First Published December 2019
‘WATCH’ OUT FOR NEIL’S NEW SHOW
NEIL DELAMERE brings his brand new show, END OF WATCH, to the Tullamore Court Hotel early in the new year. Recently, however, I had the pleasure of catching up with the man himself again, for a chat about that new tour, Brexit, and as it was about to begin on the evening of the day we met, I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here. Among the contestants this year was a very good friend of Neil’s, fellow comedian Andrew Maxwell. I say was, because unfortunately Andrew became the second celebrity voted out of the Australian jungle on Sunday night last. But when Neil and I sat down to talk, we began by Neil giving his opinion on how he thought Andrew was going to fare…
“I think he’s going to be wildly entertaining, I have to say! [laughs]. I was talking to Joel Dommett, who did very well from it a few years ago, because it IS a monster of a thing in terms of the ratings and people being interested in it, so I hope he stays in as long as possible. And I’d love to see him win it. I worked with him for donkeys’ years and he makes me laugh like nobody else’s business! You know that kind of Loki character, that trickster from folklore – and films now as well, obviously – this trickster God, this imp! In Ireland, we’d say it’s the fella who has the divil in him! There’s devilment to Maxwell, that’s why he’s so entertaining. I think he’ll be the person who introduces that spark of madness to it! If there’s anyone I can see eating kangaroo testicles with a smile on his face, it’s Andrew Mazwell! [laughs].“
Could Neil ever see himself giving it a go?
“That show?! Oh, I think I’d have too delicate a disposition! I wouldn’t even go camping on Croghan Hill, nevermind a bushtucker trial in the middle of the Queensland jungle! [laughs]. And I’m not too fond of spiders, either, or snakes. But listen, never say never, I suppose! I’ll get the lowdown from Max after he comes out and see whether it’s something he’d recommend! I’ve been offered some reality shows over here, but for whatever reasons, they haven’t worked out. Timing…Celebrity Bainisteoir would be during the summer, Dancing With The Stars would coincide with touring for me…but never say never. If it was an interesting enough experience you should definitely put yourself down for it. And also if you could learn a new skill by doing it.”
I wondered if Neil was aware of Tommy Tiernan‘s excellent chat show and if the idea of doing something like that – not necessarily in the exact same format as Tommy, but even a more traditional chat show – was something that would ever appeal?
“Well I do find that really interesting, and that’s what we did on the radio with Today FM. And you were spoiled for choice there, because you could just pick something during the week that interested you, and indulge your interest in it! [laughs]. And as long as you thought that other people would find it engaging, you could pick anything. It could be a guy making hoodies in Wexford out of peoples’ hair, well let’s get him on on Sunday! [laughs]. You could do whatever you wanted! So yeah, absolutely, I’d like to do that again. But I have a few more things to do before I go back to that. I’d like to write something, that’s the next thing. Maybe a sit-com, or a film script. I have a few more ‘live’ tours in me, there’s a few stories I want to tell there! I did The Unbelievable Truth on Radio 4, and I’ve started to do the News Quiz and the Now Show on Radio 4. So there’s a few different formats that I’d like to try. The News Quiz has been running for like, seventy series now. And when you do it, you’re in the room that Spike Milligan did The Goodies in. So you’re kinda goin’, right, I can tick that off ‘the list’ now. And that’s kinda cool. And Hancock’s Half-Hour was recorded there. There’s a few more things I want to tick off my bucket-list in comedy first, before I go back to something that I’ve kind of already done on the radio.”
When we met, I had two reasons to offer Neil my congratulations. Firstly, there was a recent IMRO award for The Blame Game (Specialist Speech Programme), but secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Neil was named in the Top Ten Favourite Offaly People of All Time by Laois Today! Which one means more?
“Well I mean listen, an IMRO award, they come and go! So it’s always going to be the Offaly thing, isn’t it [laughs]. I don’t know how our nearest neighbours decided that, to be honest! I actually did a Blame Game recently, and Tim McGarry, the host, was talking about Shane Lowry and Shane’s grandmother, and he told the audience that Shane was from the same county as me. Then he added that this meant there were now two famous people from Offaly…Shane Lowry, and Shane Lowry’s grandmother! [laughs]. Yeah, that Laois thing was interesting. I texted Will O’ Challaghan on Midlands 103 and I said I agreed with everybody else, but it was a tough one to take having Will above me! But no, the IMRO one is always nice to get, and we’ve got it a couple of times now. It’s nice, ya know. Not so much for those of us who work on the show in front of the cameras, cos’ we get nice things being said to us all the time. But for all the people who put the show together, it’s nice for them.”
Along with Neil’s famed solo shows in Edinburgh, The Blame Game – now in its sixteenth series – is very much what comes to mind when people think of Neil…
“Yeah, it’s divided equally between the two. Everybody north of the border thinks Blame Game. And we’re actually doing our third series of Soft Border Patrol as well, which we kind of thought would be overtaken by Brexit, but…! [laughs]. There’s another one of those in January or February. So they think of those two things. And by the way, the reason it’s in January or February is for my parts, they’re already filming other parts now. But it’s such a fluid and dynamic situation [Brexit], that if you film it today, Boris could have announced another deal by tomorrow, and they could be part of France by next week! So we have to film it quite tight to air-date. People south of the border don’t watch those shows in the same way, so they tend to think of ‘live’ tours, some people alright think of The Blame Game, some of Edinburgh, some even think of The Panel from years ago, or Today FM. But hopefully you’ve got to the point where you’re just a fixture now, ya know.”
With Soft Border Patrol, and because that whole situation is proving to be as fluid as it is, at what stage was it decided that another series was actually a viable option?
“Well I don’t decide that, that’s a man or a woman in an office somewhere. But I mean, the very first one was meant to be just one episode and that turned into three. The second series was five episodes, and I think the next one is three. Some of the decision making is governed by the actual process of Brexit itself. And I think if the U.K. had left by now, and it had been a very hard Brexit and people were really suffering under the yoke of that, they might have made a different decision. In that case, they might have gone, well, is this something that we can really take the piss out of? Oddly enough, The Blame Game is the thing that got us mentioned in the House of Commons recently, which was really weird. I was at the cinema, right, and I walked out of the cinema and my phone just had, ‘You’ve been mentioned in the House of Commons’, ‘You’ve been mentioned in the House of Commons’, ‘And so has the Blame Game’…all these messages! I thought it was something like somebody had used the phrase, like, ‘we need to stop playing the blame game’, something like that. But it wasn’t! It was the Shadow Secretary of Northern Ireland, Steven Pound, of Labour. And he said, ‘We should stop playing the blame game. The Blame Game to me is a programme on Northern Irish television..’, and then he went on, ‘starring Neil Delamere, and Tim McGarry…’, and all the rest! [laughs]. So we’re in the record of Hansard for the rest of our days. That was a bit weird! Usually when they’re naming Irish people in there it’s because they’re part of a proscribed organisation! [laughs]. We pop up in unusual places, I suppose!”
On Brexit and Soft Border Patrol, and with the way everything is going in that regard, does Neil feel that somewhere along the line that show – clearly created as a parody of real life – could become almost indistinguishable from real life because of how crazy everything actually is becoming in real life?!
“Well we actually had one of the foremost academic experts in Brexit from the north say that she had written pages and pages of articles on Brexit, but that ‘these boys’, us, had nailed it in thirty seconds on the show! And it’s beginning to be shared in England now, too, by current affairs journalists. You just don’t know what way it’s going to go. But what is quite interesting is that suddenly people in England, specifically England, are becoming aware of Northern Ireland in a way that they never were before. Marcus Brigstocke, a well-known comedian in the U.K, did a joke on The Blame Game recently about the D.U.P. coming into existence in 2017! And he was right, that’s what certain people seem to think. It’s interesting to see stuff dawn on people like that now, that never dawned on them before.”
The main reason I was sitting down with Neil, of course, was to chat a little bit about his new tour, End Of Watch, which is on its way to Tullamore at the end of February. The show is built around a central theme of Neil trying to buy his dad a fancy new watch…
“I think when you have a story, people kind of want to hang on until the end and see what happens…did he get it or did he not? I’ll tell you this much, I forgot to buy it, so I had to buy it in an airport, which resulted in much wrangling over duty-free [laughs]. It got good reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, including from a man sat in the front row who was… the Chief Constable of the P.S.N.I, Sir George Hamilton! He retired about a month before the Fringe, but he came up to me and said ‘Hi, I’m going to your show tonight.’ Because of the nature of the festival, the venue I was in had another show on after me, then another one after that again. So you have to get your audience out and the next one in for the next performer. So at the end of my show, we’d ran a little bit over, and I realised what I was going to have to say next. I looked down at the Chief Constable and I said…you’ve got two minutes to get out! [laughs]. And he laughed…and then he shot me in the leg! [laughs]. No he didn’t! [laughs]. So yeah, people seemed to have liked the show there. We’ve just started its tour, I’ve done a couple of nights already, and it will go from now until the end of April. And hopefully I’ll get the Da to go to it. Because the last time I did a show about him a couple of years ago, it was about he and I doing the Meals On Wheels, and I got him to go to that in Vicker Street. And he was lauded like some sort of rockstar! [laughs].
Going back to when Neil was actually trying to buy the watch and haggling about the duty-free and such, how soon into that whole scenario, I wondered, did he realise he was going to use this as material at some stage?
“Oh as it was happening! [laughs]. Yeah, yeah. I was with my missus and she was going, ‘Why are you not annoyed that you can’t get this watch?’ And then she saw this glint in my eye, and she goes, ‘You’re going to write about this, aren’t ya?!’ And I just said yeeeeessss! [laughs]. That’s the great thing about comedy, if something awkward or bad happens, for most people in normal everyday life, they get annoyed. But with me, half of me gets annoyed, but the other half of me goes, ‘Woaaaah, this is twenty minutes of a show!’ [laughs]. So yeah, I knew kind of as it was happening, but I didn’t realise it would be the full show until I started putting all the pieces together.”
So because Neil realised as it was happening, that it was something he was going to use in his shows, did it change or affect how he was actually dealing with the situation in real-time?
“Well that would have been the really clever thing to do, to deliberately start to antagonise someone to see if they’ll be ruder to you and make it all funnier again! [laughs]. No, I wasn’t quite that on-board with it at the time. Sometimes, I think, it depends when the incident happens. I don’t know about other people, but my brain is trying to impose some sort of logic or structure on a job that has none. That’s why it’s all fallen into this routine of Edinburgh every August, telly in November and December, and tour between December and April, with festivals during the summer. If you’re trying to buy that watch and it’s January, where it’s around the time you’ve turned your head to writing your next show, you immediately know [that you’ll use it]. Whereas if it’s mid-November and you’re writing lots of topical stuff…like if it happened this week, I’m doing Blame Game on Wednesday, on Thursday I’m doing a TV show for BBC Scotland called Breaking The News, another panel show, so then you might file something like the watch away in the back burner and suddenly find it when you need it.”