STAND-UP comedian Neil Delamere has endured unusual heckles. A silent one stands out.
“I was doing a gig in Edinburgh,” he says, “and I bent over to do some joke, or play some character, and out of the corner of my eye I saw this advancing, shimmering golden pool of light emanating from a rather pleased-looking guide dog in the front row. He was doing a wee.
“There was a couple there. The guide dog belonged to the man. The woman with him got really embarrassed and brought the guide dog out — the guide dog was only in training — leaving the man sitting in the front row. So I said, ‘Do you know that woman is after stealing your dog?’ and he went, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ And I asked: ‘What’s your relationship?’ He said: ‘Oh, we’re engaged.’ I said: ‘When are you getting married?’ He went: ‘Never.’ I said: ‘Oh, my God.’ He said: ‘What can I tell you? I’m leading her on, like the dog leads me on’.”
The couple go to Delamere’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe show every year, always sitting in the front row.
Delamere has carved an impressive career on home soil. Unlike peers such as Dara Ó Briain and Ed Byrne, who gravitated to London, Delamere fills his dance card while based in Ireland, with the exception of short, annual tours to, say, Edinburgh and Australia.
He mixes touring on the comedy circuit with TV work on panel shows, presenting and guesting on radio shows, and making television documentaries. Last spring, he followed up an IFTA award-winning documentary on the Vikings with There’s Something About Patrick, an investigation into Ireland’s patron saint.
“St Patrick is so well-known that there are four of five things that people associate with him,” he says. “He had the Seat of Armagh. He was a very, holy, saintly man. There was no room for flaws in someone like that, but I learned, during the making of the documentary, that his are the earliest writings still in existence in Irish.
“I didn’t realise that he doesn’t mention Armagh anywhere in his writings. Later sources associated him with Armagh to enhance its reputation. I was kind of appalled by this.
“Remember, I’m from Co Offaly, home of Barack Obama, president of the United States of America. History tends to rewrite itself as propaganda.”
Nor did Delamare realise that St Patrick considered himself to have committed a crime, a ‘great sin’ he references in his Confession.
“That was one of two things he wrote — which was essentially his defence of his mission in Ireland. He wasn’t entirely saintly. He was a man driven. I didn’t realise the personal charisma he had. People used to give him presents and jewels. We made a laugh out of that. We did a Tom Jones sketch, where people were throwing stuff at him in the actual show.
“His story is unbelievably interesting. Even if I didn’t tell you who it was about — if I just said: ‘A boy was kidnapped, brought away from sophistication, which was the Roman Empire, to Ireland. Spent years here, then escaped, becomes a cleric, goes back to those people in Ireland, and becomes, for want of a better word, the most famous son on the island.’ That’s inspiring enough without all the snakes and shamrocks.”
Delamere has a few potential follow-up TV documentaries in the pipeline, including further myth-debunking studies of characters such as Red Hugh O’Donnell and Gráinne Mhaol. He’s wary of what his production team might spring on him during filming. He had to drape a snake around himself for the St Patrick documentary.
“I’m dreading to think what they might do with someone like Gráinne Mhaol, who allegedly gave birth and then fought Algerian pirates the next day. I’ve no idea how they would simulate that. The Northern earls got frostbite on their skin, on their escape from Dublin Castle. I hope I don’t have to do a Ranulph Fiennes and cut off the ends of my extremities,” he says.
Delamere is next on our television screens with Next Year’s News — a one-off version of his upcoming, comedy-review-of-the-news programme, Next Week’s News — which will broadcast on RTÉ Two on New Year’s Eve. It will take a comical look at current news stories, and, extrapolating from them, hazard guesses as to how they might unravel, or offer clues to stories in 2014.
Delamere is seasoned at mining news stories for laughs, from his years on RTÉ’s The Panel and the BBC’s The Blame Game. He is interesting on how social-network sites have forced him and his colleagues to work harder on fashioning jokes from media stories, because gags go viral so quickly. He cites the example of the US government temporarily closing its national parks, which prompted a flood of skits about the trouble Yogi Bear would have in Jellystone Park without any park rangers to hassle.
“One-liners fly around quickly on national events, especially on Twitter,” he says, “so you have to think of a joke, step back, see how original, innovative and clever that joke might be, and make sure nobody else has done it; or do a longer-form joke on it by building a scenario around it.
“There was a story I particularly liked, a while ago, where lads stole some scrap metal from Swords Industrial Estate. Then, the Gardaí had to come on the news, two days later, and say: ‘They are lightning-preventers. They’re really radioactive. You’re going to get really sick. Please hand them back.’ Somewhere in Dublin, a few lads were going, ‘Ah, noooo!’, just freaking out. I think there’s a certain comeuppance element in that which appeals to me.”
* Next Year’s News will broadcast at 11.10pm, RTÉ Two, New Year’s Eve. Neil Delamere is touring Ireland with his show, ‘Smartbomb’, in the new year, which includes performances at Vicar St (Feb 7-8, Mar 21-22) and the Cork Opera House (Mar 8).
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