STAND-UP comedy in Ireland has become more and more popular in recent years and going to a comedy club show is an essential part of any social calendar.
The emergence of the Irish comedy scene began in the 1990s when Sean Hughes, Dylan Moran, and Tommy Tiernan won Perrier awards at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Comedy writers Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan created the much loved sitcom Father Ted in 1995, and over the following three years it propelled comedians Dermot Morgan, Frank Kelly, Ardal O’Hanlon, Graham Norton, and Pat Shortt into the limelight.
In 2000 Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan teamed up to create Black Books - a sitcom about an eccentric alcoholic Irish book store owner named Bernard Black - which won a BAFTA in 2001 and 2005. Irish TV was revolutionised in 2003 when topical comedy chat show The Panel bounded on to our screens and introduced the comedy talents of Dara O’Briain, Colin Murphy, Neil Delamare, Andrew Maxwell, Ed Byrne, Karl Spain, and Dermot Whelan.
Names to have emerged more recently include exciting acts such as Des Bishop, David O’Doherty, Jason Byrne, PJ Gallagher, Maeve Higgins, and Jarlath Regan.
Galway has quite a few promising comedians in John Donnellan, Bob Hennigan, Kieran Lawless, Giles Brody, and Danny Dowling and they will be gathering in The Laughter Lounge in the Róisín Dubh for Santa's Birthday Party tonight from 8.30pm.
Eyrecourt’s John Donnellan heads the bill and has had a truly exceptional 2009. He performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August and later wrote about his adventures in Hotpress.
“I really enjoyed Edinburgh,” he tells me. “I was there for four days both as a tourist and as a performer. I saw five or six shows a day and I really learned a lot. There was some really good stuff and also some very bad stuff.”
Given his festival experience across the water it was then only a natural progression that John would feature prominently at this year’s Galway Comedy Festival, and he more than held his own among a cast of notable names.
“I did three or four gigs during the festival and the best one was in the Radisson in front of a couple of hundred people,” he says. “It was a big bill with Phil Nichol, Paddy Courtney, PJ Gallagher, Reginald D Hunter, and myself,” he says.
“I had to follow Reginald D and I didn’t know how I was going to fare with my fluffy little stories about failure. Anyway I stormed it and it was probably one of the best gigs I’ve ever done. It was also in front of the biggest crowd I’ve ever played to and I really enjoyed it.”
John’s most popular routines centre on the many different jobs and careers he has held over the years.
“I think there’s potential for comedy in every job,” Donnellan says “With most jobs you have to have a bit of a laugh otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get through them.
“Irish people in general are very funny but I suppose when you’re a comedian you’re always on and you’re always looking for the funny angle. I worked in a hospital for a while and that’s a never-ending source of comedy material. If you were to spend a couple of hours in any A and E in Ireland on a busy Saturday night you’d either end up laughing or crying to cope with all that you’d see.”
New Zealand funny man Danny Dowling arrived in Ireland in 2000, and after a brief stint in Dublin eventually settled in Headford. He too has had his fair share of odd and interesting jobs – including a 37 day stint as Father Christmas in Santa’s Wonderland. So, what did he learn from that experience?
“I learned that there are some really obese kids out there and some equally pushy parents,” he says with a chuckle. “I’d get bored and tell them that Santa likes nothing better than a bowl of spaghetti and a glass of red wine. After a while though, I’d have to return to the original script about milk and cookies. Actually after that experience I’d really like to develop a comedy show for kids.”
Throughout the 1990s Dowling had gigged in New Zealand, Australia, Britain, and Canada but it was not until late 2005 that he really started to give it a go in Ireland.
“To get a foothold in Irish comedy not only do you have to be good but you have to be great,” he says. “The crowds can be very unforgiving and if you’re not at your best you’re not going to get back on stage. There’s no quick way to make it in Ireland and you really have to do the miles and do the open mic slots and work really, really, hard.”
The fact that Dowling grew up in a New Zealand-Irish household helped him to adapt to the sense of humour here.
“My uncle Neil Collins was a promoter in New Zealand and he brought the likes of Billy Connolly and Niall Toibin out for gigs,” Dowling says. “I come from very Irish stock - Collins on one side and Dowling on the other - and I went to a Catholic school so I was very familiar with the cultural references. Father Ted was a big hit in New Zealand and it was a big thrill for me to meet Father Jack during The Galway Comedy Festival this year.”
Giles Brody is a rising comedy performer who has appeared at festivals in Galway, Kilkenny, and Edinburgh and he has played support to Jason Byrne and David O’Doherty. He is an accomplished writer and has had many of his articles published in The Independent in Britain. He also pens many comedy scripts.
Brody’s comedy heroes include Woody Allen and Demetri Martin. In 2004 he interviewed Perrier Award-winner Martin for The Independent.
“I was in New York at the time,” Giles says. “I saw his comedy special on TV and loved it, and watched it over and over again. I suggested to the newspaper that I do a piece to tie in to his return to the Edinburgh Fringe. I sort of blagged my way into meeting him and he gave me a little tour of the NBC studio where he was working. He was very nice and maybe a tad too trusting, considering I had no credentials.”
Be sure to check out John, Danny, and Giles alongside Bob Hennigan and Kieran Lawless at the Róisín Dubh.
“We’re like soldiers who’ve fought wars together by doing gigs in pubs,” Brody says. “Myself and Bob will go up on stage and we may well do a routine that brings about world peace.”
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.