KARL SPAIN can afford to wear that trademark mischievous smile. The last two years have seen the Limerick comedian enjoying the form of his life and truly hit his stride as anyone who has seen him at either this, or last year’s, Galway comedy festivals will testify.
“I do feel that I have broken through a ceiling in the last while,” Karl tells me during our Tuesday afternoon interview. “Almost from the start of January 2013 I felt like the shackles were off. It was a case of ‘I know who I am. I know what I’m doing’. I hosted a number of late shows at this year’s Galway comedy festival and people were coming up afterwards saying it’s the best they’ve ever seen from me. I can jump and the water always appears in the pool.”
Indeed Karl has found his best form in those moments that a prepared script cannot prepare you for - improvisation nights, or where the show takes an unexpected turn, or if the crowd has some boisterous hecklers.
“For me, comedy is vocational. What I like doing is when something different is happening, and being challenged,” Karl says, “I want to rise to the occasion, and I think that’s a reaction to a time when I couldn’t interact with the audience, I’d just do my jokes and go.”
Come April next year, Karl will mark 15 years as a professional comedian. He still remembers his first paid gig. “The first person to pay me was Des Bishop,” Karl recalls. “He paid me €20 for a 20 minute set. I’d done 10 minute sets before, but this was the longest. In the end I only did about 16 minutes. I told Des I hadn’t done the full time, but he still paid me the 20 quid.”
So how did Karl become interested in stand-up comedy originally? “I was working in a fast food restaurant and we had a supervisor come in and evaluate us. In her report she said ‘Karl is constantly looking for an audience.’ I was always trying to be funny.”
Around the same time, Karl discovered the legendary Irish comedian Dave Allen, a fellow Limerick man, and became obsessed with him. The final piece in the jigsaw was in university, when Karl was studying media production.
“A friend told me ‘You have a comedic way of looking at and analysing things’ but I was still a very shy person,” says Karl. “The guys on the course would still get me to present various shows that we made.
“I found I was comfortable with that and I found that people were cracking up with laughter even when I wasn’t trying to be funny. For me comedy is vocational and it’s been a great 15 years. The idea you could make a living from comedy was fantasy. The idea you could get money for telling jokes was hilarious.”
Laughing through Christmas
Karl is coming to Galway during the Christmas period to host A Christmas Karl at the Róisín Dubh on Saturday December 27 at 8.30pm, where he will be joined by Fred Cooke, Republic of Telly’s Kevin McGahern, and guests. So what can audiences expect on the night?
“I’ll be dressed in a Santa suit and giving out presents,” says Karl. “Kevin McGahern is great and myself and Fred Cooke had that great slagging back and forth at the comedy festival. Hugo Seale, the Galway poet will be doing stand-up. There’ll also be Tommy James, he’s very new. The Róisín Dubh is always a party atmosphere. I love coming up to Galway and for me, my perfect Christmas is being on stage with friends in front of a nice audience. It’ll be a good night out and we’ll have the craic afterwards.”
We are just eight days away from Christmas Day, so when it comes to Yuletide is Karl a ‘Bah humbug’ or does he embrace the festivities?
“I edge more towards ‘Bah Humbug!’” he says. “I hate the ‘We’ll all be nice to each other now’ behaviour and ‘Oh let’s check in on the neighbours because it’s Christmas’. You should check in on the neighbours throughout the year, not just Christmas! I don’t drink so it’s funny on New Year’s Eve, people who are recently single desperate to score. It’s just another night, but people put all the emotion of the year into that night. I like the atmosphere of Christmas Eve though, everyone is always in a good mood and I like St Stephen’s Day, because you’re allowed leave the house.”
That said, we all like to get presents at Christmas. What would be Karl’s ideal Christmas present? “To receive? I have written a sit-com and it’s currently in development limbo. The first episode is based on the Róisín Dubh and includes Fred Cooke. I have had meetings with RTÉ, people connected with Sky, BBC, Channel 4. So hopefully next Christmas I’ll be able to say it’s filmed and released.”
Aside from comedy, Karl’s other great passion is football. He regularly Tweets about the Beautiful Game, but often more about the culture, characters, and events that surround the game rather than match results.
“I remember my Tweet when Shay Given retired, ‘Shay Given not forgotten’, that got a good reaction,” he says. “When Man City won the FA Cup the year Man United won the league, I posted on Facebook that ‘Man City have won a trophy since Man U’. That got some angry responses, but I’ve been a Man United fan since the eighties, during a time when we only won two FA Cups. I’m not one of those Man U fans though that kicks the cat if we lose! I remember the Champions League final against Barcelona in 2011. It would have been wrong for us to win. Barcelona were magnificent, they were one of the best teams ever.”
Karl’s comedy career and passion for football also led him to meet and interview former Republic of Ireland football team manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Given Trap’s less than perfect command of English, how much of a challenge was that?
“I loved Trap,” Karl declares. “I think he did a good job. He had his flaws but history will be kinder to him. Meeting Marco Tardelli was a big thing for me, hanging out with my childhood hero from Spain 82.”
What is Karl’s assessment of the current ROI manager Martin O’Neill? “I’m a huge fan of Martin O’Neill,” he says. “He was nearly the Limerick City FC manager at one point when he started his managerial career, but Billy Hamilton got the job instead. I briefly met Martin a couple of years ago. I was doing a gig for football writers. It was going very badly, but Martin O’Neill, who was managing Sunderland at the time, was one of the few people laughing. That further endeared me to him. Alan Pardew left at the start. I wasn’t a fan of him after that!”
Tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net, the Ticket Desk at OMG Zhivago, Shop Street, and The Róisín Dubh.