Nothing prepares you for stand up. It is a weird, strange thing. The only thing that can possibly prepare you for stand up is stand up itself.
In conversation with Hilary Fennell
I was quite shy in school. A lot of people probably can’t believe I’ve ended up on radio and doing stand up.
I always wanted to be in a band. I played music for years and studied theatre and appeared in plays but those things just give you the basic skills for how to perform on a stage. Stand up is more like going out there naked and ending up fully clothed by the end of the show. Stripping would be much easier.
I got into comedy by chance when I was in college. I won a competition which led to supporting Joe Rooney. I’d never even been to a live comedy gig before I did my first one, so I had no point of reference. I was a slow starter.
For the next couple of years I continued playing traditional Irish music and doing some comedy gigs but I would never prepare any material. I wasn’t trying to be experimental or anything, it was simply due to a combination of alcohol and laziness, so my gigs were completely hit and miss.
It was only after I did a gig in Limerick where I died on my hole that Karl Spain told me it was the worst death he’d ever seen and implored me to write 20 minutes of material.
I did so and I’m eternally grateful to him. Although I did a worse gig since at Portlaoise prison. I was really looking forward to it but I completely over thought it. They just didn’t like me.
The more experienced you become, the more you can see the reasons why gigs go wrong. It’s usually a combination of factors — like the room being very boozy, or the sound being wrong or simply that you were in a bad mood.
But in the early days you have no idea of any of this and the minute you don’t get a laugh you rush through your material which only makes things worse.
My advice to anyone who is nervous performing is to breathe. Really and truly, slow down your breathing if you are terrified of speaking in public. Get your diaphragm into its proper position and then the brain calms down. And, stay sober.
I’m probably not the easiest person to live with. I make things difficult for myself. I over-analyse everything.
I’m not a natural lark but I’ve got used to doing the breakfast show on 2FM and I love it. Summer is harder than winter, it’s difficult to go to bed when it’s still bright. But then I suppose overall I’m built for winter with my red hair and fair skin.
My worst fault is my temper, by a country mile. I blame it on the hair. I get a great routine going — eating well, taking regular exercise — but n when I start getting very busy again the routine is the first thing to go.
One of the things I do try and stick to is walking everywhere as much at as I can. Back home in Co Laois I walk the Leafy Loop in Durrow as much as I can.
I’ve been married for five years and we have a one-year-old daughter. My wife is an accountant. I met her in the International Comedy club eight years ago when she was out with a group from work. I asked her for her number.
A lot of stand up has gone down a factual route like ‘I love science and here are my jokes’. It’s killed an awful lot of joy in comedy. I don’t think you should have to choose between science or faith. I don’t like dealing in anything but pure fact. If you think of now as your afterlife — then there is no afterlife.
If I could be reborn as someone else for a day I think I’d like to come back as a woman. I know I am extremely lucky although sometimes it is impossible to see your own life with any perspective.
I don’t believe that we have to be happy all the time. I’m a bit pissed off with this whole obsession with happiness thing. Life is complicated. A lot of happiness comes from very simple things now - like having a cup of tea, looking across at my daughter Olivia.
I don’t believe in anything - in that I believe in everything. To believe in nothing is to believe in everything.
Bernard O’Shea is one third of Breakfast Republic on RTÉ 2fm, Monday: Friday, 6am – 8.45am.
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