First Published January 2020
‘END’ NEARS FOR DELAMERE
End of Watch, that is, so DON’T WORRY!!!
The only ‘End’ that’s nearing for Neil is his Tullamore stop on his current End Of Watch Tour, which comes to the Tullamore Court Hotel on February 21st! The Edenderry man’s annual visit to his home county always proves to be a memorable – and sold out – affair. So if you haven’t made sure you’re gonna be there yet, I’d act fast. This is a night that will put you in a good mood until summer gets here! And with a general election upon us here at home, the full implications of Brexit about to begin playing out in real-time by the month’s end, and Trump still with the better part of a year to stir up hate before America’s presidential election in November, the more reasons we have to smile the better. Step forward, please, Mr. Delamere…!
Taking a look at his show diary, I noticed that on Neil’s current Tour – which runs until early May – it can be anything up to four shows in a row before a night’s rest pops up for him. When we sat down for a catch up before Christmas, I asked him if a break would be needed at that stage, to help keep the show fresh for him as much as just for a rest? Or does it usually just depend on whatever else is happening on his work schedule?
“I suppose it depends on the rest of your schedule, yeah, but it also depends on the fact that people like going out on Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday nights! [laughs]. They don’t necessarily go our on Mondays and Tuesdays! But that is a decision that people – even my friends in the U.K. – make, that sometimes they’ll go and do one-hundred dates…but they’ll do them in three months! Aaaannnd…they go a little bit mad! They do. They go a little bit mad [laughs]. It’s longer travel over there, so they’re waking up in another town every day, and you’ll see them looking at their hand then [at the show], ‘Hello Carlisle!’ [laughs]. Here, it’s handier to do the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but doing it for the extra month. I’m back and forth a bit more now to the U.K. than I used to be, so I’m trying to condense things into a smaller period, but still do fifty or sixty dates. But I think you’re better off to have other things happening as well, because it keeps you fresher for each show, too.”
When Neil and I sat down to chat, the legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne had only recently passed away. Did Neil have any particular personal memory of Gay that stands out for him?
“I do. He was gone from The Late Late Show by the time I did it, I was very young and inexperienced at comedy then, and I did it with Pat Kenny. But I did some TV warm-ups [where someone -typically a comedian – entertains the studio audience before a show begins]. And a friend of mine used to do them for ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ when Gaybo was the host. But something came up and he couldn’t do it for three or four weeks, so he asked me to do it. And Gay Byrne couldn’t have been nicer. I was watching the audience once, and there was a few teenagers there. And you know how when you’re a teenager everything that’s ‘establishment’ is not cool! So you could see them kinda goin’, ‘Oh God…’, ya know! [laughs]. But Gay walked out, and they were completely entranced! Completely. He had this kind of aura. A charisma. He was fully comfortable and secure in what he was doing, so therefore, he was quite authentic. And the other thing that struck me, apart from him being very nice, was that when you were doing that warm-up…you see…a warm-up is very unusual. Because it’s not like a gig, where they’ve paid to come to see you. So you have to talk about things that are happening in the room. You couldn’t talk about the contestants, you were told not to, because they were all nervous. You couldn’t mess with the audience that much either, because some of them were about to become the audience! So you were a little bit hampered! [laughs]. But, what you could do…what was left to do…was messin’ with Gay. And I remember thinking, ‘I wonder should I say this…?’, because I was messing with him and slagging him. But he just couldn’t have been nicer. You could have said anything to him, and he would not only play ball, he’d have the craic with you, too. He took it all really well. You see, he knew well that he would lead the audience. They’d look to him for reaction, and if he went with it, they’d go with it. So I remember him being completely in control of everything, completely comfortable, and also just very nice to someone who was brand new…me. So yeah, I have very fond memories of him, I have to say.”
When Neil and I last spoke about a year ago, Brexit had already seen two deadlines come and go. And Donald Trump had already revealed himself to be the most unsavory of individuals in so many ways. Lately, of course, we’re discovering that he might well be an even worse character than we could have imagined. Looking at Brexit and Trump now, where does Neil think things are going next?
“I don’t think he’ll be removed as President, because he probably has the majority he needs to protect him. But he’ll be impeached. I don’t know how damaging it’s going to be for him. It does seem that the people who love him – his core bass – they love him no matter what he does. I know the Democrats were nervous about impeaching him at the start because if he survives all that, then it’s just grist to the mill for him for his re-election campaign. So GOD ONLY KNOWS where all that’s goin’ to go. Brexit? Again, see, we’re living in an age where lots of things tend to follow [what happens in] America, as far as I can see. You see some stuff happening in the U.K. that might have happened in America three or four years ago. There’s willful disregard for the truth. Last week, the Conservatives put up a doctored video of the Labour Brexit spokesman, and they made it look like he didn’t know what he was talking about. They edited it that way, so that he looked like he couldn’t explain Labour’s position on Brexit. Then they were called out on it, they were caught. And they were more or less like, ‘Ah yeah’, a shrug of the shoulders, ya know! Even five years ago, somebody would have resigned over that. Somebody would have been blamed for that. And somebody would have apologised for it. We’re living in an age now where all bets are off. And that’s really worrying. Win at all costs is the mentality, and it doesn’t matter what’s truthful anymore, it just matters what people want to believe. I think we’re in for more of the same for the next while. Boris will say – as the D.U.P. have found out – whatever Boris needs to say for Boris. Boris first! Tory Party second. The country third!”
While Neil is a public figure because of his talent as a comedian, he quite regularly touches on issues of a topical political nature on The Blame Game. But in interviews like ours, does it ever annoy him, or make him in any way uncomfortable, to be asked questions about the likes of Brexit or Trump?
“No, no, it doesn’t annoy me at all. No. i mean, I could easily just go, ‘No, I have no opinion on it’, ya know! [laughs]. And just not accept the premise of the question [laughs]. But no, I have opinions on these things, absolutely, and I’ve talked to people who know an awful lot more about them all than me. So I’ve formed some degree of opinion on things for myself. I think I’d still be following the news whether I was talking about it on panel shows or not. Maybe I have to be into the news in a little more depth during the months that we’re on TV. Sometimes when we’re not on, I certainly wouldn’t be reading as much about Belfast or Derry. I wouldn’t reading stuff about the North for maybe a month after ‘The Blame Game’, because I just want to take a break from it.”
The very first sub-two hour marathon was also completely in or around the time Neil and I spoke, even though it hasn’t made the record-books because he had pacers running with him, and it was on a flat course. But the fact remains, that it has now been done. I wondered if there was anything that Neil would love to achieve – it doesn’t even have to be realistic – just something that he would love to do, that Neil would love to see his name beside in the record-books?
“For me?! I never even thought about that! Well, my name is in the House of Commons…[laughs]. That’s enough! Is there anything like that I’d like? I think Mark Watson first, and then Tommy Tiernan, had the record for the longest ever gig and it’s more than twenty-four hours! They started getting delirious. And I was like, no…I’m grand, thanks, lads! [laughs]. No, I don’t think there’s anything like that I can think of in terms of a world record. No. Sorry, I should have a better answer than that! So…3Arena sell-outs, maybe [laughs]. I’d like to hold that one [laughs].”
The passing of both Brendan Grace and Niall Tóbín were sadly also all too recent events when Neil and I spoke, and I asked him about both of those men as well…
“One of the first gigs I ever saw was Niall Tóbín, in the University Concert Hall with my mam and dad. I was a teenager, I was fifteen or sixteen. People would often ask me about those guys. And here’s the thing. The style of comedy has undoubtedly changed. It tends to be more confessional now. But what hasn’t changed is that those two guys have things that you can learn from, that you could always learn from. There’s a degree of mastery of the stage, for example. There’s a degree of timing, and presence. Things that you just can’t fake. They were around so long and they were doin’ the job so well for so long, that even if you turned off the sound you’d still be able to learn something from those lads. I never met Niall Tóibín, but I did a gig with Brendan Grace’s daughter once, Melanie, and she was lovely. I think he picked her up afterwards, so he was one of those people I’ve waved to in a car! But I’ve learned huge amounts from watching their stuff online. I remember the night of that Niall Tóbín gig, that was one of those seminal moments where the thought strikes that, ‘This is a career!’ And not even just a career. It’s something that people do. There’s a man in front of me, and he’s telling stories! And I’ve never seen this before. That was imprinted in my mind. And sometimes I forget that that was the first thing I saw.”
Neil continued, “People often ask where did you get the bug for stand-up, and I would say that I was in college and I saw Dara O’ Briain, Deirdre O’ Kane, Eddie Bannon, and all of those people. But in actual fact, the first time I saw a man standing there [doing stand-up] – now he was in a dickie-bow and it was kind of the old-fashioned more so than the new, alternative comedy for want of a better phrase – but still a man on his own holding peoples’ attention for an hour and a half…was Niall Tóbín. That definitely sowed the seed. And he was so comfortable doing it. Audiences are really intuitive. They’ll sit and watch someone and immediately know if they’re comfortable or uncomfortable [in being on-stage]. And that’s an interesting thing when you’re doing a gig. There’s an onus on the performer when the audience doesn’t know who you are, to gain their trust quickly. What was interesting in someone like Niall Tóbín or Brendan Grace walking on-stage is that everybody trusted them immediately. I think they could have walked on-stage anywhere and everyone would have trusted them immediately. There’s something about the way they stand, there’s something about the way they address the audience, there’s something about the way they hold the microphone, everybody immediately goes I’m in good hands here.”
Does Neil ever have any sense of his own place in Ireland’s comedic history? The fact that even right now, he might be the person who’s making someone else think, ‘This could be something I want to do with my life’…
“Ya mean make them think well it can’t be that hard if he’s doin’ it! [laughs]. No, I don’t think about that really. Sometimes you meet somebody who watched ‘The Panel’ when they were fifteen or something. And that started in 2004. And you meet them now. Actually, I met a fella recently and he was at a gig a couple of years ago in Downpatrick, a little small theatre in Downpatrick when he was sixteen. And he had moved to Dublin, and was maybe nineteen or twenty now, and he was doin’ stand-up. And he’d gone to see myself and another couple of lads in that theatre, and he said he got the bug there and thought to himself that he might want to do more of this. He came back-stage with his dad, who was a very senior law official in Belfast, and his dad asked us would we mind giving his son any advice, if we had any. So we did. And then I met him recently and he said who he was, and you kinda forget that maybe someone sees you on TV and maybe you are someone that gives somebody else a bit of a spur…It’s kind of a weird thing to think of. Because I still have people who I look up to, ya know. The best two things I’ve heard in the last while, in TV or radio, are Alexei Sale, who has a show on Radio 4, and Bob Mortimer on ‘Would I Lie To You’, it’s one of the funniest things you’ll ever see. ‘I do my own dentistry’, that was one of the things he had to lie about! Or tell the truth about, all depends, of course! [laughs]. And both of those guys are well over sixty, but still at the absolute cutting edge of comedy, at the forefront of their creativity. I looked up to them twenty years ago, and I still look up to them now. So it’s a bit weird for me to think that somebody else is going to one of my shows and looking up to me.”