As Deirdre O’Kane wraps up an 18-month stand up tour of Ireland tonight, she reflects on her decision to return to the stage, and looks ahead to her new comedy show on Sky. She spoke with Esther McCarthy.
Following a lengthy break from stand-up, Deirdre O’Kane has been tickling the nation’s funny bone again, and falling back in love with making us laugh.
The woman who started her path as a stand-up comic before building an acting career is back on the road — and she says she hadn’t realised until she returned to the stand-up stage just how much she’d missed it.
It’s been busy in the interim — having bagged roles in movies like Noble and hit TV seriesMoone Boy, she spent months combining her quick wit with her quickstep on Dancing With the Stars on our tellies on Sunday nights.
Going on tour for the first time in nine years has been a revelation — why ever did she stop? “Small babies,” she says, simply.
“Honestly, it wasn’t my instinct to go out to work at night when my kids were tiny. I just couldn’t face it.
“I kind of regret that I didn’t keep my hand in a little bit more but I kept my hand in with acting and I was lucky that I had things like Moone Boy so I was able to keep myself present and not disappear completely. But in terms of stand-up, I just didn’t feel it. Organically, I just wasn’t there.”
Tonight she takes to the stage for the final date of her hit A Line Of O’Kane tour, which has brought her to almost every nook and cranny of Ireland, and reminded her, in the best of ways, why she, her filmmaker husband Stephen Bradley and their kids decided to come home after a decade of living in the UK.
“I’ve toured the country extensively for the last 18 months and I have really loved it. Getting to see all of Ireland, that’s the nice thing about touring.
“It’s been a while since I’ve done that. I was so lucky, I hit places in West Cork and Kerry and I got nice days.”
While most stand-ups would be understandably content to walk away from a show after 18 months, O’Kane admits she’s quite wistful at the prospect.
She’s already started writing material for her next stand-up project — a new comedy series which has just been announced.
Sky One has commissioned Irish production company Kite Entertainment to make the show, fronted by O’Kane, with the working title Deirdre O’Kane: Live From Dublin.
She has an established relationship with Kite, doing voiceover work for Gogglebox Ireland, which the company also produces.
The show will feature top comics performing live stand-up, with a couple of twists, in front of a live audience, and she is very excited at the prospect.
“We’ll be shooting it in The Olympia. Oh man, I can’t wait. It’s a big deal. We are really delighted that it’s happening. It shoots in April, but I’ve started working on it, I’ve started writing.
“It’s a stand-up show, it’s going to be A-list comics with stalwart comics.
“Sky has got a massive viewership in Ireland. I think for them it’s that they’re being loyal to a clientele.”
We meet as part of her work to promote the recent Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Week, encouraging people, particularly those over 50, to undergo regular eye checks.
AMD is the number one cause of sight loss in Ireland for those aged over 50.
More than 100,000 people in Ireland aged over 50 are living with AMD and the earlier AMD is detected, the sooner it can be treated to reduce its progression.
It’s something that’s close to home for her, as her own mum-in-law was diagnosed with AMD during a routine eye test.
“She’s had treatment and she’s doing very well. She’s been lucky. But she had a random eye test. She hadn’t noticed anything.
“You hit 50 and you don’t think anything of it, but things like your eyesight deteriorate rapidly.”
O’Kane, who turned 50 early last year, says she has become more disciplined in her comedy, and has never been busier.
It’s not something she takes for granted in what is a challenging industry, and she says she feels for many of her younger peers, who’ve had to go abroad to make a living.
“The scene has certainly changed in that I’ve noticed that many of the young comics have had to go to the UK. The club scene has kind of gone, the recession killed it.
“I’m really sad to see them have to go to London to make their way. They’ve got no choice if they want to pursue this, whereas when I started, it was a very healthy comedy club scene.
“There used to be a healthy comedy club in nearly every town in the country. Most of them are gone.”
Another big change she’s noticed on returning is the growth in online comics who are sharing their material with audiences digitally: “That’s a plus, because that’s new.
“So you can make your own way if you’re young enough and you know all that works.”
It was Jake Carter who eventually won Dancing With the Stars, but being a finalist on the top-rated show was definitely a personal highlight and a career boost for her.
Having initially turned down the show, she realised it was the wrong call and put on her dancing shoes, believing it was too good an opportunity to miss.
“I’m sure there’s no doubt there’s people who watched me and hated me in it, but I think most people responded well. In terms of the fact that I had just moved back to Ireland I couldn’t have had more useful to tool to say: ‘I am back’.
“Now it’s always a gamble because you might not come out of these things well, you don’t know if you’re going to come across well.
“Reality television is brutal. I mean, you’re so exposed, people will just judge you, and that’s it. And there’s nowhere to hide. But the gamble paid off.”
Travelling the country with her stand-up, which features lots of DWTS anecdotes,showed her the great affection people have for it.
“I mean the audiences just love that show. There’s a huge love for it, it gets them through the winter, you know? People have a great affection for it.
“Everyone can watch it with their kids. It’s what people want to see. And it was a great help to me.”
For O’Kane, telling personal stories to audiences is part of her DNA — she wouldn’t know how to do stand-up any other way.
“Your comedy evolves with you, they’re one and the same thing,” she says. “I’m a very personal comic. I talk about what’s going on in my life. Lots of other comics don’t. They talk about the economy. They talk about whatever.
You get the sense that she’s in a very good place in her career, and she says her hunger to achieve and create is what’s motivating her.
“I think I’m better, which is nice, because usually things deteriorate with age. I think I’m a better writer and I think I’m much more disciplined than I used to be.
“I’ve found my process, I’ve put the hours in. I was much more scattered when I was younger. And oddly I feel very driven lately, having not felt it when my kids were just born and little.
“I think my ambition really waned and now I really feel like it’s back, which I’m very pleased about.”
Novartis has launched a free online AMD Symptom Checker to help people identify the symptoms of AMD. To check for symptoms, log on to www.amd.ie
O’Kane will perform the final date of her current tour in Ratoath, Co Meath, tonight.