Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Interview with Ardal O'Hanlon

TO ARDAL O’Hanlon, comedy is not just a job, it is a calling, more specifically, a vocation.
While familiar to millions as the rather dim-witted Fr Dougal McGuire from Channel 4 tv series Fr Ted, stand-up comedy has always been a secure base for the rather cerebral Carrickmacross man, despite his adventures in 'tellyland'.
He realised in his teens, as a rather withdrawn young man, that comedy and the expression of his humour was something he wanted to pursue, a goal that was realised in the late 80s when he set up the Comedy Cellar in the International Bar in Dublin with fellow comedians Barry Murphy and Kevin Gildea.
Since then he has consistently returned to the stage to challenge, one feels, both himself and his audience, to hone his craft to a fine edge.
“Absolutely, I do,” says O’Hanlon when asked if he still enjoys performing live stand-up.
“It is a thing I have always gone back to, even when you are off doing tv shows or other projects that take a lot of time - I always got back to stand-up as soon as I could really, because it is the day to day stuff, the stuff you think about every day,” he explains further.
Despite having a new RTE tv show to plug - Val Falvey TD, which started last Sunday night - O’Hanlon seems more keen to discuss the intricacies of his primary art, which will take him to the Last Laugh comedy series in Trinity Rooms this Thursday night.
“Stand-up is very personal, it is about yourself and it is egotistical whereas television is very collaborative (and) it is really enjoyable because it is very sociable, that is the main difference. I am delighted to have the opportunity to do both.”
He continues: “I suppose I have put together a sort of a state of the nation rant at the moment and it is all very well doing it at home and shouting at your children but you need to do it front of real people at some stage, so that is what I'm at.
My instinct would be to reduce everything to a joke, rather than waffle on about things, I do try and reduce things to a pithy one-liner.
Stand-up, if it is working correctly, is your version of events, it is your take on the world and the people around you - in the course of a full show you might go through hundreds of subjects but it mostly comes back to the same thing, the state we are in.
It is all very well pointing the finger at bankers and government, but what I think is funny and more timeless is to actually talk about our mentality - who we are and where are we going? I think that is useful and very promising material which I think people respond to and are interested in.”
Ardal has in the past expressed discomfort at those that appear at his shows expecting Fr Dougal, but several minutes in his company are enough to demonstrate that he is far removed from his more famous persona.
But he doesn’t shy away from the legacy, recognising that it kick-started his career.
“Oh definitely and it was great. Things were very grim in the late 80s when I started out in Dublin, you couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel, it was something that was enjoyable and kept you busy from day to day, but there didn't seem to be any possibility of making a living from it or going anywhere.
So I went off to London and not too long after that I did get that fantastic break in Fr Ted, which did change everything over night, I suppose,” he says.
Expressing himself through his “rants” on stage is also crucial to his mental state, he explains to much laughter on both our parts.
“You see the world through this type of comic prism, and it is a way of staying sane, otherwise you would think about things too much and you'd go a little bit mad,” he says, adding: “This is not just a job, it is a type of vocation”.
Ardal O’Hanlon appears at the Last Laugh Comedy Club in Trinty Rooms nightclub this Thursday night, with Gearoid Farelly. Doors 7.30pm.

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