Having the last laugh

I FIRST mentioned my desire to try stand-up comedy to David McSavage during a Newstalk interview earlier this year.

His immediate response was, “You would be great at it!”

Like many comedians, I was eager to perform in any venue that would have me in an attempt to find my own style and learn the ropes of the Irish comedy scene. In my first week I went from an audience of 20 to a packed house of nearly 400. My nerves didn’t get the best of me as I am well used to public speaking, but I was very nervous about how my material would be received.

Most comedians would really take their time in perfecting their craft before branching out. But I couldn’t wait to try my hand at being an MC for a new comedy experience in Dublin — and uniquely, one that was alcohol-free.

I came across a brand new venue, Accents, a cosy coffee & tea lounge which stays open till 11pm most nights on Stephen Street Lower in Dublin.

After a brief chat with the owner Anna Young, we decided to organise a free comedy event where I would get the acts and be the MC on the night. The week prior to the event I met up with some of the other comedians for a chat, when I heard the bombshell: “Dil, a lot rests on your performance. If you don’t warm the crowd up properly, the whole night could fall on its face.”

In my excitement to organise the event, I forgot the pivotal role the MC plays, especially in a comedy club. It’s the MC’s job to engage with the audience in order to get them primed for a night of laughs. I began panicking and was even contemplating finding a more experienced MC, but then I remembered that my career moves always started with me jumping in at the deep end, so why should this be any different?

With just one week to go, I had to write material to warm up the audience for the 20 minutes before the first act, and then more material to keep the audience entertained between comedians. I had approximately 10 minutes of material, but knew I needed at least three times as much to ensure the event would flow seamlessly from one act to another. As the day drew nearer I became very conscious of the alcohol-free element of the event. Would this work against me? Would people be interested? Did we have to alter our performance to entertain a sober audience? My head was swimming with questions. To make matters worse, one of my closest friends said: “This is Ireland, Dil, we need our drink to have a good time.” Arrrghh!

The day finally came; I arrived at the venue early and helped Anna mount the lights and create the staging area. By 6.30pm the lounge was rapidly filling up, and by 7pm we had run out of seats and many started sitting on the floor.

The adrenaline was pumping through me. What if I can’t pull it off? What if they don’t think I am funny? What if they don’t like me as a comedian? It was 7.10pm, the room was full to capacity with about 60 sober people all waiting to see the show ... it was time. We cued the intro music, the pulsating tones of Adele’s “Rumour Has It” filled the room and then my fiancé’s voiceover calmy announced “Welcome to Accents Comedy Club, Ireland’s First Alternative Alcohol-Free Comedy experience, here’ss your host, the delightful, the delicious, the deliriously funny ... Dil!”

I jumped onto the stage and was welcomed by a rapturous applause. I started my warm-up routine and the audience responded, first with gentle, polite giggles that slowly grew into ecstatic bursts of laughter, which washed over me like waves of euphoria! My nerves dissipated and I began to enjoy the night. As I introduced each act, the laughs kept coming and the applause got louder. After two solid hours of great comedy, the night came to a close without a single heckler or uncomfortable silence.

The Accents Alternative Alcohol-Free Comedy Club was launched on Monday, September 5, and was a roaring success — packed to capacity with happy, sober customers. It featured five amazing acts and was headlined by the very talented Steve Cummins.

The comedy night continues on the first Monday of every month. See www.dwickremasinghe.ie & www.accents-lounge.comThe Galway Comedy Festival, 26-31 October, see: www.galwaycomedyfestival.com

Dil Wickremasinghe is a broadcaster with Newstalk and is now a stand-up comedian, too!

Dil’s crowd pleasers

What do you call an Irish alcohol-free comedy club? An AA graduation party.

If Carlsberg did comedy clubs — we probably wouldn’t be one of them.

I am now a proud Irish citizen. The process of getting citizenship in Ireland is called naturalisation. Ever since my Jehovah’s Witness parents, found out I was gay, they have told me that I am unnatural — so when I became an Irish citizen and received my certificate of naturalisation I promptly sent a copy to my parents in Sri Lanka with a post-it saying “you were wrong — and here’s the cert to prove it!”


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