It’s past midnight. I’m lying in bed, in a darkened room, tears rolling down my face, my sobbing quite audible. My parents suddenly burst into my room, a look of worried concern on their faces.
“Rob. Rob, are you okay?”
I take the earphones out, looking at them, momentarily confused by the question.
“Yeah, I’m good. Was just listening to Billy Connolly.”
Relieved, they leave, and I go back to crying my little eyes out at this man’s comedy genius. A grown man, making this 17 year old, on his own, laugh like a drain.
October, 2017 (30 years later, maths fans):
I’m sitting in the rec room of a treatment centre, with about 10 other recovering drink and drug addicts. Billy Connolly is on TV, doing his thing, as brilliantly as he did 30 years ago. Everyone is laughing. Everyone except me. I’m sitting, completely ambivalent about what I’m watching, at first, then steadily getting more and more down. I go for a walk around the grounds.
‘Shit. Fuck. Shit.’
Welcome to the world of the failed stand-up comedian. In an attempt to work out what went wrong (although it DID go right for a time), I’m… well… I’m writing this. Obviously. I already know the basics. We’ll divide it up roughly and say half my fault, half ‘comedy’s ‘. My own hubris and ‘addictive behaviours’ didn’t help, but at the same time, led me TO comedy. Then there’s the matter of live comedy itself, particularly here in Ireland, with all the usual Irish traps and pitfalls, that leave comedy, in its present form, a mess of ‘have-a-go’ comedians AND promoters that bring nothing special to the (badly lit) stage, and muck it up for anything of substance to attract an audience. You could also blame the recession and the internet. Like, I really DO have plenty to work with here!
So, to the point, this is the story of comedy in Ireland, and also the story of me, and my place in it, what led me towards being a comedian (I was a late starter at 33), and what comedy in general means / meant to me. I’m afraid we’re gonna have to start right back at…ooh, early ’80s here, kids, but I’ll get to the meat fast as I can. In fact we’ll do a bit of Quantum Leaping about the timeline to keep it interesting. No wait, that would imply time travel and the ability to change what once went wrong. Think more ‘Highlander’. Yes. Mmmm. Flashbacky.
Anyway, back before ’80s flashbacks were a thing, and actually happening live, I was a bit weird. I couldn’t quite grasp what most other kids were into, like this ‘football’ thing (even though I wore a Liverpool sew-on patch on my jacket – good cover, eh?). In fact, the older I was getting , the harder I was finding it to understand my own age group, and consequently most friends I had were a year or two behind me, which made primary school quite a solitary existence. I wasn’t really the social type (no ‘class clown’ action in THIS tale, I’m afraid, folks). I’d spent most of the ’70s (wait, what, a flashback WITHIN a flashback? Whaaaaaaa?) consuming Enid Blyton books, and every comic Fleetway put out, because as a past-time, it was better than fucking rocks at factory windows. I’d a healthy fear of authority that stopped me going down that route anyway. Also, Star Wars had happened, something that didn’t seem to amaze any of the local kids as much as I.
By the time secondary school started, I’d two main interests. Drawing, and music. My main musical love was classical (did I mention I was weird) and by 13 could read and write sheet music. I’d a tiny Casio keyboard with which I’d listen to film soundtracks (Blade Runner, Raiders, Jedi, that sort of thing), learn them by ear, and write down all the musical notation. There WAS no ‘talking to girls’ at this point in my life. I was also developing the dream to be a cartoonist of some kind. At 15, loneliness drove me to check out music that normal people were listening to, and I eventually settled on Queen as my number one band. Well done, Rob. Queen. THAT’ll win the hearts of teenage ladies and the camaraderie of adolescent heterosexual lads. Loneliness persisted.
Luckily, TV back in the late 70s / early ’80s still dealt mostly with ‘entertaining’ an audience (remember that?), and there was no shortage of comedy to lodge itself into my brain for life:
Morecambe & Wise, Dick Emery, Kenny Everett, Python, Spike, Dave Allen, The Grumbleweeds, yes even Russ Abbott, all left indelible mind-stains.
Then, largely in part to one of my new-ish school friends, Ronan (a lad as nerdy as myself, and still a friend to this day), I discovered the comedy LP. Monty Python’s Life of Brian being the Holy Grail. Eh… wait… That doesn’t… Never mind. Anyway, we’d take turns each weekend buying whatever comedy albums we could find, and taping them for each other. There wasn’t a lot available, this is Ireland in the 80s, and consequently we were left with a collection of mostly… Niall Tóibín. Yep. There ya go.
Then ‘Billy & Albert’ came out. It was the sound of 1987, school had finished, and anything was possible. The future lay ahead. Then life threw me my first big kick in the balls. I got thrown into an apprenticeship I didn’t see coming, upon leaving school. It was the ’80s. Jobs were scarcer than sex, I’d no real say in the matter. They’d turn out to be four very tortuous years for me, and I was possibly insane and alcoholic by the end of them. AAAAAND there’s your comedy ‘in’ right there.
In those four years, there was only ever one comedy moment that still sticks in my mind. I saw Michael Redmond on a random TV show, possibly Channel 4, a funny lunatic, on his own, in a brown raincoat, and I remember thinking ‘Wait. Can Irish people do this too? Be on British TV?’. That one little nugget was the only real input I can remember ’til we get to the ’90s. I was busy that whole time just trying to fend off reality.
To Be Continued…