P.J. Gallagher

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!”

ENDS

Katherine Lynch

First Published June 2013

AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART

Katherine Lynch

If your only impression of Katherine Lynch to date has been formed on the basis of what you’ve seen or heard from her alter-ego ‘ Bernie ‘, then one listen to her debut album will change your opinion of her forever. Settling Dust is a fascinating body of work and would rank as a superb achievement for any first-time recording artist. But given that Katherine has accomplished this in spite of what many may have perceived to be the hindrance of already being a household name in a completely different sector of the entertainment spectrum, her performance on every track here is all the more praiseworthy.

 

And it’s a praise well-earned and well deserved, and here’s another thing: not only will this album define your opinion of Katherine, but there’s every chance that in years to come people will look back on its release as a moment that brought a brand new star to the sky of the Irish music scene. Such a statement may, to some, seem like quite a stretch of the imagination on my part, but I trust my instinct with music that touches my heart.

 

Katherine and her manager, Keith O’ Connor, dropped by to say hello to us in TRAX, Tullamore a couple of weeks back and while there Katherine spent over an hour meeting and greeting fans, posing for photos and even taking the time to speak on the phone to a few people who couldn’t make it in to see her in person! From the moment she arrived smiling and five minutes ahead of schedule until her final big wave goodbye, Katherine’s professionalism and easy-going nature were both clear to see and clearly natural.

 

In between autographs, photographs and phone-calls, I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with Katherine about her Settling Dust journey. What, I wondered, had been peoples’ general reaction to the album? Are most people being fair and listening to it before commenting or has there been a tendency among some to jump to conclusions and pre-judge somewhat based on her reputation and work as a comedian?

 

“No, I’m really surprised actually, Anthony, that people have separated it very nicely. And ‘Hot Press’ even gave me a glowing review and compared me to Dolores Keane. And I was like, ‘ Are you sure, guys?! ‘ I’m not used to all the good reviews cos’ normally when you’re a woman and a comedian and you upset the status quo, you don’t always get good reviews! Or good responses. But yeah, there has been a good response to it. ‘Irish Music’ magazine said that my writing was great on it and everything, so I’m really delighted with it actually. I was a bit scared that people were going to go, ‘ What the hell are ya at now?! ‘ But lots of female comedians sing. When you think of Bette Midler or someone like that, you know, she can go from the A to Z of emotion. I think it’s easier to see female comedians sing because you have the likes of Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, top notch women and they all sing.”

 

One of the tracks on the album is a simply haunting version of Raglan Road, that also features the voice of Katherine’s grand uncle, perhaps the greatest of the many great Irish poets, Patrick Kavanagh. How aware was Katherine growing up that she had a relative who was so famous? And did it influence or inspire Katherine’s own creative side?

 

“Yeah, it did actually, and it was like being related to God! Because he really was like the Bible in our house. My father always sat at the range reading Kavanagh and I think he actually married my mother because she was a niece of Kavanagh and he wanted to have grand-nieces of Kavanagh, and nephews! Yeah, Kavanagh was basically our connection to God nearly. I do think he was a mystic and he had a huge influence on me, both spiritually and creatively. Spiritually, I just thought he had such a devine connection to God, like in the pagan fashion, before religion in the secular fashion. He was a mystic, I think. When he could find the truth and the beauty in the most simple of things, I think that’s where you find God, too.”

 

With much of the material on Settling Dust written by Katherine, her link to Kavanagh is obviously more than just blood. Is there any connection, though, between how she writes her songs and poetry and how she works on her comedy material?

 

“No, they’re both completely different things. And with comedy I write with a bunch of people. I write with Warren Myler and Marion Cullen, and we’re writing a new show called ‘ The Centre ‘ soon. That’s more of a collective thing, comedy. There’s always lots of people involved. But with the songs on this album, it’s just me. Well, me and my musicians! The words are mine and the melodies are mine, and I bring them to the lads and they tailor them for me. It’s more of an insular thing [the music]. It’s introvert/extrovert. The writing is introvert, but the comedy is extrovert. And it balances me, that’s why I’m not mad!”

 

In the album notes Katherine talks about her mum Maureen’s dream of her father, Tom, after he had passed away, and how the memory of her mother sharing that dream is the basis of the song Twilight Romance. Would Katherine be a believer in a world beyond this one apart from in the way generated by her mum’s dream and the memory of it?

 

“Yeah, it’s a deep question, Anthony, but I’m enjoying the deep questions that have arisen from the album because I suppose you can hide behind the characters all your life, you know. But you have to be real as well. And when something as heart-wrenching as your father passing or some other grief comes along, you need to know how to handle that as well. And as much as you need to know how to deal with being funny. But yeah, I do believe that there is an after-life. I don’t believe that God is out there with a beard giving out to us or in the images that we’ve been given, but I do believe there’s something bigger there. And it’s mysticism, I think, is what I believe in. It’s always been with me, that I have a belief in something. It can’t be just this. Please God, Anthony, don’t let it be just this!”

 

And as another copy of her album was held out for her signature, I asked Katherine a final question: has she given any thought yet to recording another album somewhere down the line? Or was this something to try once, get it out of her system, then leave it be?

 

“Ya know, Anthony, I’m going to be doing a gig in the Sugar Club and I’m already so excited and it’s not even ’til October 5th! So I believe that I’ll continue to do this, just because I’m just really enjoying it. It’s a far more relaxed journey than the comedy. That’s very difficult sometimes because people either like ya or they don’t like ya. And when they don’t like ya, they really don’t like ya! And when they like ya, they really do like ya, too! So it’s a lot of pressure on both sides. Whereas with this, it’s no pressure, it’s something that’s an affair of the heart. And I like doing it. It keeps in balance the yin and the yang of the inner soul. The start of this journey, that was scary, yeah. But just for stupid vanity reasons. I’d be like, ‘ Oh, better lose a few pounds! ‘ Whereas with my characters, I’m like, ‘ Yeah, whatever! ‘ Bernie can eat burgers, but Katherine the singer can’t. She has to eat organic lentils!”

 

Life may well be a stage and over the course of our lifetimes most of us will end up playing a few different parts. The funny thing about it, however, is that the parts we first become known for aren’t always the parts we become best remembered for. Katherine Lynch will always be an incredibly funny lady with a gift for making people laugh and smile. But my bet is that there’ll come a day when most people no longer remark, ‘Your woman from Wagon’s Den, singing?!’, and instead are far more likely to exclaim, ‘Katherine Lynch, she used to be a comedian?!’

 

The booklet accompanying the album contains lovely and revealing insights into the stories behind each song and with seven originals penned or co-written by Katherine, and the covers treated with a beautiful sensitivity, Settling Dust is simply a debut without a weak spot. Except for maybe one, and that only being that it ends. But the end left me wanting more and that’s the way to do it. So please God as far as Katherine’s recording career is concerned, Settling Dust is merely the end of the beginning.

 

It was an affair of the heart for her, and it will become so for listeners, too.

 

ENDS

 

Brendan Grace

First Published August 2013

MERRY-MAKER, RISK-TAKER, DREAM-CHASER

(Part 2)

Brendan Grace hat

A fact about Brendan of which many may not be aware, is just how close he was to actually becoming a Guard. Having passed the Kilroy’s College entrance exam for the force, it was another remarkable intervention of fate in his life when a motorcycle accident stopped him from ending up ‘on the beat’ as opposed to rousing audiences to their feet in riotous applause. Had things turned out differently, however, I asked Brendan if he thought he would have enjoyed life as a member of an Garda Siochana?

 

“I don’t think so, no, to be honest. If I had become a Guard I probably would have retired and eventually got back into this [comedy] somehow. I think you’re meant to be whatever you’re going to be in the end. And I was always meant to be a comedian and that’s it. But I’m doing this 40 odd years now, some of them very odd years! But God knows it’s going well and please God it will continue for a few more years too.”

 

Although he never donned the uniform himself, the Garda Siochana have a very special place in Brendan’s past. Not only because he came so close to being a member himself, but also because one of the big influences on him in his younger days was a local Guard called Jim Brannigan and the late Jerry McCabe was also someone Brendan counted as a close friend. So I couldn’t help but wonder what were Brendan’s views as an Irishman living abroad, but more importantly just as an Irishman, on the current government’s decisions to close so many stations all across the country?

 

“I think it’s disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful, that’s what it is. As well as the inconvenience caused to people and the unemployment side of it as well, I think it’s tragic for the country. The way the country has gone is tragic. And the fact that so many Garda stations have closed, I think is wrong. Police work is something that should be done by police. It needs to be. And administration work is something that should be done by administrators. And that’s the bottom line.”

 

In most peoples’ minds it’s as a comedian that Brendan is first and foremost known and loved, but of course it was his talent as a singer that first afforded him the opportunity to turn the handle on the door of opportunity when he found himself in front of it. But Brendan once said that he believes most comedians have an urge to ‘do something serious artistically’ as well. I asked him what exactly he meant when he said that.

 

“Well, when a comedian goes on stage, Anthony, he makes people laugh and people think he’s great fun. And that’s good, because that’s what you want to happen, God knows! But what it also makes him, the comedian, is want something more. It gives him the urge to want to do something a lot more serious than make people laugh. They say that every comedian wants to become Hamlet, ya know. That’s what they say about us. But i don’t know whether that’s true or not. All I know is that I’m happy doing what I do, and that’s making people laugh. But it does come out in some comedians, a need to be serious.”

 

Is it a case, I wondered, of people being ‘born funny’ as it were? Or can people almost learn to be funny, act it out as an actor would a role, perhaps?

 

“No, I don’t think so. I think you’ve got to be dedicated and you have to be genuinely funny in order to come across as funny. You could give an actor a brilliant line to go and read and they’ll do it, but when it comes to the part of a funny person, I don’t think it’s as easy as that. Roger Moore said to me once, ah it’s twenty odd years ago I suppose, but after he watched me do my comedy routine, funnily enough on the night of the Sinatra thing it was, but he said that he envied what I did. He said that some of his lines he could have to do one hundred times to get right. But when it comes to being a comedian, there has to be spontaneity to it for it to work.”

 

Brendan draws from two different wells of talent in that as well as being a proven comedy writer, he is also a songwriter of some note. Obviously there are quite a few who have access to one of those wells, but few enough with the know-how or depth to reach into both and come up with a full pale. Creatively speaking then, does Brendan consider them to be two different abilities? Or has he found a way to link them together that others might have missed?

 

“There’s only a few alright, that’s true to say, Anthony. And they’re two separate parts of me. Because comedy, for me anyway, well I mean I can take the same script and use it for years and it’s only by doing it each time that I’m honing it in. But you see a lot of comedians feel that they have to be right up to date with what’s going on around them in the world. I don’t. I feel that if I have to be up to date then I mightn’t have a piece for long enough to get it right. Because it takes a while to really get something right. That’s what I find, it takes me a while.”

 

In the context of the business side of showbiz, Brendan has often displayed a vision well beyond its time. For instance, years ago when the chance came up to buy the rights to the recordings of and backing tracks for his hit song ‘Cushy Butterfield’, he jumped at it. It was a risk, but he calculated that it was a risk worth taking when the notion of owning rights to a song was something often sadly lost on many artists. Likewise when going on tour to Australia with Paddy Reilly, Brendan, rather than pay a fortune to have his merchandise shipped halfway around the world to sell at his gigs, simply found a company ‘down under’ who could manufacture it there for a fraction of the cost. And, horrified that Paddy wasn’t bringing any of his own merchandise with him, Brendan, rather than see a friend lose out on such a great opportunity, simply helped Paddy make the same arrangement with the same company.  It all sounds very simple now, common sense almost. But you know what they say about common sense: never that common!

 

So how did Brendan gain that insight? Was it just gut instinct on his part?

 

“It was called survival, Anthony. I put all that down to survival. If you have an idea that’s going to work, then why not do it? And that’s exactly what I told Paddy. I said look, Paddy, the mere fact that you haven’t got stuff to sell isn’t the end of the world. Just make stuff to sell. And so that’s exactly what he did. And I believe that you’ve got to look upon your life as a business. You’ve got to take it seriously. And take some risks. You absolutely have to take some risks too.”

 

What one of Brendan’s great strengths, not only as an entertainer but as a human being, seems to be his awareness of the people around him, especially his audience. Having revealed in the past that he’s always very conscious of what his audience may be going through in their personal lives; be it illness, job stress or money worries, I asked him if he thought enough artists keep that in mind in how they treat their audiences?

 

“Well I’m very conscious of each member of my audience with regard to the material I’m using. For instance, if there was a drowning tragedy in a town where I’m doing a gig within a week, I would not tell a gag that has anything to do with water or boats. And I try as best I can, whenever possible, to think about things like that in my act, Anthony. That’s very important to me.”

 

In Brendan’s fascinating autobiography, ‘Amusing Grace’, he speaks about his belief in reincarnation and how he’s convinced he’ll one day return as a robin, such as with been his affinity with these little winged fellows all of his life. I wondered what such a belief meant for Brendan’s sense of faith. Does he believe in a heaven? Are each incarnation linked?

 

“Well thank you for the compliment on the book. I have to say that a lady called Tara King did a fabulous job on that with me. She deserves a lot of credit. All the stories are true but she’s the lady who really got it all together just right. As for each incarnation, yeah, I think they are all linked together in some way. Now, if somebody came along and asked me if I believed in God, then I’d say yes. Without a shadow of a doubt. And when it comes to believing in my faith, I feel that you’re not going to be judged on the last day or by how many times you said Jesus or anything like that, sins that we were told about as youngsters. No, not at all. You’re going to be judged on your track record in this life. That’s what I believe.”

 

As our time drew to an end and having flown by all too fast, there was really only one question to finish up with. For a man who has seen so much and shared song, story and laughter with some of the most famous entertainers to have ever graced stages across the world, what advice would Brendan pass on to those who themselves dream of careers in the glow of the spotlight?

 

“I would say simply this: follow your dreams! Because if you don’t have a dream in your life, then you’ve really got no ambition. So follow your dreams, and follow them all the way. To wherever that might be. And whenever it looks like it’s not going to happen, follow it even more! It doesn’t work out for everyone, there’s no doubt about that. But that possibility can’t stop you. You have to follow your dream and if you do, you’re halfway there, Anthony. You’re halfway there.”

 

 

ENDS

Brendan Grace

First Published August 2013

THE ART OF BEING WHO YOU’RE MEANT TO BE

(Part 1)

Brendan Grace 1

Some things in life really are just synonymous with each other. Take the Late Late Show and Gay Byrne, for example. True, there have been other presenters, but none have been, nor are likely to ever  be anywhere close to Gay. That’s no reflection on those who might try to fill his seat, more so a simple sign of the original’s greatness. Same story with Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. I know his reign has only just concluded, but will it ever end? That’s a different question. As a United supporter I have nothing but respect and high hopes for David Moyes and I certainly wish him well in the years ahead. But Fergie and United are now entwined around each others souls in the same way as Gaybo and the Late Late are. Think Irish poetry and for many, myself included, the name that first answers the call is Patrick Kavanagh. Yes, there’s Heaney, of course there is. And there’s Kinsella and Clarke and many, many more. But none are Kavanagh, who remains in as an earthy a way as his poetry itself was, an incarnation of Irish poetry made flesh.

 

Irish comedy, like Irish poetry, has many deserving and worthy contenders for the crown of king. The late and unique Dermot Morgan would win the vote of a sizable section of the population, I’m willing to bet. As would his Craggy Island sidekick Ardal O’Hanlon. Tommy Tiernan would surely be in the mix right up until the final count also. And so too would Mrs. Brown herself, Brendan O’Carroll. But like I said at the beginning of today’s column, some things in life really are just synonymous with each other. And wherever and whenever Irish comedy is discussed or hailed, one name stands clear at the head of the pack, front and centre, in fact. And that name is Brendan Grace. Not just a great comedian but a supreme entertainer who has filled bellies with laughs, aisles with rolling bodies and hearts with happiness during sold-out performances all around the world.

 

As Brendan prepares to return to the Bridge House Hotel as part of his current tour at the end of next week, I caught up with him last Friday morning and my first question was about being on tour. Does going back on tour have the same feeling of going to work for him, I wondered, that an ordinary person in an ordinary job would feel when going to work?

 

“Very much so, Anthony. I have to prepare for work the very same as anyone else and in that same way too, what I do is work. But it’s definitely work that I enjoy. I’ve always been happy in my work, whatever it’s been at any time, and happy with my work too. And what I do, with being on the road so much, in different places all the time and stuff like that, it’s not a regular job but it’s work that you can get used to, ya know, and then it becomes like a regular job in most ways.”

 

During his career Brendan has crossed paths and swapped stories with some of the most famous names in showbiz, and indeed, in the world. Frank Sinatra; check. Roger Moore; check. Liza Minnelli; check. Prince Albert of Monaco; check. But of all the stars and celebrities he’s encountered, who was it the biggest thrill for him to meet?

 

“Oh I’d say Sinatra. I’d have to say it was Frank Sinatra. What I noticed about him at the time was that when he was left to his own devices, he was relaxed. When he was just doing his own thing, whatever he liked, that’s when he seemed to be at his best. He didn’t like rules and regulations within his life at all. He didn’t like having to be in such a place by such a time say, that kind of thing. Wasn’t fond of that at all. But when he was relaxed, he was very relaxed. Lovely man. And he impressed me, Anthony, because when he spoke to me he looked at me every time, right in the eye. No fancy airs and graces, if you’ll pardon that pun! Despite who he was. And do ya know, he’d call me his man in Europe! That’s what he’d call me. I think, ya see, that he liked comedians anyway and Irish comics. His main comedian for years was a man called Pat Henry, I think it was, and he had an Irish background. Now he might have been no more Irish than Sinatra himself, he was probably third generation Irish. But Sinatra liked him and so he liked Irish comedians. And the particular kind of attitude that I had, that was something else about me that I was told he liked too.”

 

In his fascinating and delightfully candid and revealing autobiography, ‘Amusing Grace’, Brendan noted that many of the most famous and well-known figures he’s come across in his time displayed absolutely no traces of ego at all. Almost as if the more famous they were, paradoxically, the more normal and down to earth they were too. I wondered if Brendan had any thoughts on why that might be so.

 

“Well I suppose it depends, as they say, on the nature of the beast. I personally think it has a lot, if not everything, to do with the attitude of the people around you. If the people around you are relaxed, Anthony, then it’s much easier and more natural to be that way yourself too. That’s what I’ve always noticed with people. Who anyone hangs around with every day, that’s so important. And not only in this kind of business, but in life as well.”

 

If anyone doubts the existence of what we term ‘fate’ and how it can impact on a life, then a quick perusal of the way its many twists and turns have cris-crossed  Brendan’s life should be enough to remedy that. For example, his comedy career, for which he is, after all, probably best known, really only came to pass when he went back out on stage to ‘tell a few jokes’ to kill time because the band he was an opening musical act for was late in getting to the venue. Or how about this: Having applied and been accepted for a job as a merchant seaman, he was in a motorcycle accident on his way to pick up the papers that would have made it a done deal. At the same time the accident happened, he later realised, his mother had been in their local church lighting candles and praying for him not to end up at sea. Now that’s taking the power of prayer to another level altogether! In the aftermath of the Dublin bombing of 1972, he realised while reading the newspaper coverage that followed in the days after this atrocity that on the day of the attack he had actually been, while talking to a friend of his for a while, leaning with his back against the very car that Guards believed held the bomb. Had the timing of things been just a little different on that day, well, who knows!And then of course, and on a much happier note, there’s Brendan’s dear wife Eileen, and all the times and ways their roads of life converged without their knowing it at the time, before they finally met ‘officially’.

 

When Brendan sits down to think about these things, as I’m sure he must on occasion, I wondered what were his thoughts on the sheer level of chance seemingly involved in it all sometimes. Does he think some things in life are just meant to be?

 

“Yes. If it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be. I don’t think I’m any different to anyone else as regards that, being attuned to things, say. Aware of those types of connections. But we were meant to meet no matter what, myself and Eileen. We were just definitely meant to meet. It’s like it was mapped out for us, the way things played out between the two of us. We were definitely meant to come across each other. And I do believe that, Anthony, I believe that a lot of life is in some way mapped out for us.There is a greater being out there, there’s no question about that either. Not as far as I’m concerned. There has to be a greater person out there because somebody has to have made all of this. And I think he hones in on individuals, some more than others maybe, in how he draws people towards each other. Because I know I’m very lucky to have met Eileen, and I’m sure I have someone ‘up there’ to thank for that.”

 

Some of us with funny bones from a certain era may well remember Brendan being part of an act called the Roach Family Five, where two of his ‘family’ were none other than two men already mentioned earlier, Dermot Morgan and Brendan O’ Carroll. Both men have gone on to rank alongside Brendan himself as giants of Irish comedy, but back then, before Dermot was ‘Ted’ and before Brendan O’ was ‘Agnes’, could Brendan G sense in both men the huge talents that would eventually and so spectacularly emerge?

 

“Oh yeah, very much so. I told Brendan O’ Carroll as far back as 1979 it might have been, to get out there and make a career for himself in comedy. And the simple reason why I told him that, Anthony, was because he used to make me laugh! And eventually he’s come to the fore and I’m delighted for him. If you look an Mrs. Brown’s Boys now, it’s hilarious. Great stuff. It was the same kind of thing with Dermot, in that his talent was always so clear to everyone. But then Dermot, you see, was already a star before I was because Dermot got to work on television with Twink and Mike Murphy. That’s how he got his start. But it is in your karma, I think. And it was always there with the two lads.”

 

 

ENDS

Tommy Tiernan

First Published March 2016

IMPOTENCE, VINEGAR, FIRING-SQUADS, & FLAT FEET!

Tommy Tiernan

Tommy Tiernan brings his Out Of The Whirlwind tour to Tullamore on Saturday, April 2nd, for what will actually be the final night of the Irish leg of this tour. I had the pleasure of catching up with Tommy again recently, and believe me when I tell you, chatting with Tommy is like getting a private show all to yourself! You end up laughing so much that you have to remind yourself to focus on the ‘work’ part of what you’re doing! Hopefully this week’s headline offers a good indication of what I mean, given that the above were all topics we touched on! As you’ll see when you read on….

When we spoke, the general election was still three days away. And yet, as I prepare this column to go to print, we still don’t have a government! But that’s an argument for another day. Coming up to the election, Tommy, on his Facebook page, had declared his support for his local Green Party candidate in Galway. I asked him if politics was something that would normally get his attention, or with which he would engage?

“Well, I joined the Green Party a year ago, just to try and get some info. I live on the edge of Galway Bay and there was talk of a massive salmon farm being opened, just off the coast of Inisheer. And there’s stuff like that that I’m not too informed on, ya know. So I thought I’d join the Green Party to see if I could get some information on what was happening. I was asked by the local candidate to give him a bit of a push, which I was delighted to do, cos’ he’s a great man. And Galway gets five T.D’s, so I think at least one of them should be Green! I mean, you probably wouldn’t want the five of them to be Green! [laughs]. But at least one of them should be. But the irony of it now is that I’m not actually going to be in the country on election day! Which is kind of weird, and I wouldn’t say I’m the only one who isn’t in Ireland on the day, because of work or whatever. So I have no vote! I’m impotent when it comes to change! [laughs].”

While preparing to interview Tommy, I read through some of the comments people had left under that Facebook post referred to in my opening question, and some just couldn’t resist having a go at Tommy simply because he shared his opinion. I put it to Tommy that even the slightest passing remark about politics or politicians seems to be enough to get some people spewing all kinds of bile and undirected, or improperly directed, anger these days. I asked him if he thought it was fair how we, society, seem to treat politicians now?

“Well, I think politicians are probably quite deserving of our anger! [laughs]. I didn’t really read any of those comments, to be honest with you, Anthony. I think the internet is a safe place for bullies, cos’ they can snipe at others while they remain kind of protected [as they do so]. So I wouldn’t pay too much attention to it. There’s an awful lot of vinegar out there, oh my lord! A fierce amount of bile, and snideness. And it’s in the press as well, more so than on the radio. Rarely in the local press, in fairness, but it’s very prominent in the national press. There’s men and women in the national press who must do nothing but drink vinegar! They’re just the bitterest…..! They’re raised on lemons. They’re toxic, and they don’t bring anything of worth to the table. But look, they’re there, and it’s against the law to shoot them! [laughs]. But when Sinn Fein get in we’ll line them up against a wall and riddle them all! [laughs]. I think taking shots at politicians is fair enough. Sure it’s a bit of craic!” 

Staying with politics, but turning our focus to the United States where their marathon Presidential election process is underway, I asked Tommy about Donald Trump. Is he just a gift for comedians, or possibly, the man who will actually destroy the planet?

“Well I’ll tell ya, if he’s the man to destroy the planet, he’s not alone! There’s a few other crazy f**kers out there. Would you trust Putin? Would you trust whoever’s running China? Would you trust your man in North Korea? Would you trust Michael Noonan? The list is endless! [laughs]. 

Tommy has been a top-class comedian for over twenty years now, and I wondered if comedy was like music in the way that there are cycles. For a while, it’s all about boybands, then it’s guitar bands, then singer/songwriters, and so on. In comedy, is it necessary to change with the times to any degree in order to stay popular?

“You have to keep evolving, but you don’t evolve with an eye on the marketplace. You don’t say, o.k, whoever’s selling out the 3Arena, I’ve got to be more like him. That would actually drive you insane, by not following any kind of natural energy or instinct. You’d be trying to copy something out of desperation and that’s not a recipe for laughter. This show I’m doing at the moment, Anthony, ‘Out Of The Whirlwind’, it finishes in New Zealand in April. And the next tour is called ‘Playtime’, that’ll start next October. So I’m in the process of gathering ideas for the ‘Playtime’ show, but it’s not about trying to copy Russell Howard or John Bishop, it’s about trying to find the adventure in your imagination. And hoping that connects with people. I think if the adventure is authentic, and not some part of a commercial plan, it just naturally connects with people. Like, my young fella is in a band, and at the moment they’re all sixteen or seventeen, so they’re playing all cover versions. You feel like saying to them, it’s o.k. playin’ cover versions as long as you f**k it up! Because it’s in the f**king up that things get interesting! Do you know what I mean, though? There’s any amount of carbon-copy cover bands and they’re fine, sometimes that’s what people want. But if you want a career as a musician, then you have to f**k things up! [laughs]. And I think it’s probably the same with comedy. It’s not through copying that you become original. Which is obvious in it’s own way anyway. Samuel Beckett had this great saying, ‘Fail again, fail better.’ Which isn’t ideal advice for a young fella doin’ his Leaving Cert, mind you! It’s kinda like, make a mess of things, and then REALLY make a mess of things! [laughs]. And it’s through that, that originality happens.” 

Tommy said once that he felt completely comfortable on stage. I wondered if that was still true?

“Well, I feel at home on stage. It’s funny, and I don’t know why this is coming into my head, but I was in a hotel foyer in Dundalk last weekend, after doin’ a show. And country people were coming up to me and throwing their arms around me for photographs. This one fella, he threw his arms around me anyway, and there was a few people there takin’ photographs, and he turned to me and he says, ‘I bet ya feel like Joe Dolan now!’ [laughs]. There’s always a reference point for every stage of your career! So I’m goin’ through the Joe Dolan phase of my career now, whatever that means?! But yeah, I’m very comfortable on stage. The thing you have to fight against is becoming complacent. I suppose you could look at the Kilkenny hurlers, and Brian Coady, and how every year he ramps them up. Now they don’t win the All-Ireland every year, but every twelve months he’s able to ramp them up to give their very best. The same is true of stand-up. Every year you’ve got to give it your best shot and not become complacent. If you do become complacent, then first of all you become your own tribute act! So there’s no excitement in goin’ to see ya, cos’ you’re just repeating yourself. And there are some comedians that do that, and some people like seeing it. I was talking to this lady one time, and she was goin’ to see Michael McIntyre. Now I think Michael is a fine man. But this lady, she says to me, ‘I WANT to see the material I’ve already seen on tv.’ That’s what she wanted! So there’s always gonna be a market for that. But my thing is more that I want to keep the adventure alive. For myself. And then, as I was saying earlier, my presumption is that will naturally connect with an audience.” 

I read once that Tommy used to not do his homework in school because he felt it would make the next day more interesting. As he’s also done a tour which was completely unscripted, and hosted a chat show where he didn’t know who the guest was going to be until they walked out in front of him, he clearly has a particular fondness for the unexpected! But is there a side to him that’s the exact opposite of that in some way? Where things have to be done in a certain way, and that’s just how it has to be?

“Ya know, a lot of performers would be control freaks, so yeah, I suppose there is. Sometimes, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of difference between the artistic and the autistic. With autism, it’s often the security of the same thing happening over and over and over again, that’s needed. Anyone who’s really good at something has the ability to obsess. And sometimes that ability to obsess is very natural to them. I think one of the calling-cards of autism is that ability to obsess about something over and over and over again. So I’m not sure that artistic ability is that far removed from being somewhere on the spectrum. Like, I’m a great man for talkin’ about freedom on stage, but I can be a bit obsessive, too! I’m sure the people who live with me would tell ya, yeah, daddy’s a bit of a control freak! [laughs].”

The last date on the Irish leg of Tommy’s Out Of The Whirlwind tour is in Tullamore. How does Tommy usually feel when a tour comes to an end? Is it happiness? Relief? A touch of sadness?

“I used to work maybe forty-eight, fifty weeks of the year, so what would happen is you’d release a dvd and then you’d have three months to get a new show together. But you’re performing over those three months, too. So there was never a big, clean break of four or five months off, and then start again. But this time there is. And the night in Tullamore is the last night of the Irish tour, and I have relatives around Tullamore so we’re lookin’ forward to a big party night there! [laughs]. I’ve worked really hard over the last fourteen months doing stand-up, so the show is very ‘fit.’ So yeah, now I’m lookin’ forward to meeting my wife in the jacks of the Bridge House Hotel! [laughs]. Just havin’ a bit of craic and lettin’ go on that night, cos’ the Bridge House is always a great venue for us.” 

Having learned in that very recent past that Nathan Carter can click every bone in his body (so he tells me!), that Mario Rosenstock doesn’t drive, and that Colette Fitzpatrick is double-jointed, my final question to Tommy was this: Is there anything like that, kind of unusual, weird or strange about him, of which his fans may not be aware?

“I’m colour-blind, I’ve got flat feet, and I’m tone deaf! You can actually buy glasses in America…[pauses]….or was it Italy? Jaysus, I’d be an awful explorer! [laughs]. But they fix colour-blindness anyway. But as far as being tone-deaf and flat-footed goes, they’re not fixable! It’s not enough to claim disability, but it’s tough to live with! [laughs]. 

ENDS