A midweek gig in Co. Offaly? Sign me up, I said, and off I went to Tullamore on Thursday last, despite Google Maps best efforts to send me to a town called Ballinangore in Westmeath. The misdirection left me cutting my time uncomfortably close, with the promoter ringing to see where I was… so I fired up the Pratmobile, sped towards Tullamore using good ol’ fashioned road sign navigation, and pulled up at the gig just in time to wait another half hour for a crowd that never manifested. Small crowds in small towns are inevitable, especially mid-week, so I’ve learned that gigs like these aren’t going to be packed to the rafters, and to be content with doing as good a gig as can be done to twelve people in a huge function room.
The difficulty of this particular gig came not from the fact that the crowd was small (because believe me, I’ve played crowds that would make 12 people look like the queue for X-Factor auditions). The problem was that the crowd consisted almost solely of friends of the MC, press-ganged into attending with very little heed in comedy. When a crowd is made up of a group of friends, what can happen is they take something you say, and start using it to slag a member of their party, thus forming a little conversation among themselves while you stand diligently onstage waiting on them to settle so you can persevere with your set (or you can try unsuccessfully to join in with what they’re talking about, which will only serve to make them go quiet and turn to you as if to say “what the fuck, are you still here?”, zapping you with a deja vu from every day you spent in primary school). But I was only the support act in Tullamore, dear readers, and if there was any man capable of grasping and holding the attention of these guys, it was the headliner for the night, the perfect man for the job: Mr. Tommy Nicholson.
A question that people often ask me is which comedians do I aspire to be like… probably expecting the answer to be a famous comic, a household name. And in the early days, that was probably true; I wanted to be like the guys on TV, on Live at the Apollo or the shows on BBC2 or Channel 4. But as the years go on, it’s comedians that are on the circuit that inspire me, guys that have aren’t on the TV, that don’t have a DVD shoved out every Christmas. Top of that list has to be Tommy, a guy who I’ve never seen do anything other than decimate every room he’s gone into. From the minute he stands onstage, I’m crippled with equal parts envy and admiration; he makes it look so easy. Here is a guy that can play to any crowd, young or old… what a skill, what a thing to be able to do (before each gig I do, I look out to the crowd and start paring away bits that won’t play to an older crowd, won’t play to a younger crowd, won’t play to women, won’t play to men…). Tommy just gets up and starts swinging until one by one the crowd are rolling, even the snotty cooler-than-thou younger members of the audience, who judge him too quickly based on the fact that he’s an older guy until they too, reluctantly, have to start applauding.
My admiration for Tommy stretches beyond the stage; here is a man who despite his experience and standing, carries no ego with him. In my experience of him backstage, despite never having spoken to the man before, he could cite chapter and verse each time we’d performed together, be it an open spot in the International or when we shared the bill in Kusanta. I’ve seen him on several occasions at the Battle of the Axe (usually at his son Noel’s gigs) congratulating and commending each performer as the got off the stage. There are people who get that wee bit up the ladder and forget their manners when dealing with newer acts; Tommy on the other hand has nothing but time for up and comers, proving that the ability to be a comedian and the ability to be a gentlemen are not mutually exclusive.
In years to come, I’d like to be at the level Tommy is; experienced enough to rock any venue, respected enough to be asked. Working against me is an inability at times to keep my mouth shut; despite my grand schemes and oh-so-fucking-noble mottos, I’m a fairly nosey type who cannot mind his business. If there’s drama in the comedy fraternity, I want to hear it. If there are opinions to be voiced, I want mine front and center. If there’s a kick-off online, you can be damn sure I’ll wade in at some stage. When was the last time you saw Tommy Nicholson kicking off a shitstorm on Facebook? If you want a comedian’s footsteps to follow in when it comes to how to act when you don’t have a mic in your hand, Tommy’s your man.
Apart from Tommy, there are many other comedians on the circuit who I look up to, mostly for different aspects of the trade. For his sheer dedication and hard work, all credit must go to Rory O’Hanlon.
Rory O’Hanlon is a comedian I met early on, after just a few gigs. The thing with Rory was I’d meet him everywhere; from open mic nights in Dublin to fundraisers in Cork, there was Rory, doing a short set or closing the show. I’d be talking to other people backstage, guys who would talk about gigs they did and gigs they turned down, gigs they couldn’t be bothered doing. Not Rory. I’d see him at every second gig, just grafting away. Still to this day you’ll see him playing every gig available to him, gigs that guys of his standing turn down left and right (every new club that opens in Dublin has Rory in to headline in its first few weeks). People sometimes tell me that I’ve got a good work ethic, that I work hard at comedy… that’s not something that I licked off the rocks, that’s a mentality towards comedy that I learned from watching guys like the Ceann Comhairle.
As for sheer comedy horsepower, the guy that I admire the most is John Colleary. I first saw John when he MCed a Battle of the Axe I competed at, maybe my fourth or fifth gig. He totally blew the room away, something that he’s done every time I’ve seen him. Whether or not he ever gets the recognition he deserves in this country remains to be seen, but while he’s got an audience in front of him he’ll fail less than Rudie. What I wouldn’t give to be as good, as confident, as capable and as downright funny. The man is a goddamn comedic Tyrannosaurus.
There are dozens of other guys I could mention here, but I’m going to leave it with just one more: Enda Muldoon. The reason I admire Enda is not solely for his comedy (which is magical), but for his attitude to comedy. This may seem contrary to what I said about Rory earlier, but bear with me. Enda Muldoon does as many gigs as Enda Muldoon feels like doing. Here is a guy that could be the most booked comedian on the circuit right now, bringing his tornado style to more towns than Bagatelle. But anytime I’ve talked to him, he never seems to have much lined up. He doesn’t chase gigs, he doesn’t politic. He does the gigs he gets offered, and a specific few he wants to do. Very much the Terrence Malick of Irish comedy, he emerges every so often, wipes an audience off the face of the planet, and is gone. Me, I can’t go a day without hounding a promoter for a gig. If I went a week without performing, I’d go into the horrors. Earlier I spoke of trying to work as hard as I could, trying to gig as much as humanly possible… but on the flipside, I wish that like Enda, that I didn’t feel the need to. Just like that crazy bastard, gig as and when I wanted, keep the quality high and the delivery fresh (there’s nothing like daily repetition of the same fucking story to wear you down), and maybe use my spare time to run a pub in Ardee.
So to recap, when I get asked who inspires and motivates me, there is no single answer. I’d like to be as funny as John Colleary, stay as level headed as Tommy Nicholson, work as hard as Rory O’Hanlon and be as laid back about the whole thing as Enda Muldoon. And sure while we’re wishing, I’d like to win the freakin lotto.