Whatever 2018 has in store for Jarlath Regan, it will be difficult to top last year.
His stand-up shows keep hitting the funny bone — which was acknowledged by being chosen as the 2017 Irish Tatler Man of the Year in comedy, alongside other category winners such as RTÉ broadcaster Sean O’Rourke and Galway hurling icon Joe Canning — while his An Irishman Abroad podcast continues to prosper with notable recent interviews with Gabriel Byrne and Bob Geldof.
It was off-stage, however, that led to a really momentous year for Regan and his family. In early 2017, he donated a kidney to his brother, Adrian. The experience forms the basis of his touring stand-up show, entitled Organ Freeman, which comes to Vicar St on January 12. It can’t be easy getting laughs from such a weighty subject.
“It’s true — with gags, the stakes are lower,” says Regan. “There isn’t as much risk. With something as personal as this, involving an issue that needs highlighting, I felt a responsibility to the wider organ donor community, the Mayo Clinic — where it happened — to members of my family, my brother, my wife and my son.
“Some would say that all that responsibility is the enemy of comedy. I’m up there to make it funny. Navigating that is the challenge. That’s the craft. It’s why these shows are so difficult to write — you still have a responsibility to the audience to be funny.
“In terms of healing, and moving on with my life after doing something like this, I can make sense of my life as soon as I’m able to laugh at it. As soon as I can find the funny in it, it doesn’t feel too big to manage.”
The feedback Regan has got with his show, for example during his run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, has been inspiring. “People after some of my shows have told me that they have volunteered to be a live donor as a result of seeing the show,” he says.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends that live donors listen to Regan’s podcast episode that he recorded at the time of the donation.
Myself & @shortenl took the time to #givethegiftoflife this Christmas by becoming #organdonor champions This occurred mostly because every week when we listen to @Jarlath #irishmanabroad #podcast he reiterates the importance of #OrganDonation Thanks J & everyone else #justdoit pic.twitter.com/9vUoNP2BgU— Brian D'Arcy (@BDarce) January 1, 2018
Regan’s brother, who co-owns and runs Hunter Valley stud farm in Kentucky, is thriving.
“He’s enjoying a lot more energy and life than he has in a long, long time,” he says.
Regan, too, is enjoying the benefits of improved health, which is a counter-intuitive result of donating a kidney.
“I knew that whatever kidney I was left with would grow and double in size to compensate for the loss of the other one. I really feel that. It’s funny I do remember a sense that there was something missing there. I felt a gap in my back. But I now really feel the strength of the one that is remaining.
“I’m in the shape of my life. I’ve never been as fit as I am right now. I’ve never been able to lift more in the gym. I understand now why they told me in the Mayo Clinic that live organ kidney donors tend to live longer. I can see why — I definitely take pride in my health a lot more than I used to.”
Regan, who moved to London in 2013, is getting a lot of mileage from the Brexit debates that have gripped the dwellers in his new hometown. He’s as confounded as many other Londoners by the predicament.
“It was sold to the British public as being as simple as leaving your local video club, just passing over your card and walking away,” he says. “Directly afterwards, they were told it was a divorce and that divorce proceedings were the discussion, which I think is really interesting. Because if they had said to the British public, ‘Do you want a divorce from Europe?’ They’d have probably said, ‘No’ because we all know how messy and expensive
divorces can be.
“In a lot of ways, the language and analogies of Brexit have been a big problem. As it goes on, it is becoming a messy divorce where people like the DUP are your friend who says ‘you should change all the locks and throw all his stuff out on the street’ just when it looks like the divorce is going smoothly.
“I’m not saying this facetiously because it does feel like neither of the two parties want the divorce. Nobody knew what it would look like.”
Regan reckons the vast majority of British people actually like Europe.
“If you asked me at the right moment — say, after a game of Monopoly — if I wanted to divorce my family I’d probably say, ‘Yeah’.
“They asked the British people at the wrong time in the wrong way and a certain amount of them said ‘yeah’ when a certain amount of them assumed nobody would say ‘Yes’. And the critical error was the assumption of those people who didn’t get out to vote.”
For all the foibles of the British people, London is now home for Regan. “So much of my experience in the UK has been discovering the beauty of the people and the place,” he says, “but equally reminding yourself of why Ireland will always be home, and how much you love it. They say you have to go away to appreciate what you had. I totally agree with that.
“London is a lot of things all at once. At times, it’s a very romantic, beautiful city to live in, which is the centre of the comedy world. It does have that feeling that New York gives a lot of people — that anything is possible if you put your heart and soul into it.
“There are other times where you scratch your head and go, ‘Will I ever understand these people? Why am I here? We really don’t have anything in common’.”
He says that sometimes this can be as basic as telling a story. “Luckily, I work with loads of people who can tell stories, but the man on the street can’t tell a story for the most part.
“Oftentimes, he’ll start into what sounds like a story but ultimately the thing that he’s started telling you at the very beginning of the story is said again and again in different ways. He’ll have spent three minutes
saying the same thing over and over.
“As an Irish person growing up around the kitchen table with everyone telling a tale, and everyone you meet from the barman to the greengrocer being able to spin a yarn, it’s quite hard to know how to react in those situations. I guess you have to embrace that as a stand-up and rinse humour from it.”
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