CONOR KERR talks to comedian, Ardal O'Hanlon
Conor Kerr: Hi Ardal. I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. First of all, are you on tour at the moment?
Ardal O’Hanlon: No, not really. I’m touring in the autumn all over Britain and Ireland, so I’ll be back to do the Waterfront in October. So this is really part of getting the show together, kind of building up the show.
C: Any reason for choosing to do a show in a venue like Mandela Hall?
A: Eh, not really. I did the Empire not too long ago as part of the same sort of thing. And I always try to get to one or two gigs around the place anyway, so whether that’s a college gig, or a club gig, or a festival gig, or some small theatre somewhere, or wherever I can. I’ll drop into a wee club in Dublin and do 10 or 15 minutes. I just think you need to stay on your toes all the time in comedy or you go off the boil.
C: Do you think the smaller, more intimate shows are better for that? Surely you could do arenas just as easily?
A: Much better. To be honest, I wouldn’t be in the arena league at all nor would I be particularly interested in doing that. I don’t quite understand the whole arena thing. I like nice live theatres basically, they’d probably be absolutely ideal. But the clubs are great, for a couple of reasons. First of all, they are intimate; they are lively; the expectations possibly aren’t as high. You know you’ve a comedy-savvy audience readymade. I just think you learn an awful lot more in the clubs really, in terms of the look of your material, what works, what’s funny.
C: And how do you come up with your material? Is it based on your own life events, or do improvise and go with the flow?
A: Most of the improvisation would be done at home, like you’re better off coming with something, wherever you go. It’s kind of based on real life, you know, it’s not really me, but everything’s kind of based on something that strikes you, or something that really happened, or something that’s going on, some observation, you know? But my stuff can be quite silly sometimes, so it’s kind of jokey sometimes as well.
C: Are there any subjects you won’t go near?
Eh, probably I’ll avoid the flags issue, when I’m at Queen’s. But no, not really like. I’ll tell you what it is; there’s no subject that is off limits. But it’s the way you approach a subject. One thing I really hate, like I’m prudish when it comes to comedy sometimes, like I really hate gratuitous jokes that are just flavour of the month you know? Or really cheap, easy jokes just don’t impress me. It’s not even judgemental, it’s just not impressive, you know what I mean? Lowest common denominator stuff, like really crude. It’s just boring and repetitive after a while, and obvious. So it’ll be that kind of approach that I’ll be taking to choosing material. I think it has to be something that you genuinely are interested in yourself, and then you’ll be able to tell it very easily if it’s something that you believe.
C: Does that help with nerves when you can relate personally to the material? Do you still get nervous before gigs?
A: I always get a tiny bit anxious, yeah. That’s just part of the territory, and you get used to that and you kind of feed off that in a way as well. You definitely need that slight anxiety and adrenalin rush to get up on a stage. I mean, yeah, it’s scary enough! But at the same time there’s some sort of compulsion to do it, and I can’t really explain that, I mean it’s just something I want to do and I like doing.
C: So you’re still as excited for shows as when you first started?
A: Yeah, definitely. More so probably than when I started out because I wouldn’t suffer from the nerves I used to. And it wouldn’t be the only thing I do either, you know at one point like it was my entire life, working 5 or 6 nights a week. After a while it becomes, or can become, just a job and you’re on auto pilot sometimes, but I think when you only do one or two a week or whatever, you look forward to it. You relish getting out of the house.
C: Speaking of home life, what does your family think of the touring and the fame in general? Your kids must be the most popular in school…
A: Yeah, they’re pretty cool about it. They do like what I do that’s for sure. But I’ve no doubt that’s not going to last.Photo – monica.reida – Flickr
C: Have you any plans for acting in the future?
A: There is a pretty big plan…I’m doing this play in London from March to May. I’m actually not allowed to say what it is, which is ridiculous and I’m embarrassed to even be saying this to you, but there’s an embargo, it’s being announced in early March. I think it’s to do with some of the other cast members and stuff. But there’s a really exciting cast, it’s a really great play and we’re doing it in London for 3 months, so I’m really looking forward to that. And then just before that I’m doing a little mini tour of the States, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and eh, Kansas City of all places. So yeah pretty busy for the year really, with the tour as well in the autumn and I’ll probably do Edinburgh before that. So it’s going to be pretty busy.
C: In 2007 you took part in RTE’s Who Do You Think You Are? What was your reaction to what was discovered, like connection Michael Collins for example.
A: It was a bit of a surprise to me, a bit of an eye opener as well. I had sort of been dimly aware of my own grandfather’s story but I hadn’t paid much attention to it or hadn’t kind of believed it. I just kind of ignored it. But when you actually look into it and then you see hand-written testimony, you hear eye witness accounts, it kind of brings it home. On one hand I was very proud that he had sacrificed his, well he was a student at the time, so you know he put his life on the line for something he believed in, and it made me very proud, and very humbled as well.
C: Have you seen any of the Belfast riot memes? Some of them include the famous Father Ted protest scene…[“Down with this sort of thing”]
A: No I haven’t seen them, but they’ve been used in every protest in the last 10 years I think, those particular sayings. But no, I wasn’t really aware of that, but yeah, it’s good.Careful Now…
C: Do you think you’ve finally got away from the role of Dougal?
A: Well, in my own head I have, but for other people, fans of the show, I don’t think I’ll ever escape that. But that’s fine, it was a good show and I was delighted to be part of it. Loved every second of it. So it’s never been a problem. I think I’m satisfied that I do everything in my power to distance myself from it, like I write, I do acting – comedy acting and straight acting, I do stand up, to the best of my ability and I’m trying to stick to my own guns without pandering to the “Ted heads” necessarily. And that’s all you can do, and every day brings a new challenge so it’s not as though you can dwell on the past. From day to day I don’t think about Father Ted. I don’t mind talking about it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not really a big part of my life from day to day.