IN 1991 Colin Murphy was asked to join an improvisation group at the Irish Student Drama Awards. A life on stage was not something he had really planned and on the day in question he was just filling in for a friend who had to withdraw due to illness.
However, he emerged from that night with the top prize and the performing bug had well and truly bitten him. Within months Murphy became the resident MC at comedy clubs across Northern Ireland and in 1999 did his first solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
He has played everywhere from New York to Helsinki and has become a hugely popular figure on RTÉ’s The Panel. As part of his current Irish tour he will perform at the Town Hall Theatre on Friday April 10 at 8pm.
Prior to his work in stand-up comedy, Murphy had attended art school in the late 1980s and upon his graduation with a BA in design he worked at various jobs including door-to-door salesman, painter/decorator, and factory worker. He also lectured part-time in graphic design and also worked as an illustrator for Elle.
“Normally when you get work as an illustrator on a magazine like that it’s for really dull things that they can’t get a photo for,” says Murphy. “I remember doing illustrations for things like hay fever and allergies and I did a lot of illustrations for the horoscope section and s***e like that.
“You were normally given very short notice for work and you were paid very little for the end product. This was in the days before computer graphics had really developed and so you’d post your design to them and wait for their approval. It wasn’t at all glamorous and it was far too much like hard work for very little money.”
Throughout the 1990s Murphy became a cult figure on the British stand-up scene but by early 2000 he decided to take time out from gigging in London and Edinburgh to spend more time with his wife and young family.
“I used to gig in the UK every other weekend but being away from the kids wasn’t good,” he says. “To be honest I wasn’t really interested in the whole ‘scene’ thing over there. It always used to make me laugh when people would say that they’re ‘going into comedy as a career’. You do comedy because you love it and because you don’t want to do anything else. If it ends up becoming your job or your career then that’s just a bonus.”
Since 2003 Murphy has concentrated most of his comedy energies in Ireland and this has paid massive dividends. The Panel has proved to be a massive hit with viewers over the last six years and Murphy has been an integral part of that success as he has appeared in almost every episode.
“I always think The Panel is kind of like the conversation that everybody has down the pub anyway,” says Murphy. “Basically we’re like everyone else in that we chat about what happened that week. All the people on The Panel like hanging out together anyway and I think that comes across on screen.”
When The Panel began its run the Celtic Tiger economy was rampaging through Ireland but since then the financial situation has taken a dramatic nosedive. It would be easy for Murphy and his fellow panellists to poke fun at Brian Cowen and his Government at the moment. However he feels there is a different strategy needed to get us through the economic crisis.
“You might think that the economy and the way that Fianna Fáil are handling it would be comedy gold but it just ends up being the same story,” says Murphy. “Ultimately it’s an incredibly dull subject matter and as fodder for comedy it’s absolutely atrocious. I think people get sick of hearing about the economic doom and gloom. I genuinely believe that what’s needed now is some escapism through off-the-wall comedy and silly stuff.”
Those watching the show might believe Murphy is toiling away at various permutations and figures as many times throughout the discussion he can be seen writing on pieces of paper.
“People are obsessed with that,” he says. “I mean I’m not writing the whole time but it does seem to be a thing that people have picked up on. It’s not like I’m writing out some secret plan to take over the universe. Basically I write down ideas or I’ll draw a little doodle or something. It was recommended to me that I should publish some of those ideas in book form. I’ve never kept them though and I always end up leaving them on the desk after the show.”
As well as being a television personality Murphy has also turned his hand to acting and has appeared in films such as Divorcing Jack, The Most Fertile Man In Ireland, Cider Punks, and Holy Cross. His greatest effort to date on screen though has to be his role in the Harp lager advert.
“Oh, absolutely,” he says with a chuckle. “Harp lager has almost paid for the college fund for the kids at this stage.”
For tickets contact the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.