Blindboy of The Rubberbandits tells David Hennessy why he was happy to see the Irish electorate vote for change, why he doesn’t care if people don’t take him seriously because he wears a bag on his head and why Horse Outside brought them the wrong fans
Irreverent Limerick duo The Rubberbandits, Blindboy Boatclub and Mr Chrome, are recognisable by the plastic bags they wear to disguise themselves.
They first came to people’s attention in 2010 with tunes like Horse Outside. Another wellknown early song was Up the ‘Ra which took the mickey out of armchair republicans.
In 2015 as Ireland headed towards its historic same sex marriage referendum, they released Fellas whose simple message was ‘be gay, no one cares’.
They racked up huge numbers of views on YouTube for their comedy videos and appearances on RTE’s Republic of Telly. They have since been seen on Channel 4 and BBC.
Meanwhile Blindboy’s own podcast has become bigger than the Rubberbandits with a global audience which recently took him to Australia.
He is bringing his live podcast show to the UK where it will discuss topics such as toxic masculinity and mental health – a subject close to his own personal experience.
He has already made headlines here. His recent BBC show Blindboy Undestroys hit the news for exposing so-called ‘media influencers’ who would plug any product without knowing what it was. ‘Influencer’ Lauren Goodger agreed to plug a drink that contained cyanide.
The show also saw Blindboy looking at other issues such as global slavery and how social media actually makes people suggestible.
In a very wide-ranging interview with the Irish World Blindboy began by expressing delight at this month’s inconclusive, but left-leaning, Irish General Election result in which FF and SF have the same number of seats and FG is in third place.
“I love hearing it (the result). It’s not necessarily me being pro-Sinn Féin. I’m very happy to see that the electorate are saying we need to try something different because the legacy of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is, for me personally, very frightening.
“What bothers me most about both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is the current model to try and ‘solve’ homelessness. We have a situation in Ireland called emergency accommodation. The government take tax money and instead of providing homes for people, they’re providing temporary accommodation in hotel rooms.
“The homeless crisis in Ireland is something that is now something that is incredibly profitable. It’s now a for profit business. It’s not about delivering compassionate solutions to help human beings. There are a lot of hotels that are at full occupancy and earning loads of money and are profiting off the homeless crisis.
“That to me is quite sickening and evil and I don’t want to be a part of it.”
Blindboy is quick to also point to the direct provision centres for refugees where people are reported to be prone to depression and suicide.
“Similarly direct provision in Ireland is an inhumane way to essentially imprison refugees but it’s hugely profitable. Direct provision centres turn over a profit and tax money is being funnelled into private interests.
“Fine Gael have managed to turn vulnerable human beings into some kind of animal that you can milk misery out of and then profit from this misery and the profits are our taxes. I strongly, strongly disagree with that.
“Any left government, whether it be Sinn Féin or People Before Profit of whoever, if they’re putting their hand up and saying, ‘This isn’t compassionate, this isn’t good enough’, I love seeing the Irish electorate going for that.
“As a country, we have a history of being exploited and being disenfranchised and I would hate to see us lose our historical empathy and become a privileged society who looks down on people and doesn’t help people who are in need.”
Another thing that Fine Gael may have paid for when election time came was the controversial RIC commemoration that ended up being ‘deferred’ due to the public outcry.
“It was a very strange move to want to commemorate the RIC. The Black and Tans were part of the RIC. The Black and Tans were created specifically to terrorise civilians. That was the goal of the Black and Tans, there’s no doubt about that but then you had regular RIC members who were Irish men who wanted to feed their families and come out of poverty.
“I believe that the commemoration of the RIC was a way to normalise increasing police brutality.”
Blindboy refers to the 2018 occupation of an empty government building and how it was dealt with to explain what he means.
“We had a situation in Dublin where activists, who were protesting the housing crisis in Dublin, occupied a derelict building in North Frederick Street.
“What happened was the Gardaí arrived and alongside the Gardaí were masked private security in balaclavas in a van that didn’t have a license plate and the Gardaí stood back as masked private security manhandled protestors.
“For me that’s frightening because it means the Gardaí are operating outside of.. They had a van with no license plate, that’s illegal. The Gardaí were comfortable using these masked men when we don’t know who they are.
“The RIC was created in the early 1800s as a response to the Land War in Ireland. The history of the RIC is one of eviction and brutality. What’s the difference between the RIC evicting someone in 1888 versus the Gardaí with private security evicting people now?
“If you commemorate the RIC, you’ll normalise brutality. That’s why I didn’t like the RIC commemoration, not necessarily getting pissed off about the Black and Tans.”
Blindboy is about to bring his podcast show to the UK. With a guest, the live podcast sees him discuss issues such as toxic masculinity and mental health. Blindboy has spoken about the challenges faced by his generation on shows such as The Late Late Show.
In spite of this, does he find people dismiss him just because of the plastic bag? “F**k ‘em. I’m a clown. If I didn’t have that bag, I would have a much more successful career. If I didn’t have that bag, I would have had a lot more opportunities with television where they would have said, ‘You can have this job presenting but you need to take off the bag because no one will take you seriously’.
“The thing is the bag gives me a normal life and privacy. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
“It gets annoying sometimes when people say, ‘I can’t take this man seriously with a bag on his head’. But who cares? I’ve a feeling if the bag wasn’t on they would have a different issue with my words.”
Blindboy has spoken about his own mental health struggles and the bag also serves a purpose by allowing him to keep his anonymity in everyday life.
“My mental health issues were anxiety and specifically social anxiety and agoraphobia. No matter how much I can cope with that, I’m still not comfortable being in public situations, specifically being the centre of attention. That bag is very important for my mental health. I can go onstage and I can have a sold out audience but I need to be able to leave stage, take the bag off and live the next day as a normal human being.”
Blindboy used to suffer from panic attacks. If he suffered a panic attack at the shopping centre, he would associate the attack with the centre and not go there anymore. The thing was that this soon left him with nowhere to go and he became agoraphobic.
“I’ll never be free of anxiety, I’ll never be free of those things. For me they’re part of my personality. I’m an introverted person and I like time on my own. I’m not a particularly social person, that’s not an aspect of my personality. Every day I have it under control and I have tools and ways of coping which means I haven’t had to deal with anxiety or depression in well over ten years but I will never say I have come out the other side of it. I will never say that I am cured because that’s not how it works.
“Managing your mental health is so similar to managing your physical health. If I’m someone who goes to the gym every day and eats properly then while I’m doing that I’ll be a physically healthy person but all it takes is two months of not doing it and then I’m no longer a physically healthy person. I’m out of shape.
“Mental health is the same. It’s a continual daily process of using tools that I’ve learned from psychology to aid myself mainly cognitive behavioural therapy transactional analysis. When I speak about mental health in my podcast I’m very cautious that I never give advice and I never speak about someone else’s experience.
“What I try and do is speak as honestly about my mental health experience and my mental health coping tools. I keep it all about me, my experience, what’s worked for myself and I try and be as vulnerable as possible as well.
“The thing about mental health discourse is when you can lay bare what’s perceived as vulnerability and you can do that comfortably, that can be very helpful for people to listen to. People feel ashamed to say, ‘I have depression’, ‘I have anxiety’ or to discuss the reason behind it. I try and speak about these vulnerabilities as honestly as possible so people empathically take things from me speaking about my experience and some people say that helps them.”
Blindboy’s podcast show has become bigger than The Rubberbandits now reaching 1,500,000 people each week.
In his BBC show Blindboy Undestroys, he pranked social media influencers such as Lauren Goodger with them agreeing to plug a drink that contained cyanide. The show also saw Blindboy looking at other issues such as global slavery and how social media conditions people to be suggestible.
“I looked at some of the things that are going wrong with the world that people aren’t really looking at. We found that every human being in the west owns 70 slaves just to exist how it exists: The clothes we wear, the food we consume.
“They didn’t seem to give a f**k about what they were selling and we were very up front. No one seemed to check out what hydrogen cyanide is.
“People focused very much on that one piece of the show where we’re targeting influencers. I was a bit disappointed that it was just that one bit that got exposure because I’m not interested in some influencer who wants to make a couple of grand to earn a living. I was much more interested in the larger system that lets it happen. That’s what you’ve gotta tackle.”
Just as Ireland headed towards a same sex marriage referendum in 2015, Rubberbandits came out with a song called Fellas that had a simple message of ‘be gay, no one cares’.
“We’ve grown up around gay people. We have absolute compassion for gay people. We’ve never tolerated or allowed homophobia in our attitudes. When that referendum was happening, all of a sudden blatant homophobia was coming to the fore.”
Blindboy goes on to explain that their early stuff as The Rubberbandits attracted a crowd who missed their satire and took them at face value.
“Horse Outside got us a strange audience of people we wouldn’t ordinarily want as our audience. We ended up with a lot of people who were laughing at the wrong thing. They weren’t laughing at the subtext of our words. People used to think we were taking the piss out of Limerick and now all of a sudden you’re playing to an audience who are laughing at Limerick. Our whole thing has never been laughing at Limerick. I grew up in Limerick and the media representation of Limerick is so different to what I experience as a person in Limerick.
“The early Bandits stuff was about highlighting that but then we ended up with certain people who didn’t get that. A lot of these people were also homophobic, a lot of these people were also racist so with a song like Fellas in 2015, we were trying to reach those people and go, ‘Hang on a second, we’re against homophobia, we’re pro-gay marriage’. I’ve now lost all those fans, they’re all gone.
“Anytime on Facebook, I see someone saying something racist or complaining about direct provision or refugees, if I approach them as Rubberbandits, they always say to me, ‘I really liked you when you did Horse Outside but I don’t like you anymore’. So many of those Horse Outside fans are now men in their 30s who are just racist people.
“When Horse Outside happened, the gigs changed too. Fights would break out in the crowd or you would get someone trying to throw a bottle at your head. Someone has paid for their ticket to try and throw a bottle at your head.
“I was in my early 20s and that audience were in their early 20s. Now they’re in their 30s and from what I can see, these are the racists now, these are the stubborn racists.
“It took a long time (to lose those fans). They see me as an eejit with a bag on my head.”
Blindboy Podcast is at the O2 Academy in Glasgow on 11 March, Mountford Hall in Liverpool on 12 March, O2 Academy in Birmingham on 13 March and Logan Hall, University College London on 14 March.