Lasting impressions with Oliver Callan

Oliver Callan as Enda Kenny.

Oliver Callan as Enda Kenny.

HAVING KICKED off his latest Irish tour off with a packed Olympia Theatre gig recently, award-winning impressionist Oliver Callan is currently bringing his live music, satire, and comedy across the country sending up the top names in politics, sport, and entertainment. The Callan bus pulls into the Black Box Theatre on Friday November 27 at 8pm for what promises to be a laughter-packed evening.

Featuring a new array of characters from Conor McGregor to Imelda May to Marty Morrissey to Rachel Allen, as well as old favourites, such as An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins; a huge range of issues get the Callan treatment in this biting live show.

Callan is also back on our airwaves with the latest series of Callan's Kicks on RTÉ Radio One and I caught up with him last Friday, just after he had recorded that week’s episode. I began by asking how hectic it is putting a weekly show together with its raft of topical issue.

“We’ve just wrapped the third show, it goes out in an hour and a half hopefully we’ll get away with it - as we usually do,” Callan replies wryly. “It is quite hectic. We meet on a Tuesday and go over the stories and topics of the week. Sometimes those topics will still be alive by Friday but most of the time they’re not. This week is an interesting one, this is the third year we’ve had Callan's Kicks running pre-Budget and I’ve always noticed that every week after a Budget there seems to be very little political news, plus things are winding down for the Halloween break, kids are off school, and there is no Dáil next week so things are a little bit quieter than usual.

"But it’s not just a political satire show, we also cover what’s big in sport, what’s happening in entertainment and so on, so there are always lots of stories swirling around. This week we’ve got the Rugby World Cup and Rory McIlroy got in on a sketch because the Open in 2019 is going to Royal Portrush. Entertainment wise we have the IFTAs on TV3, Marty Whelan has a book out, so there is always plenty going on.”

From page to stage

Callan was a journalist before moving into comedy and he admits that he is something of a news-junkie even without trawling headlines and stories to find material for his show; “I think I am, having been a journalist I’d have a good cross reference across all genres. It’s funny, you can meet someone who you might think is a genius in a particular area but if you ask them about a subject outside their chosen subject their greatness seems to fall apart. I’m not saying someone like Marty Morrissey is a one-trick pony but certainly if you ask him about sports outside the GAA he doesn’t always come across as the expert you might otherwise think he is. I’m from Monaghan and motorsport is really big there and if you meet rally people they don’t follow any other sport whatsoever outside of that. They know nothing about football, GAA, boxing, they haven’t a clue and have zero interest in it.”

How does he compare working on the radio show to taking his comedy onstage? “There is a huge difference between them because obviously the radio show is very topical, it can be a little bit biting,” he declares. “The fun and energy of a live show doesn’t really apply to the radio; the live show has to be very bouncy and bright so it leans more toward the entertainment figures like Imelda May – there is a musical medley in the stage show that we wouldn’t get to do on the radio with Imelda May, Christy Moore, Bono, Shane McGowan, and Bruce Springsteen so that has a non-topical focus.

"With the stage show you can do more international characters like the US presidents; we have Bush, Clinton, and Obama in one segment talking largely about Ireland. The stage show is rather like a revue looking back on the politics of the last four years of Enda. We’re also back to the old favourites like Gaybo and Bertie who always do very well on the live shows while they wouldn’t be on the radio show very frequently.”

Gay Byrne and Michael D

Gay Byrne remains one of Callan’s most popular impressions with audience as he relates; “When I did Gaybo on the first night in the Olympia there was a huge cheer when I started up doing him laughing in that way of his. The live show is comedy theatre. Whereas a lot of comedy stand-up is just one person and a microphone but there are a lot of people behind the scenes here building sets and moving them around during the show, which you won’t even notice it’s done so smoothly. I sometimes wish I could go around the country with just me and a microphone in each place but when you’re doing different characters you have to sell that fantasy to people with a few wigs and costumes and sets but it gives a nice feel that you’ll never get bored of a character because within three minutes the show will be moving on to somebody else.”

If the live show is largely a revue as he describes it, does Callan also manage to work in topical gags into it? “Absolutely,” he asserts. “The most important thing, particularly with Enda, who opens the show, is to establish some of the local information. What I have done around the country before the show is ring up my local contact and they let me know what people in Galway are talking about for example, I was in Kilkenny last weekend and checking out what was happening, you’d know the headline things like Brian Cody and hurling but there was also this ‘Medieval Mile’ story about a local tourist attraction and if you can tap into things like that you’re on to a winner.

Oliver wraps up our chat by sharing a few more snippets of what Galway audiences can expect from his show; “There’s Enda having his spiritual moment with voters, [he here assumes flawless Enda voice] ‘they looked me in the eye and said thank you for giving us that 13 cent extra!’ Then you have Michael D who’d be a very important character in Galway [assumes Michael D voice] ‘he taps into the zeitgeist’. Actually I was in Galway only recently for a Sunday Business Post feature on Kai restaurant so I was doing some research and walking about, I see Eyre Square still has its 400 bins around it!”

Oliver Callan plays the Black Box Theatre on Friday November 27 at 8pm. Tickets are €27 from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie

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