By David Hennessy
This weekend sees the first London Irish Comedy Festival taking place at the London Irish Centre in Camden with a stunning line-up that includes Neil Delamere, Aisling Bea and Andrew Maxwell. We caught up with Neil, familiar to many from his appearances on programmes such as The Panel and the IFTA winning documentary, The Only Viking in the Village, to find out how he is looking forward to the occasion.
“It’s kind of like the best of both worlds,” says the comic from Offaly. “It’s great fun to play a different city, you have a more eclectic audience than if you were playing rural Ireland but yet you have all those rural Irish people who have moved to London. So it has a great mix of people from different countries and also the people who are your core audience so you don’t even have to check your references. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Although Neil will make his way over from Ireland, London is where many Irish comedians are based and he is looking forward to meeting up with some old friends: “Dara’s based over there, Ed Byrne is based over there, Andrew Maxwell is based over there. They’ve lived there for years and years and they’re obviously firmly established in the UK so there’s no reason to suspect if someone did choose to go over, there’s almost like a support network there. There’s lads that could show you the ropes. They’re doing us proud over there. It’s a well worn path in comedy in the same way that it’s a well worn path in any other industry.”
Is Neil looking forward to seeing Andrew Maxwell, his long term friend who is always on the bill? “I’m hoping that Andrew Maxwell leads me on a particularly depraved tour of the hotspots of London. Because I reckon with Max as your tour guide, you don’t necessarily go to see the tower of London and Buckingham Palace, I’d imagine you’d end up under a bridge somewhere with Maxwell talking to some weird dude trying to sell you something that is possibly not necessarily kosher. I look forward to that. He’s a singular comic talent and just an immensely entertaining man generally.”
While Neil, Andrew Maxwell and Aisling Bea would be the festival’s biggest names, Neil highlights some emerging talent to be spotted there also: “Abandoman is an extraordinary talent. One of his specialities is to compose a song on the spot based on what is in people’s handbags and it rips the room to shreds. It’s amazing to watch it. It’s such a mind blowing skill so he would definitely be one of my tips to go and see.
“And then there’s Colm O’ Regan’s whip smart observational stuff and storytelling. I’ve done a bit of work with him. He contributed some scripts to my documentary, The Only Viking in the Village, so I would be recommending him aswell.”
This new festival is another symptom of migration to London. How is the comedy scene in Ireland coping with these harsh times? “Comedy is like any other industry if recession hits. The people who are leaving are of comedy going age but the upside of that is that Irish comics can go wherever they want. If we were to go to Australia, we would sell tickets in Sydney and Melbourne. We can’t complain too much as our skills, hopefully will travel. I’m looking for a silver lining in this cloud of people being forced to leave.”
Based in Ireland, Neil spends more and more of his time this side of the water these days. Does he find a big gulf between Irish and British audiences? “There are definitely nuances and subtleties but I think the core values of a British audience and an Irish audience is similar. If you talk about children, parents, schooling, petty frustrations of life like iphones or remote controls, we all have those things in common. It’s very good exercise, I think, for comedians to travel and do gigs in other countries because it means you learn how to broaden your comedy in a way.”
Neil has been a familiar face on RTE for years. Could we see him follow his friend Dara O Briain and appearing more on UK screens? “I’m spending more time in London recently having chats with agencies. If the right opportunity came along, I would certainly jump at it.”
So what’s next for Neil? “We would like to do another documentary. We would like to give the same the same treatment as we gave to the Vikings to saint Patrick which would be great fun.”
And Neil will be back in London again soon after the festival with a show that guarantees nostalgia as well as a great night: “I’m bringing my Edinburgh show to Soho Theatre. The show is based on my experience on Blackboard Jungle in 1995. There’s clips of it so if you want to see what a young Ray Darcy or a young Neil Delamere look like, we have both. I was showing the clips to my friend and my friend just went: ‘You have not aged well’.”
London Irish Comedy Festival is at London Irish Centre October 12-14. For more information, go to: http://www.londonirishcentre.org/.
Neil Delamere will be at Soho Theatre October 20-21. For more information, go to: www.neildelamere.com/.