THE I.N.L.A., TRUMP, AND PUBLIC WHIPPINGS!
First Published November 2017
If all I ever knew about P.J. Gallagher was how passionately he feels about animals and their welfare, that would be enough for me to know I’d go into battle at his side without even a moment’s hesitation should such an hour ever come. But that’s not all I know about him. There’s also the fact that he considers Donald Trump to be looney, so we’re on the same page there, too! And there’s a couple of other things that most folk probably have no idea about, but, no more than both of the points already mentioned, really shine a light on P.J’s character as a human being.
For as long as it was possible for him to do so before his work shifts with Classic Hits 4FM ruled it out, P.J. was a volunteer with Blood Bikes East, meaning he was on call at a moment’s notice to transport blood supplies for hospitals in case of emergencies. And not only that, but since moving to Dun Laoghaire, P.J. has become a volunteer with the R.N.L.I. (Royal National Lifeboat Institution, as opposed to the I.N.L.A, but more on that anon!), because he believes in giving back to the community where you live.
And on top of all this pure soundness, of course, there’s the fact that P.J. is one of the funniest men in the land. And on December 2nd he’s bringing his latest tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel. I had the pleasure of catching up with P.J. recently for a chat about the new show, and life in general. Now, most comedy shows usually go for some kind of witty play on words to get peoples’ attention when it comes to a name. And P.J. has definitely got peoples’ attention taking his ‘Dickhead’ tour on the road! Only one question to kick things off with then…..!!!
“Ya know somethin’? I wish I had a really good story for this, I really do! I come from when, in stand-up, you didn’t really name your show, you just said, ‘P.J. Gallagher will be ‘live’ on this date and at this time’, and that was it. But at some stage a few years ago somebody started namin’ all these tours! So I started callin’ mine all these stupid names that meant nothin’. And this year the show is about a bunch of stupid stuff that’s happened to me over the last two years, and I said I’m just gonna call it ‘Dickhead’, it’ll be grand! Of course I was thinkin’ nobody would pay any attention. But then you have to have a poster, and suddenly I’m Ireland’s most popular dickhead! [laughs]. So it’s a title I’ll wear with pride, I guess [laughs].”
So the show title doesn’t necessarily indicate what fans will be getting on this occasion?
“Well, no, I think they will [be getting it]. Because in the last couple of years, since I’ve hit forty-two, I’ve realised I am a bit of a clueless dickhead, so that’s exactly what they’ll get. And what they’ll have to bear with for at least an hour and ten minutes! [laughs].”
How long does it generally take to put together a new show like this?
“Ah God, it can take up to a year to get a show right. And then, as soon as you get it right, and get out and start actually tourin’, it changes every bloody night anyway! So it’s always a work in progress, ya know. Like, if you saw the first gig I did on this tour – and the last gig is going to be in Donegal on the ninth of December – if you saw those two shows you’d be like, ‘Whaaaaa?!’ Cos’ they’d only be vaguely familiar! But they definitely wouldn’t seem like the same show, ya know that kind of way? So it changes all the time. It’s a really weird process, to be quite honest with ya. Someone like Neil Delamere can just write a whole new show, from start to finish, in a couple of months. For me, it’s probably a year, realistically. That’s how long it takes me.”
So it’s definitely a case of the show evolving as it goes along?
“Yeah, jaysus, I’d get sick of the sound of my own voice if it was the same every night. I wouldn’t be able for it! I did a play last year in the Dublin Theatre Festival, so I had to say the exact same words for a week and it nearly killed me! [laughs]. I was there, how do people feckin’ do this?! How do they do it every single night! I was like this is a disaster of a job, thank God I never made it as an actor! [laughs].”
Between stand-up, tv, and of course radio, being in front of an audience is something P.J. is something that’s second nature for P.J. by now. But is there one of those areas in which he feels most comfortable now and would be quite happy doing forever if it came down to picking just one?
“Yeah, there is, and it’s really surprising for me, to be honest because I would have said no to that a year ago. But now it’s radio, one hundred percent. It’s radio that I enjoy the most, and it’s what I hope I can do for years and years. And if I had to pick one, I’d pick radio in a heartbeat these days.”
And why radio?
“Well, ya know with telly ya have to wait so long to get a result. Like, we’ve just finished filming ‘The Young Offenders’ but it’s still gonna be well into 2018 before we know if anybody likes it or not! With stand-up, it’s instant. But you spend so much time on your own. A stand-up comedian is a van driver, essentially! You get into your car or your van, you drive for four hours, you tell some jokes – you deliver jokes instead of parcels – then you go and drive home! You’re on your own all the time. And when you finally do talk to people, they’re not allowed talk back to ya! But radio, it’s so interactive. And it’s got the same sort of instant thing you get with stand-up. Basically, you get to go into the same place, with your friends, and have a laugh every feckin’ day! And radio as well, it’s such a thrill to everything else I’ve done before, too. At least I haven’t had that and been paid for it! I’ve had it in other jobs and been sacked for it [laughs]. But actually gettin’ paid for it is a different thing.”
P.J. has stated before that he does comedy because he’s good at it, but his real passion in life is bikes. Unfortunately, P.J. fell victim to some shameless scumbags earlier this year, who first of all stole his beloved motorbike and then tried to sell it back to him! I asked P.J. how that all played out in the end?
“Well, I’ll tell ya now, it actually did play out alright in the end because the insurance company paid up almost straight away, which was grand! So then I went and I got another bike, but the bloody bike I got is so uncomfortable that there’s actually another bike that I’m lookin’ at at the moment! It’s in me Ma’s front garden where the last one was robbed from, and I’m lookin’ at it as I’m talkin’ to you. So the saga continues, but I’m nearly there [laughs].”
As mentioned in my opening paragraph, P.J. put his love of bikes to positive use for the greater good of his community when he served as a volunteer with Blood Bikes East for a time.
“Yeah, I had to stop when I started the radio show because the shifts crossed over, so that’s why I had to give it up, unfortunately. But I loved it. And I’ve just moved to Dun Laoighaire, so I’ve just joined the R.N.L.I. now, I joined them a couple of weeks ago. I love the social side of it, but also it’s nice to be able to contribute to where you live, at least I think it is. Like, we can all do comedy gigs to help out different things, but it’s rare you’ll actually get to see the effects of where that money goes, so it’s great to be a part of something like that, that you can actually participate in, ya know. And it’s gas, right, cos’ this is only two weeks ago, so I came back to the house here [his mam’s], and I said, Ma, I’m after joining the R.N.L.I. and she was, ‘Ahh feckin’ great, good for you’, ya know. But then I heard her talkin’ to her neighbour, over the garden wall, and she goes, ‘He’s after joinin’ the I.N.L.A.’ (Irish National Liberation Army), she goes! [laughs]. She said, ‘Yeah, he met a fella on the pier and apparently there’s a great social side to it!’ [laughs].”
Like P.J., I’m a huge dog person, and indeed animals in general. And one of the things that really annoys me about this country is how slack, to the point of non-existence sometimes, our animal welfare laws are. I wondered if this was something that ever bothered P.J., too?
“Yeah, it’s a disgrace. It really bothers me. Like, I love the I.S.P.C.A., but when ya hear the stories that the inspectors will tell ya, it would shock ya what goes on in Ireland. To be honest, when it comes to dogs especially, and the way people breed dogs, it’s just a disgrace. I love being Irish, and I love Ireland, but some things are an absolute disgrace and our animal welfare is just….It really upsets me, it actually gets me down, ya know. What I’d say to people is, if you’re gettin’ a dog, please go to the shelters. They’re amazing dogs. A rescue dog, there’s just nothin’ in the world like it. And get it neutered, everybody needs to do their part. Cos’ we’re puttin’ down as many dogs in a month as Scotland puts down in a year! And we’re roughly the same population! Like, it’s so hard to comprehend…If you think of that in numbers, like…The world isn’t good enough for dogs, it really isn’t. We owe them a lot more. I’ve got a Weimaraner and a Collie-cross, she’s actually here lookin’ at me now wonderin’ why I’m not givin’ her attention! She’s from Dogs Trust, she is. But she has a bit of a face on her now, she’s not happy with me [laughs].”
When he first started being recognised in the streets P.J. recalled how he found it hard to get his head around – that complete strangers would know who he was – for a long time. So is ‘fame’ something that he’s settled more into over the years?
“Well I don’t really know if I’m famous, as much as it is that people just sorta go, ‘Alright there P.J.’, ya know! People kinda know my face, but they never treat me like I’m ‘famous’ or anything. But yeah, ya get used to people knowin’ ya, and ya get used to people chattin’ ya. Ya just have conversations everywhere ya go! Sometimes the motorbike helmet is the best thing in the world, it’s the only way to be anonymous! If I ever want some peace and quiet I just stick on the motorbike helmet, even if I’m drivin’ the car! [laughs]. I’d either look like a very nervous driver, or an I.N.L.A. man, God knows which! [laughs].”
If the powers-that-be at Classic Hits 4FM came to P.J. in the morning and told him he was in luck, for one show only they were going to be able to get him whatever three people he wanted as guests for his show, who would he choose to fill those spots?
“Oh man! Jeez, that’s a good question. Well Donald Trump anyway, cos’ I just want to sit down with the man and see if he’s actually that looney and that mad! And I’m sure I’d get some great comedy material out of him. And if I didn’t, there’d still be enough outrage for me to enjoy it [laughs]. So Donald Trump….and maybe Louis Walsh, because I think they might be related! And maybe Shergar, the horse. I want to get his testimony of what the IRA did to him. So Shergar, Donald Trump, and Louis Walsh. I think that could be the best dinner party actually ever!”
As a comedian, does P.J. believe that there are some things which just shouldn’t be joked about, or which can possibly be joked about too soon? As we spoke, it was just a few days after James Corden had found himself in hot water over comments he made in relation to the Harvey Weinstein scandal that’s rocking Hollywood. Corden, incidentally, was defended by Russell Brand, who pointed out that comedians are needed in life to find and point out the funny side of things.
“Yeah, I’d be more with Russell Brand on that one, I think. I don’t think there is a ‘too-soon’, as such. The problem is if you do something and it’s just not a good joke, then you’re up for a bigger fall. I think that was Corden’s biggest problem, that it just wasn’t a great joke. Like, if he’s made a better joke, it probably wouldn’t have even got that much attention. I’d agree with Russell Brand, I don’t think there is a ‘too-soon’ time. I mean, you can tell a joke, right, and at the same time not be completely insensitive about something. You can always tell a joke, I really do believe that. In fact, I don’t think we’d get over tragedy at all if we didn’t tell jokes. Jokes are how we find our way out of tragedies, or out of scandals, or out of any of these things. Of course, I’m biased, aren’t I, I make jokes about everything for a livin’ [laughs]. But I do genuinely believe it, I don’t think there is anything that shouldn’t be joked about to some degree. That doesn’t mean that you go out and do racist jokes, but that you can go out and do jokes about racism, ya know. There’s ways of doin’ it.”
When I was growing up CHIPS was one of the biggest shows on tv, and Erik Estrada, who played the character of ‘Ponch’, was one of the show’s top stars. P.J. actually got to meet Erik Estrada in real life a few years back, and turns out the man is as much of a legend in real-life as his tv character ever was.
“We were doin’ the series ‘Makin’ Jake’, the Jake Stevens [one of P.J’s characters in ‘Naked Camera’] spin-off series over in L.A., and one of the set-ups was to go and meet him [Erik] in his house.And even though he didn’t know we were filmin’ him at the start, he was just the soundest bloke ever. And when he did know, he started actin’! He was givin’ us shots on the bikes and everything! He goes against all the rules about never meet your heroes! He breaks them all! He’s just the nicest bloke in the whole world, just such a great fella. Now he’s nuts about himself, but I suppose if you’re Erik Estrada you’re allowed to be nuts about yourself! So ya may leave him at it [laughs]. There was talk of him comin’ over here to do somethin’ with the Guards, cos’ he loves cops, but sure it never happened which is a shame. But if he ever does come to Ireland I’ll be queuing up to meet him again, because what a deadly fella!”
Has there ever been a celebrity whom P.J. has met that was the exact opposite to Estrada, as in, well…not cool?!
“No, I haven’t actually. No, wait, I did, and do ya know who it was? Brett ‘The Hitman’ Hart, the wrestler. I met him one day in RTE years ago. I used to love wrestling when I was a kid. So I seen him and I said to him, ‘I used to love you when I was a kid’, and he just said, ‘Yeah’, and he just walked past me. Just ‘Yeah’, and then shook his head like I was a pathetic little pain in the ass, and walked on. I was like, holy s&it, man, that hurt! That really hurt. You’re after stampin’ on my childhood, ya asshole! [laughs]. But that’s the only time that’s happened really.”
Last question, and another one where P.J. could put his imagination to use. If he was to get a phone-call from Leo Varadkar asking P.J. to do him a huge favour and stand in as Taoiseach for him for one day, but in return, P.J. could sign into law, with immediate and everlasting effect, any one thing….what would it be?
“Ah, this one is easy and obvious. Immediate and long-term jail sentences for animal cruelty. That would genuinely be it. Absolutely. And public floggings for them! If you do something to animals, then you have the same done to you, at the Central Bank, in front of a crowd while they cheer! That’s absolutely what I’d do. If I had that one chance on that one day, then for my day people who abuse animals would be whipped up and down the street!”