as his cousin.
“I had to do loads of these shit jobs until stand-up comedy started paying off for me so I could really identify characters in the show. My father owned a hardware store so I worked there from when I was a little kid until about the age of 20. I have a great life now because I travel around the world telling dirty jokes and I get paid for it.”
Wilmot and Butt follow in a long line of funny men from Canada. Notable Hollywood acting legends such as Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carrey, and Mike Myers all served their time on the Canadian stand-up comedy circuit. What is it that makes people from the Maple Leaf nation so hilarious?
“Canadians grow up on a lot of English humour, and to an extent, Irish humour too,” says Wilmot. “We had Dave Allen out here when I was growing up and Monty Python and The Two Ronnies. Billy Connolly came out to Toronto a few times and had an absolutely huge following because there’s a large Scottish population in Canada.
“Then, of course, American comics and humour was a big factor as well and for me Richard Pryor would have been my biggest influence. So I think all those different traditions fed into our sense of what is funny over the year.s The case with Carrey and Myers is that they can get by as Americans for the American market.”
Canada is a country that welcomes immigrants from around the world and 80 per cent of the population are of European extraction. The English, French, Scottish, Irish, and Germans settled in large numbers throughout the 1700s and 1800s. Wilmot’s own family background very much attributes to this mix of cultures.
“My mum’s side of the family are Irish and my father’s side is English,” he says. “As we all know from our history books a union like that doesn’t mix, so, of course, they got divorced years ago.
“Although I say my Mum is Irish I have to admit that none of her immediate family has ever been to Ireland. Her idea of the country is sort of a 1940s Hollywood version of Ireland and I don’t have the heart to tell her what it’s really like. Let her watch her Barry Fitzgerald movies and be happy.”
Over the last decade Wilmot has spent a lot of time performing in Ireland and is quite happy to return here again and again.
“It’s always been fun and there’s always a good crowd and it’s always ended a little fuzzy at the end of the night,” he says. “The Cat Laughs Festival in Kilkenny in the summer is without doubt my favourite festival. There’s a sort of purity to it and it’s not too showbiz and it’s not too Hollywood.
“Lots of my best friends like Rich Hall go down to Kilkenny every year and it kind of ends up like this bizarre funny convention. With Edinburgh all you get are these new acts kissing up to an agent or humping some producer’s leg for some television role!”
Wilmot’s forays into the world of television comedy are very infrequent but when he does it is normally to team up with the aforementioned Perrier Award-winning American comedian Rich Hall.
In recent years they have produced the hilarious Rich Hall’s Fishing Show and Rich Hall’s Cattle Drive.
“Everything we do together is like shooting a home movie,” says Wilmot. “Most other stuff I’ve done I can’t watch, but anything with Rich I can watch over and over. We’re pretty much best friends and actually I’ve just been named as godfather to his beautiful little daughter. We went to the church for the ceremony and I don’t think the priest really trusted me. He sort of threw a little holy water on me and when it didn’t burn my skin he figured I was OK!”
Throughout his comedy career Wilmot has been unashamed about his slightly risqué material and knows that it is unlikely that he will ever be embraced into the mainstream.
“I think if you stay just under the radar you can stay happy in the business for years,” he says. “If you come right to the fore you’ve got maybe four or five years to enjoy it and then you end up in some obscure world.
“Everywhere you play in the comedy world there’s always the clean and cuddly ones and a group of nasty, dirty ones. I think here in Canada it’s a bit shocking if somebody says the F word but in Ireland they don’t worry so much about the content.”
Support is from Irish comedians Colm O’Regan and Steve Cummins with an open mic spot from Stephen Bennett of NUIG Comedy Soc. The guest MC is Rufus Hound. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.