IN A previous life, the comedian Chris Kent used to work as an electrician. He says on stage that whenever he used to see a fire engine whistling past on his home patch, Cork city, he’d bless himself — in case his wiring work might have caused the fire.
All kinds of misfortunate things happened him on construction sites, including falling down a hole on one occasion. There was one thing, however, that himself and his workmates feared more than near-death experiences.
“Weirdly enough, when I worked as an electrician, the biggest fear for any of us on site was being sent away,” he says. “We wanted to continue working in Cork because we were from Cork. It’s where we lived, where our girlfriends were. When jobs were coming to the end in Cork, and they might go on for six months, we’d pray to be put on another job in Cork. And you wouldn’t get much notice.
“What we’d do then is start a little rumour: ‘Oh, there’s a job up in Intel, Co Kildare, and 10 fellas are going on Monday morning.’ I remember me and another fella made up a job once on the M50. We spread the rumour that we had the contract to wire all the cat’s eyes into the Dublin motorway, which was obviously a wind-up because they’re reflectors in the first place, but we just put it out there with the apprentices.
“It’s probably what led me into doing comedy — getting away with those stories, and hearing them coming back to you was great fun.”
Storytelling is at the heart of Kent’s comedy shtick. He built up a steady profile on the Irish comedy scene over several years, bolstered with national TV and radio slots before making the break for London — in time-honoured tradition for young Irish comics going back decades — in 2015. His Cork accent hasn’t always been understood by the locals on the ground in the British cities he’s been gigging in.
“This actually happened in Edinburgh,” he says, “where I asked a lady behind a counter at the end of a transaction, ‘Can I pay by card?’ She didn’t understand what I was saying. She was there, ‘What? What?’ She was baffled by my accent.
“She couldn’t get her head around it. I repeated myself about four times. I was thinking to myself my accent isn’t that strong. I was showing her my bankcard, as if I was an alien from another planet. Eventually she said, ‘Are you saying: Do you want a carrot?’ I thought, ‘Really? Would someone randomly come up to you at a counter and ask, ‘Do you want a carrot?’”
Kent’s latest tour — which is his sixth solo show — hinges on being a dad. He’s new to the game. He has a two-and-a-half-year-old son, and another kid is on the way. Kent juggles parenthood with his night job as a comic, doing the stay-at-home dad bit during the day while his wife, a school teacher, goes out to work. Even at home with the toddler, he can’t resist finding an audience for his comedy.
“I remember the first time my son had a proper laugh,” he says. “He must have been about seven months. He was in the car seat. We were getting ready to go out. I put his foot in my mouth, messing, and he laughed really hard.
“The things I’ll do to get a laugh out of him because the old deadpan storytelling stuff doesn’t really work with him. My comedy has to go the complete opposite to what I am on stage. I end up putting somebody’s foot in my mouth just so they laugh at me. Am I desperate to make him laugh or people in general? I don’t know.”
- Chris Kent’s solo show Looking Up is touring Irish venues until the end of March, including De Barra’s, Clonakilty (Feb 14); The Mariner, Bantry (March 7); and the Everyman, Cork (March 9); See www.chriskentcomedy.com.