JOANNE McNally’s star continues to rise. She’s put down her first season as a co-star on RTÉ’s Republic of Telly and now she’s hitting the road with her first solo stand-up show.
She’s getting the hang of playing big halls. In December, she performed— in a support slot for Canadian punslinger Stewart Francis — at Belfast’s gilded Ulster Hall.
She says the gig at the 1,200-seater venue was before an audience she wouldn’t typically play to.
“It’s very grandiose, with massively high ceilings, the opposite of what you want for a stand-up gig. It’s like a giant church, like the anti-Vatican. There’s a big organ behind you on stage. I said to Stewart I feel like I should be giving your eulogy more than your warm-up.”
McNally has also finished an impressive theatre run of her two-hander, Separated at Birth, with fellow comic PJ Gallagher, which is a light-hearted look at their experiences of being adopted.
McNally’s adoption story explains the misinformation floating around online that she’s a Roscommon girl.
“My birth parents are both from Roscommon,” she says. “Someone wrote that I was ‘a Roscommon native’. With this accent?! Are you having a laugh? I drove through Roscommon once. I’ve never set foot in Roscommon as such. I’m from Killiney.”
It was Gallagher who first coaxed McNally into doing stand-up. Gallagher joined McNally on the cast of Una McKevitt’s smash hit Singlehood as a stand-in for a few gigs at the Olympia Theatre, a show that McNally had already been touring with for a few years.
“He suggested I try stand-up and I told him to cop onto himself, but he said, ‘No, I think you should.’
“He was going out on tour at the time with Concussion with Eric Lalor as support, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come on the tour with us and you can learn the ropes?’ So that’s what I did, and he told me: ‘I’ll pay you €100 for every five minutes of stand-up.’
“By the third gig, I had 20 minutes, and he was, like, ‘Look, I’m not paying you €400 per gig! This is what you get up to five minutes.’”
McNally had drifted into showbiz after working in the PR industry for several years. Her role in Singlehood was a game changer.
It’s a piece of theatre McKevitt weaved together from the testimonies of people’s real-life experiences of being single, mixed in with comedians’ stories.
McNally did the story of a teenage girl who was interviewed during the research phase.
“It was about her ideas of what a relationship would be — the innocence, that you’ll be with the one person for the rest of your life, and kissing, really cute. I was like, ‘Wait until this one gets out into the real world. She’s a long way away from dick sick now but it’s in her future’.”
McNally also performed a singleton story from her own past in the show. She gives some background:
“I have a real thing for physical quirks — scars, cleft palates, limps, webbed feet, things like that. It’s so weird. It’s not like a fetish thing. I don’t know what it is. I like imperfection. I think it’s interesting and sexy and I want to ride it.
“Basically, I was at a party and this lad came up and said, ‘I’m not leaving this party without scoring you.’ I was like, ‘Get a grip. This isn’t going to happen.’ Then he blinked and one of his eyes stayed entirely open.
“I saw then that his iris was really badly scratched and damaged and it turned out that he was totally blind in that eye. I scored him and we went out together for three years.
“If he hadn’t been blind in one eye, if his eye hadn’t stayed open like that I wouldn’t have scored him. He literally slept with one eye open. It’s incredible.”