First Published December 2021
LIFE’S A DANCE
“Yeah, we’re about a week or so in. It’s very enjoyable, I have to say. You’re being trained by a world champion. I mean, how often do you get a chance to be trained by someone who’s so talented at what they do? It’s great fun. You get into it, you really get into it. The thing about me is I have nothing to judge it off from the start. I haven’t done as much as a dance class along the way, of any kind! So there’s no frame of reference for how quickly I’ll pick something up or maybe how slowly I’ll pick something up! But it’s been great fun so far.”
With his journey as part of next year’s DANCING WITH THE STARS IRELAND class just getting underway, there seems to be little doubt that comedian NEIL DELAMERE is taking it all in his stride. With the hit show finally set to return to our TV screens in January, Delamere – amazingly – is one of TWO Offaly men who will be aiming to get their hands on that prized Glitterball, with rugby star Jordan Conroy also looking to impress on the dancefloor. And Neil – who brings his LIMINAL tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel on March 5th next – has already seen the signs of his new sequined self beginning to emerge, as he explained when we caught up for a chat about DWTSIrl, and more, last week…
“Some things are coming easier than others, but it’s incredible how quickly you get into it, in terms of you’re doing steps when you’re walking around the house…or, I said this on The Late Late Show…I’ll put on the indicator of my car, and as it goes tick, tick, tick, I’m goin’, ‘One, two, three, four, five,six, seven, eight…!’ So the patterns are getting into your brain!”
I suspect that Neil has a competitive side to him. Will we see that in this competition?
“Haha, well I have a competitive side to me IF I have the ability to compete! If it becomes evident very quickly that there are some people who are amazing dancers and the rest of us are just making up the numbers, well then you’ll just kind of enjoy it on that basis. But ah yeah, listen, I’ll give it what I can, and after that let the chips fall where they may!”
Somewhere else I didn’t expect to see Neil showing up in the coming weeks was on Ireland’s Fittest Family. But sure enough, he’s taking part in the show’s Celebrity Special at the end of December. Also taking part is someone else I’m lucky enough to know pretty well, Grainne Gallanagh, who was Miss Universe Ireland in 2018. I put it to Neil that this – no more so than Dancing With The Stars – was definitely a different kind of show for him…
“Well, it came about because of Covid, and because my normal schedule wasn’t what it normally is. I was asked to do it and I said I’d love to. You have a couple of months lead-in time, about six weeks lead-in or whatever – and then you have some degree of focus, ya know. You know you have to get this done or otherwise you won’t be fit enough to do the show. It was as much about me saying this will give me some sort of structure on my weeks, because as you know, because of Covid we were restricted in what we were allowed to do and what we weren’t allowed to do. Comics, without a deadline, we tend to not be massively creative! It’s not like writing a book or doing a TV show, so you need something where you have to have a show done by X day. So, I had a lot of time, and I also didn’t have the usual structure on the year that I’d always have, so I went yeah, absolutely, I’m gonna do it. I got a team together, and it was us against Grainne, Sinead Quinlan, and the Happy Pear as well. We did it for the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland. I can’t tell you who won, but if you look at who’s in and judge the fitness of people on sight, you’ll probably be in the ball-park of who did! [Laughs].”
In Dancing With The Stars and the Celebrity Special of Ireland’s Fittest Family, we’d already touched on two huge upcoming events in Neil’s life. But never a man to do things by halves, there’s something even bigger coming up in 2022. In fact, it’s Neil’s biggest solo show ever, and it’s happening at the SSE Arena in Belfast in March ???
“Biggest solo show I’ve ever done, yeah. I’ve done gigs to ten thousand people before, but on mixed bills. Can’t wait to do it. I was up having a look at the Arena the other day, the Belfast Giants Arena, and it looks spectacular. And again, that sprang from Covid, from wanting to give myself something to aim for in these weird times when we don’t know what’s going on, ya know. So ya kind of force yourself into, ‘Oh God, this is happening…write jokes, write jokes, write jokes!’ I can’t wait for it. I think it will change the way I do the show in some ways, because a big, big room might not have the usual messing and interplay that I would have with the front row if people can’t really see the front row! [Laughs]. I know from playing the really, really, big rooms that you have to do it in a different rhythm, you almost have to wait for the wave of laughter to come back. It’s a slightly different technique. And I’m very grateful that ‘The Blame Game’, which we’re doing at the moment, is allowed a small ‘live’ audience, and that kind of keeps the name out there in the north still.”
Neil’s current tour is called Liminal (relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process) and from the meaning of the word, my guess was that it’s to do with the place the world finds itself in with Covid, amongst other things as well. I wondered if I was correct in that assumption, and if I was, where, in fact, does Neil think we – as a country and a planet – are with Covid at this stage?
“I think overall Ireland has done very well. Our vaccine roll-out has been amazing, and I think our vaccine uptake has been amazing. Smaller countries in Europe tend to do better than their larger neighbours in terms of social cohesion. In terms of how many people passed away, our figures were much lower than say the UK. I don’t know how far we are into this. My worry would be that we may not be as far in as people think. And selfishly, I suppose, for people in the arts, we’re wondering what’s going to be left at the end of all this. My worry wouldn’t be for the people that are going ten or fifteen or twenty years, that they’ll be removed from the scene. My worry is for the younger people – either younger in age or in experience – doing their respective music, dancing, comedy, whatever it is. They may well have been washed out of the system by Covid. So we could lose all these important and exciting new voices. The rest of us will be fine. If we’ve built up enough touring, and enough TV shows, and enough radio, we can afford – almost – to take a hit. But my worry is that we would lose the next generation of people, ya know.”
Neil mentioned how the way he performs his show in a bigger venue might have to change slightly, but I wondered if how he writes his material had to change over the last twenty months or so too. So much of what he does is observational, comes from being out in the world, around people and with people. Did the lockdowns, and Covid in general, change his creative process much?
“That’s a very good point. I suppose it didn’t change the observation as much as much as it changed the anecdotal stuff. A lot of the time you’re telling stories and you’re animating the stories with observations and characterisations and stuff. But you are still telling stories about what had happened to you. If you haven’t done anything [laughs] – because most of us didn’t do anything for a fairly protracted period of time – what do ya talk about? ‘Dancing With The Stars’ and ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ have given me ten minutes of material sort of thing. It’s not why I did them [laughs], that’s a beneficial extra from the two of them. But it’s such a strange world to be thrust into, that you can’t fail to get some stuff out of them. Also, I probably have a decent closer for the SSE Arena and for the Tullamore Court Hotel and everywhere else, because I know Des [Bishop] when he did it years ago, I think he used to bring his pro dancer and they’d dance at the end. So, ya know something…I wouldn’t rule it out! I haven’t talked to my pro dancer about it yet, but it seems like a cool way to end a really big show. It’s something I would definitely consider if I was any good anyway [laughs].”
Looking at everything that’s happened since March of 2019 when Covid kicked in – and even going back a little bit before that to when Neil and I last spoke – there’s been so much absurdity. From almost everything to do with Boris Johnson in the UK, to Trump and January 6th in the States, to the whole anti-vax movement here, and more. From a comedian’s perspective, what’s been the most absurd moment of it all?
“Well January 6th was completely off the wall, I thought. I almost couldn’t believe that was happening. If a couple of things had gone a different way, maybe if Mike Pence had made some decisions in another way, it could have been much more serious. That, in terms of one day, was bizarre. The Dominic Cummings thing and how he was supported by a Prime Minister who has since completely removed his support. I mean, Cummings driving to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight was so absurd! Boris Johnson is the gift that keeps on giving. All I’ll say is his testicles are as fertile as his imagination! As good as he is as a comedy source, I wouldn’t wish him as a Prime Minister on anybody. We criticise politicians in Ireland, but there’s a lot to be said about a steady, seasoned hand at the tiller, both in terms of Michael D. Higgins and some of the members of the government. I think we can be overly harsh on them in a very difficult – VERY difficult – scenario for them.”
Going back to events on the horizon for Neil, he’s also filmed Pointless Celebrities…
“I did! I love a quiz. Since we last spoke, I did Richard Osman’s ‘House of Games’, which is the big one, you do five episodes and you’re on for the entire week. I managed to nip a victory in that at the last minute. So you’re paired with somebody else in ‘Pointless Celebrities’, and all I’m saying is I DID ok! My partner, however…may be a different story [laughs]. So people can look out for that fairly soon as well [laughs].”
Between getting himself ready for Ireland’s Fittest Family, and now for Dancing With The Stars, Neil – certainly from a fitness point of view – will definitely have been seeing some positive changes in himself over the last few months. Indeed, this whole period of humanity has changed many people, some in good ways, but some more – unfortunately – in bad ways. In a general sense, has Neil noticed any changes in himself and maybe how he sees life?
“I’d be more inclined [now] to do something that’s a bit off the wall. Like, I have been approached about doing ‘Dancing With The Stars’ several times before, and either I couldn’t do it or I wasn’t ready to do it in some ways. This is the year where I kinda went, well listen, who knows what’s gonna happen next year in terms of what we’re allowed do ‘live’, but another part of me – that’s kind of the legacy of this last eighteen, twenty months – is just do something that scares the hell out of ya! Why not?! Life is too short. Particularly in the western world, we go through periods of thinking we can control things. If you get sick, you get antibiotics. If something goes wrong, well you can pay someone to fix it. If it’s something with your health, you can get an operation. We tend to think we can control things, but actually, every so often, God/ the universe/ whatever you believe in, throws a curve ball at us. And that’s what Covid has been. And there’s a freedom in relinquishing that control in some ways. Covid has made me more likely to take risks and do something brand new because who knows what the future holds really?”
Neil has his huge show at the SSE Arena coming up next year, and he’s also had some gigs in gorgeous churches – of all places – in recent times. But, if he was to plan his perfect show, here’s what I wanted to know. Where would his venue be, what three guests would he invite along to chat to, and what musical act would he choose to close out the night?
“Hmm. Let me see. I think in terms of places I’ve played before, I’d say Vicar Street. It’s a fantastic venue, and I’m playing there again soon. It has the roar of a thousand, eleven-hundred people, which is a great roar. But it’s physically intimate enough for everybody to feel connected to what’s going on on stage. So it would probably be Vicar Street as the venue. The three guests that I would like to interview, off the top of my head…David Attenborough would be one. I think he’s absolutely fascinating. There’s nearly a hundred years there of wisdom, and he’s such a brilliant communicator. I think he’d be first on the list. Second on the list, would be Mark Rylance who is an actor people would know from ‘Bridge Of Spies’, and from ‘Wolf Hall’, and ‘Dunkirk’. I’m actually going to see him very soon in the West End. He’s one of those magnetic presences on the screen, that you cannot take your eyes off. I’m hoping that he’d be able to replicate that if you were having a chat. I think he sees the world in an interesting way in his work. So I wonder would that be the same if you met him in person, ya know. I’ll come back to the third person, but a musical act to close the gig off entirely? I would reform Oasis! For one gig! Because first of all, nobody has ever got them to do that. And secondly, the music of when you were a teenager holds a special place in everybody’s heart. I think that would be…oh my good God! [Laughs]. What a night that would be! Just for one night only. And my third guest…let me see…I think I would pick somebody like Orla Guerin, the BBC war correspondent. I think she’s seen a huge amount of the world and what people do to each other, great heroism, great sacrifice, and great cruelty. So, assuming that the gig has been great fun, and assuming that at the end of it it’s going to be lifted in an amazingly unique way by the reformed Gallagher brothers [laughs], and assuming that David Attenborough is going to give us some wisdom, and Mark Rylance is going to give us some laughs and some wisdom, I think we can go fairly deep about humanity with Orla, knowing that that’s the light and the shade. I think that would be an unbelievably good night out!”
Finally, and we didn’t know when we spoke that there would be another address to the nation only days later, I asked Neil to put himself at that lectern outside Government Buildings in Dublin. If either Micháel Martin had called on Neil to don the green jersey as it were, face the cameras and deliver a message to the people of Ireland ahead of 2022 getting here…what thoughts would he have shared with a weary nation?
“I think we should be proud of ourselves and how well we’ve done so far. We do, as a small country, tend to compare ourselves to other countries, and broadly speaking, if you look at the figures, we have done very well. And we’ve done well because we’ve looked after each other. That’s what I would say. And let’s all continue to look after each other. The country is a much better place when we [all] consider other people. That old Irish phrase, ‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’ (There’s no strength without unity) is the thing that comes to my head. That’s all I’d say. The country doesn’t need me to preach to them. That’s the thing about comedy gigs. People go to them to get away from life. They go to get away from their troubles for a while. And when we have been allowed to do things, you could see that people were going to escape the news-cycle. So let’s just stick together, and this too shall pass.”
~ DANCING WITH THE STARS returns to our screens in January. Before then, on December 29th, you can catch Neil in the Celebrity Special of IRELAND’S FITTEST FAMILY. Neil brings his LIMINAL tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel on March 5th, with tickets ON-SALE NOW. For more details, check out www.neildelamere.com