Bernard O'Shea on hitting the road with old pal Karl Spain

Bernard O'Shea on hitting the road with old pal Karl Spain
Bernard O'Shea and Karl Spain.

Bernard O’Shea has known Karl Spain for 20 years.

They met in a nightclub – the Cork comedy venue, City Limits – as contestants on a heat for the RTÉ Two New Comedy Awards show, and hit it off. 

There was nothing more to it then that.

“I wish I could say we had met on Ireland’s only cable car, but that was kind of it,” says O’Shea.

Over the years, they’ve doled out work to each other – sharing MC slots, for instance, and Spain has been a key writer on Republic of Telly, which O’Shea graced with some memorable sketches and mock reporting during the programme’s long run. 

Now they’re setting off on a two-month Irish tour together with their stand-up show, Fat Chancers, which has a fetching promotional poster to advertise it.

“Karl is never off,” says O’Shea. “He’s a comedian 24/7. Most comedians are comedians on stage and off it they’re quite serious. 

"Whereas with Karl, what you get on stage is what you get off stage. He’s always in a good mood, which is handy because I’m very moody.”

One of O’Shea’s other “odd relationships,” as he refers to it, is with the cult figure of Irish sports commentary – Marty Morrissey. 

The pair has been filming a travel series, which is set to broadcast in the spring on RTÉ television. 

They took off on a road trip, including overseas, with a camera crew in tow and a rough script outline.

“It’s a mix between a travel show, a documentary and a kind of experiment on me and Marty Morrissey,” says O’Shea, mysteriously, as the show is under wraps.

He adds: “A lot of the time when we asked the production people, ‘Where are ye going? What are ye doing?’ they purposefully held back the information. 

"So when people see it on television when it comes out, they’ll think: ‘They look quite surprised there.’ We really bloody are! It was a lot of fun.”

While on the road with him, O’Shea was struck by Morrissey’s inability to be fazed. 

He says he has time for everyone – and savours his food: “He’s not the quickest of eaters. He always has a bottle of San Pellegrino fizzy water with him.

"Even people abroad knew who he was. He’s done Fox Sports and stuff people in Ireland would hardly know about.

"It’s very difficult get from A to B with him because he will stop and talk and say ‘hello’ to everybody. 

"It’s why he’s probably late for everything. Genuinely, it’s like hanging around with a rock star.”

O’Shea and Morrissey were surprise hits of last year’s Dancing with the Stars series on RTÉ television, which led to the travel show spinoff this year. 

There’s good chemistry between them.

O’Shea has been following this year’s Dancing with the Stars contest closely. 

The new co-host on the series, Jennifer Zamparelli, is his sidekick on the sitcom, Bridget & Eamon. 

It brings back mixed emotions, but mostly a hankering for the camaraderie backstage.

“I wanted to see it because Jennifer was in it, and I wanted to see Fred [Cooke, a fellow comedian], and I wanted to see other people,” says O’Shea. 

“We’ve a new addition [a baby boy] to the family so it’s hard to see any telly at the moment, but I could not wait until it started – I was so looking forward to it.

“When people ask, ‘Are you missing Dancing with the Stars?’ it’s a two-fold answer. Yes and no. 

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"I miss hanging around with the dancers, with Rob [Heffernan], Marty [Morrissey] and Jake [Carter]. 

"I never laughed as much in my life. I miss the craic, but I couldn’t dance. That was very, very difficult.”

O’Shea confirms he didn’t “dance” with his bride at their wedding for the “first dance”. 

“I kind of walked around the floor a bit,” he says.

Dancing a tango in front of the Irish nation was a daunting task.

He says:

“It was a double-edged sword for me.

“I couldn’t dance and no matter how much my dance partner helped me in rehearsals, it just wasn’t going in. They had to keep simplifying it. I was such a poor dancer.

“On the opposite side, what I was getting was that people were identifying with me because the television producers could go to Fermoy on a Sunday night and grab some fella off the street and go, ‘You’re replacing Bernard O’Shea tonight’, and he’d go, ‘Ah, actually, I think I can do that.’ That was my bonus.

“I tried as hard as everybody else. I really did. I put in friggin’ hours and hours, but I just couldn’t dance. And you’re dancing in front of a million people. It’s terrifying.

“I remember my dancer say, ‘God, you get so worked up when you’re finished.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’ve no idea of the sense of relief.’ 

"I’m glad I got knocked out when I did because I nearly broke that girl’s shoulders. She dragged me around that floor. 

"When people ask, ‘How did you do on Dancing with the Stars?’ I say: ‘Well, I didn’t really do much dancing.’”

O’Shea got a big reaction from the public for his efforts – kids aping the Bum Bum Belly dance (see footnote link) when they see him, and a year on, he’s still getting star-struck letters, although it’s dipped from the “hundred a week” he was getting at one stage.

The fourth season of Bridget & Eamon is currently on RTÉ2. 

It has fairly nailed what life was like back in 1980s Ireland, and the humour from O’Shea and Zamparelli’s odd-couple mix (“the bit of weight suits you, by the way”) can be difficult to resist.

Apart from the outdoor freedom children enjoyed at the time, there is little from the decade that O’Shea pines for, however.

“When we started writing Bridget & Eamon, we weren’t trying to make a documentary,” he says. 

“Our go-to was: ‘No hugging. No learning.’ There’s none of that in Bridget & Eamon.

“But we’ve gone millennials forward. There’s no comparison between the Ireland of the 1980s and the Ireland of today.

"Emigration was one in three people under the age of 22. The country was in a mess. 

"All nostalgia has a tendency for a rose-tinted glasses perspective. At the time, there were just two television stations. 

"There was more water on the inside of the window than the outside of it.”

The comedy tour Fat Chancers, with Bernard O’Shea and Karl Spain, is touring Irish theatres, including the Everyman, Cork (Saturday); Dolan’s, Limerick (Jan 25); and De Barra’s, Clonakilty (Mar 1).

See Bernard O'Shea's Facebook for more.

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