Stand-up in spite of himself

PJ Gallagher is out on tour while he awaits surgery on his injured leg, says Richard Fitzpatrick

PJ GALLAGHER is infectious company. You laugh before the punchlines. He started in comedy in 2001 when his friend, Jason Byrne, roped him into doing a support slot at Vicar St. Gallagher returns there for a show this weekend.

A few years later, his appearances on RTÉ’s candid camera show, Naked Camera, as, among others, Jake Stevens and a demented taxi driver, brought him to national prominence. In the last decade, along with fame, he’s indulged in a series of passions, including motorbike-racing, flying, and riding BMX bikes.

The rough-and-tumble is taking its toll. Gallagher has to get steroid shots in his right leg — which will be operated on in England later in the year, the latest of several operations — to keep him up and about and walking. The injury has not affected his fatalistic outlook.

“The hardest thing is walking,” he says. “But, lucky enough, I can cycle a bike and ride my motorbikes and my BMX and I can stand on stage, which is important for a stand-up comedian. I haven’t got the sit-down comedian thing figured out yet.”

Gallagher was the brains behind the sketch show Meet Your Neighbours, which ran on RTÉ television before Christmas. The series was a video diary of various oddball characters from a Dublin housing estate.

He says he cobbled the characters together, and their lines, from folk he’d met over the years. “A lot of them were based on mad aunties and mad uncles,” he says. “I can say that now because they all know they’re mad. They don’t get upset about it anymore. And I worked on building sites for years, coming up against all these heads and personalities.

“I just started to pretend to be them, answering questions the way I thought they’d answer, which ended up with this ridiculous show. We didn’t even have make-up. When I was playing a woman, I’d put a man’s wig on backwards and stick a necklace on. Despite that, they were a little bit believable.”

Gallagher’s take on a smug, moneyed, middle-aged couple is instantly recognisable. Roger Balfe talks to camera while his peroxide-blonde wife, complete with huge breasts, shoddily implanted false eyelashes and what James Joyce might have called “rheumatic lips,” sits woozily beside him on a two-seater sofa.

“What I think is great about Ireland,” says Mr Balfe, confidently, “is we have the ability to change ourselves extendedly because, inside, we’re great people, whereas you go to other countries and they look great but they’re gobshites, and you can’t get a personality transplant, but you can get a boob job, so this is what I think is the logic of it.

“Now I have the entire package,” he says, while sweeping his hand across his wife in illustration — “not only do I have a lovely wife, but I have a lovely wife. Whereas a lot of these fellas have lovely wives but they also have an ear ache.”

Gallagher says he’s still harvesting madcap stories on his travels. “I’ve got a friend who works with the ambulance,” he says. “He told me something last night that can only happen in Ireland. He was called out because a fella was drunk and fell out of his wheelchair.

“They arrived and asked, ‘Is he OK?’ and someone standing by screamed, ‘No — he can’t feel his legs.’ She thought he’d drunk so much that he couldn’t feel his legs.”

Gallagher is happier to spend his downtime throwing a stick into a river for his dog to fetch (he’s getting a second one shortly) rather than, he says, go for a jar or play darts, and he’s a fiend for American television shows, among them Breaking Bad and Dexter. Strangely, he didn’t care much for The Wire.

When pushed to name his favourite TV series, he goes back in time. “Dallas,” he says, “I used to love it growing up. I still can’t get it out of my head. I’m obviously aware of how completely bad it was and the way we were supposed to believe they were millionaires and they only ever had one phone in the middle of the house, which everybody had to use on the sly. It was hilarious, absolutely preposterous. If they had sang once, it could have been a pantomime.

“And JR Ewing was such a ridiculous villain. He was so funny. He turned his wife into an alcoholic.

“I don’t know even how can you do that, and then get her put on crazy pills and then get her put into a mental home, all so she couldn’t talk to the kids.”

* PJ Gallagher performs at Vicar Street, Dublin, on Friday, and Cork Opera House on Saturday. Www.vicarstreet.ie and www.corkoperahouse.ie.


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