School Daze with Bernard O'Shea: 'Lads I knew from school can't believe I became a comedian'

My most vivid memory of primary school is not being able to do maths. The teachers tried their best with me but I just couldn’t do it.
School Daze with Bernard O'Shea: 'Lads I knew from school can't believe I became a comedian'
School Daze May 25 Bernard O'Shea.
School Daze May 25 Bernard O'Shea.
School Daze May 25 Bernard O'Shea.

My most vivid memory of primary school is not being able to do maths. The teachers tried their best with me but I just couldn’t do it. So, I ended up learning the times tables like a poem and when it came to sums I would have to write them down — for example, seven plus seven equals fourteen. Before I went into each school year I’d learn off the answers in the maths book so it would look like I knew what I was doing.

As for my first day in secondary school, the memory that stands out is meeting my friend Brian. He was introduced to me by someone else and we went on to be good friends through secondary school and were in a band together.

I was very quiet and shy as a child. I know, this seems like a bizarre quality to be associated with me and it’s certainly not a quality associated with me now! Lads I’d meet from school years later would always say the same thing: “I can’t believe you became a comedian, you were so quiet in school.”

I was always good at English, Geography and History — they came effortlessly to me. Maths was always a struggle and still is to this day.

The lesson I learned during my school days that I apply to my life today is: You get back what you put in.

If I were to meet myself as a kid, I would say: Don't drink as much.

I am not really in touch with a lot of friends from my schooldays as we all went our separate ways. I remember one of our friends the last day of sixth year saying, “We will probably never see each other again” and we fell about the place laughing — but he was right. Over the years I’ve seen them pop up on Facebook but they are in four corners of the globe now. I’m still in daily contact with college friends though. Because there wasn’t much employment about locally then, most of the kids in rural schools would leave.

The best advice I got back then that you apply to your life today is: If you don’t know the answer, write down something.

The teacher that influenced me the most? They all did, in fairness. But I would have to hand it to the guidance counsellor who pointed me in the direction of Cultural Studies in Dundalk though. Back then it was a quite an unusual subject and very few in Ireland went straight into the humanities. It changed my life — it was such a good call.

As for school discos? I didn’t really go to any of them. I was in a “band” so we just gigged where we could. I didn’t really drink until I went to college either. And most weekends I played music with my dad in the pub.

What would 13-year-old Bernard say to me today? He’d tell me: “You still don’t know what you’re doing.” What I would say to anyone struggling with these strange times and this new reality we find ourselves in is this: Reality is still out there, it’s just covered in a thick fog of unreality right now — we will come back stronger.

When Marty Morrissey and I were filming our latest show Marty and Bernard  On the Road Again we got a fantastic reception everywhere we went and we were bowled over by the positive response from viewers. It is light and fun but also very community-based so it really fits in with what’s happening right now.

  • Bernard O’Shea is a full-time comedian and writer. Watch Marty and Bernard — On the Road Again on RTÉ One on Wednesday, May 27, at 9.35pm; also available on RTÉ Player

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