Patrick Monahan: turning family funnies into comedy gold

Comedian Patrick Monahan became famous after winning ITV's Show Me the Funny contest in 2011. The £100,000 prize led to a DVD release and a nationwide UK tour.

THE English comedian Patrick Monahan’s father is Irish and his mother is Iranian.

Monahan jokes that his family spends most of their holidays in customs. This week, he will headline the Bulmers Clonmel Comedy Festival (Nov 27-Dec 1).

Monahan’s father moved to England from Roscommon at the age of 18. Work as a welder took him to the Middle East, where he met Monahan’s mother. Monahan, who is the youngest of three children, was born in Ahvaz, an Iranian city on the banks of the Karun River, in 1976.

By 1979, Iran was in a revolution. The Shah was overthrown and the Ayatollah Khomeini declared an Islamic republic. A year later, Iran was at war with Iraq. It was risky for Monahan’s family.

“Where we were living, in Ahvaz, was close to the Iraqi border,” says Monahan. “You had Iraqis coming over and back, attacking. There were loads of people fleeing, but families with more than one son weren’t allowed to leave, because of conscription. The Iranians’ main objective was to have a massive army.

“My mum and dad took my brother out. I was with my nana and granddad. They acted as my parents and I was their ‘kid’. We were lucky, because of the Irish connection. Our uncle had three sons, so they had to stay there until later in the ’80s and ’90s, and go the long way around by land, around the bottom of Iran, and ended up driving through Turkey and on into Europe, and stuff. It was a lot trickier for them.”

Monahan’s father settled the family in Middlesbrough, in the north of England, where steel work was plentiful. They haven’t been back to Iran since. Monahan says his mother “would have a heart attack” if he returned to visit. While in his 20s, he was still at risk of being conscripted.

“Growing up on Teeside was hilarious, with my background,” he says of his upbringing in Yorkshire. “Even Irish was quite exotic. As a child, I didn’t realise my mum and dad had accents. When friends used to come around, they used to say, ‘why does your dad talk like that?’ All people knew about Iran or Ireland, during the ’80s, was what they saw in the news about the Iraqi war and the Irish blowing up things. People were a bit confused. Anytime there was a war in the Middle East, people would assume that was where we were from. I learned to make a joke about it. You could either fight it or go with it. I think that’s where the comedy comes from with me.”

Monahan catapulted to fame on ITV’s Show Me the Funny contest in 2011. He was the winner of 10 contestants in a comedy ‘decathlon’. Each week, the comedians visited cities around the UK. They performed arbitrary tasks and did five-minute routines in front of audiences, such as rugby players in a pub in South Wales, and medical staff at a hospital in Watford. The jury included established comics such as Alan Davies, Johnny Vegas and Jo Brand. Monahan says the week they visited an army barracks (and, later, performed to soldiers from a Scots Guards regiment) was the most demanding.

“Physically, doing the army was very tough,” he says. “We had to spend the first couple of days of the week being a soldier. It was ridiculous, because the soldiers were all 19 or 20 years old. I’m in my 30s. You realise why you want to be doing their training when you’re 20. The gig later was good fun, too, but it was very rowdy.”

Monahan’s win, which included prize-money of £100,000, led to a DVD release and a nationwide UK tour.

Back in Iran, TV shows are different, he jokes on stage. “In Iran, the top programmes are Last of the Spring Ribena and Arranged Marriage. Arranged Marriage is just like Blind Date. One person chooses from the three girls. A typical show is: ‘question number one to cousin number one,’ and then Uncle Graham comes with a quick recap: ‘will it be number one, who is a qualified doctor, or number two, who has got an MBA, or will it be number three, who likes to party? The decision is with your parents’.” nPatrick Monahan performs at 9.30pm, Saturday, Nov 30, O’Keeffe’s, Parnell St, Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

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Festival highlights

Colm O’Regan opens the festival on Wednesday with his latest show, “Ireland’s Got More Mammies“, which mines material from his second book on the peculiarities and peccadillos of the Irish mother: that rare species who is capable of extreme fatalism (“Wait’ll you see now, as soon as they get their holidays, the weather’ll break”), bizarre frugality (“I hope you didn’t use the good scissors for that”) and is blessed with uncanny hearing (“I thought I heard a mouse last night”).

Like Patrick Monahan, Shappi Khorsandi (inset) is another Iranian-born comic on the bill in Clonmel. Her family had to leave Tehran before the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Both her brother and father, who is a famous Iranian satirist, are stand-up comics, too. The Ayatollah once issued a death order against her father. Khorsandi, who gave birth to her second child in June, has a bag full of coruscating material about failed relationships and a few gags about her homeland also: “I meet a lot of Americans who still don’t know the difference between Iran and Iraq, and I always have to explain to them. We’re the ones with weapons of mass destruction.”

Other comics appearing as part of the festival’s impressive line-up include the young English comedian Seann Walsh, Tommy Tiernan, The Nualas and, on the closing night, David O’Doherty.


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