Natalie Maines

First Published July 2013

CHICK, FIGHTER, MOTHER

Thirty-two words. That’s all it took to turn Natalie Maines from a dixie darlin’ to a Saddam supportin’, America hatin’, devil in disguise. At least, that’s what happened in the eyes and ears of country music radio and a large number of country ‘ fans ‘. Fans for whom, it must be added, the subtleties of irony and the intricacies of reason and logical thinking – even common sense, perhaps – were as much a foreign language as any other found beyond the shores of their good ole U.S. of A.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against America or country music, far from it. In fact, I’ve spent some of the most memorable days and nights of my life under the blue of a ‘Buckeye’sky in Ohio, and country music defines a massive a part of who I am. But even now, a decade on, how Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks were treated back in 2003 still gets me shaking my head in disbelief. There truly are times in this life when no matter how much you love something, you can still find yourself almost diametrically opposed to everything that something seems to stand for or represent at that moment in time. And 2003 was one of those times.

With the release of Mother, Natalie’s first solo record last May, it’s worth remembering how this Dixie Chick spoke her mind, stood her ground, and fought back when lesser souls would have shattered in face of the storm that engulfed her and her bandmates, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison.

It was London, 2003 at the Shepherd’s Bush Theatre. The world stood just ten days away from yet another war as the U.S. and Britain prepared – despite huge anti-war demonstrations – to invade Iraq in search of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ their intelligence services had confirmed beyond a doubt existed. That was the message being relayed to the world by then President George Bush, his Vice-President Dick Chaney, their Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. For the greater good of the free world, war had to be waged, they argued. But a lot of people disagreed with that assessment, Natalie Maines among them.

The Chicks were on the European leg of their Top Of The World Tour. Their album sales were in the tens of millions. They already had eight Grammys to their name and their count of CMA Awards topped that by a further two. Their cover of the Stevie Nicks classic Landslide was riding high at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Just three years earlier they had performed the national anthem at the Super Bowl, the sporting and television highlight of the American calendar. But then Natalie Maines spoke from her heart. And thirty-two words changed everything. As she was later to sing, “The top of the world came crashing down.”

“Just so you know”, she began, “we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

Now, in the same way as I’m not attempting to run down America as a country or all Americans, or everyone who’s a country music fan, or who was involved in the industry then, I’m not saying that Saddam Hussein was basically a good guy, a bit of a character who was misunderstood and suffered a bad reputation because of that. Absolutely not. He was a tyrant, a dictator. A brutal, arrogant, selfish narcissist. But was the invasion of Iraq and the grief it brought upon so many the way to deal with him? Again, in my opinion at least, absolutely not.

As soon as word reached the States of Natalie’s comments while on stage in London, the fallout began. And the nature of the attacks on her, Martie, and Emily were deeply personal, vicious, founded mostly in the flag-waving bluster of patriotism as defined only by flag-waving and bluster. As mentioned earlier, all argument and rationale was as far removed from the subtleties of irony and the intricacies of reason and logical thinking as Bush et-al always were from those ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Unquestionably, no male band would have been vilified in the same manner.

Maines and the Chicks were accused of supporting communism. One radio caller suggested, in total seriousness, that Maines herself should be strapped to a bomb and dropped on Iraq. Bill O’ Reilly – renaissance man that he is – referred to the band as, “callow, foolish women who deserve to be slapped around.” In the ultra-conservative world of O’ Reilly’s middle class America just ten years ago, it seems that while opposing war was a big no-no, encouraging violence against women was an acceptable form of free speech.

Other protesters labelled Maines, Maguire and Robison as  ‘bimbos’ and ‘dixie twits.’ “Free speech is fine”, remarked one man, “but you don’t do it outside of the country and you don’t do it publicly.” Another reasoned that, “Being ashamed of our President means being ashamed of our country.” One couple even offered this sage advice, “Keep playin’, keep makin’ music, and keep your mouth shut.”

Within a week Landslide had fallen from #10 to #43 on the Billboard Hot 100. And within two weeks it had crashed out of the chart completely. Country radio all but banned the Dixie Chicks in response to the frenzy of country ‘fans.’ Many stations even went as far as to set up bins outside their offices so that ‘fans’ could publicly dump their Dixie Chicks albums. In some cases, the public destruction of their albums was encouraged and even arranged by having tractors drive over them to crush them.

Even President Bush himself commented on the controversy, although this time he was perhaps pointedly missing the point and the bigger picture as opposed to just not getting it, as was so often the case. “They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt”, he opined, “when people don’t want to buy their records.” Bush, of course, like the Chicks themselves, is a native of Texas where he served as the Lone Star state’s 46th governor between 1995 and 2000.

On May 1st, 2003, Bush held court aboard the USS Lincoln, a banner behind him proclaiming, ‘Mission Accomplished.’ He stated at the time that this signalled the end of major combat operations in Iraq. In December of 2011, President Obama oversaw the final withdrawal of the last remaining US troops from Iraq. There have been almost 4,500 US casualties in Iraq, nearly 4,000 of them since President Bush’s ‘mission’ was ‘accomplished.’

In 2007, Taking The Long Way, the Dixie Chicks’ first album since the top of their world came crashing down, claimed five Grammys. Among them, the awards for Album Of The Year and, for their defiant, fight-not-flight anthem Not Ready To Make Nice, the awards for Single and for Song Of The Year. Upon its release, Taking The Long Way debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and the country charts, despite receiving next to no support from country radio. Clearly and thankfully, however, the band retained the support of their more liberal, contemplative fans. Even if, to their eternal shame, a significant number of their fellow country artists distanced themselves from the Chicks in every way possible. But they were not without allies among big names in the music world as both Bruce Springsteen and Madonna were vocal in support of the Chicks’ right to express their opinions freely.

Even country legend Merle Haggard could see through the bluster and past the flag-waving. “I don’t even know the Dixie Chicks”, he stated, “but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching.” 

Mother is not a Dixie Chicks album. And it’s definitely not country, so don’t expect either one. But it’s doubtful that any labels like country, pop, rock – or whatever else – were even discussed by Maines and her producer Ben Harper when they began work on this collection of songs. And in truth, what ‘kind of’ an album it is doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that one of the most powerful, expressive and emotive voices of the last fifteen to twenty years, a voice that has been too long gone, has gifted its vocal dynamism to the world once more. As it happens, though, Mother (whose title track comes from Pink Floyd’s The Wall album) IS an excellent debut. Among the standout offerings are Natalie’s graceful embrace of the Jeff Buckley classic Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, and Come Crying To Me, a Maines co-write with Dixie Chick band-mates Martie and Emily.

Last week the US celebrated the fourth of July, its Independence Day. If anyone can claim to have truly lived in the spirit of what that day is supposed to recognise, then it’s Natalie Maines.

And long may she continue living that very same way.

ENDS

Lorraine Keane

First Published February 2020

LORRAINE’S FASHION RELIEF RETURNS

(Part 1) 

Lorraine Keane

It’s probably something that we’re all guilty of to some extent from time to time. We think that because we can’t do something huge there’s no way at all in which we can help those in most need around the world. But thanks to LORRAINE KEANE and her FASHION RELIEF event with OXFAM, thoughts like that should never cross our minds again. The reason why is simple. From Lorraine’s own personal experiences of visiting some of the most impoverished places on Earth – countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia, Haiti, Guatemala, and more – she came to realise that in such places even as little as €20 can feed a family for a week. Just take a moment to think about that… €20 can feed a family for a week…

That knowledge was the spark from which FASHION RELIEF was first born a couple of years ago, as Lorraine and Oxfam combined to create an event where designer, pre-loved, and celebrity donated items can be purchased for as little as €20 in many cases. So even one sale like that will do a world of good that most of us, please God, will never be in a position to need. To date, FASHION RELIEF has raised in excess of €200,000. This year’s Galway event takes place in the Galmont Hotel on March 1st, and will be followed by a full weekend in Dublin’s R.D.S. on March 28th and 29th.

Ahead of those dates, I had the pleasure of catching up with Lorraine last Friday evening. We began our chat by going back to late last year when Lorraine visited somewhere that, hopefully, most of us will never come close to experiencing…the largest refugee camp in the world, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh…

“Like all of these trips that I do, and I’ve been doing them once a year for the last ten years, it was just very difficult. I’d like to think that they get easier, but I think they actually get worse, to be honest with you, because you know what to expect. These people are living in extreme poverty. When I’m there, yeah, I get a little homesick, I miss Peter and the girls, and my family. But when I come back, it kind of stays with you for ages as well. You meet these people actually face-to-face, you hear their stories, and see how they’re living, and the conditions they’re living in. And they’re so grateful. That’s the really sad part, when they’re thanking you for helping them and thanking Oxfam, and asking you to please tell the Irish people how grateful they are for giving them shelter. And that’s just a very basic tent they’re talking about, made from tarpaulin and bamboo. And also for giving them clean, safe drinking water, and food, and other supplies. I mean, all of these people were living in what were certainly poorer conditions than any of us would ever have to experience in this part of our planet, thank God. But they were still self-sufficient, they had farms and land, and homes. But they [the Rohingya] were literally just thrown out of those homes and off their own land, and their houses were burned down.”

 

Lorraine continued, “If it wasn’t for the Bangladeshi government being so generous – because they’re not a very wealthy country themselves, they’re already struggling to look after their own – but they opened up the boarder to a million refugees. And that’s a huge example to the rest of us. All these people want to do, remember, is to go home. Because they’ve been there now for two years, and it’s at about four times the capacity of people for the space that’s available, and according to what the U.N. recommended capacity is. But at least while they’re there, they’re feeling safe. And we’re trying to keep them healthy. Oxfam provide health -workers and have little clinics and things like that. And because of where they are, like so many places in the developing world, extreme climate is a huge part of the reason that they are impoverished. We worry about climate change on our little island, but my goodness! Our part of the world is doing all the damage, but their part of the world is suffering all the consequences, ya know.”

 

There was one woman in particular, Nalia, who told me about herself”, Lorraine said. “She had four children and was pregnant with her fifth when she was trying to leave Myanmar, to escape to Bangladesh after her house had been burned down. They escaped in the middle of the night, but they were caught, and her husband was shot dead in front of her. So, at eight and a half months pregnant, she struggled to get to Bangladesh. And then, just as they got to the boarder, her son was also shot in front of her, her eldest child. And her other children witnessed that. She went on to give birth to a little girl, and now that little girl is being brought up in Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee camp in the world. Nalia has become a leader within the refugee camp for women, and for girls. It’s a very strict culture, and religion, so it’s very restrictive for them living in those kind of conditions. They have no privacy. And yet, their culture and religion insist that they are very private, stay covered, and all the rest. It’s very tough. It would break your heart.”

 
 

Lorraine’s first Fashion Relief event of 2020 was just over a week away when we spoke, so I asked her how hectic was life as she took care of all the final preparations for Galway, and of course, continued to get ready for the two Dublin shows in the RDS at the end of March, also?

“Well I was just down in Galway for the last couple of days delivering by hand our leaflets around shops, and cafes, and restaurants, and boutiques, anybody that would take them! Just to publicise the event on the ground, at a local level. Then the lovely Keith Finnegan had me on with Jon Richards on Galway Bay FM, who is a friend of Peter’s for a long time because he’s been a big fan of The Devlins [Lorraine is married to Peter Devlin, of the band The Devlins], he would have had the band on performing ‘live’ over the years. And they’re running ads for us all next week for free, it’s just amazing, the generosity of people, what they’ll do to help. So maybe it does help to make a difference, the fact that I get to travel to these countries and then show everybody the difference that the money raised makes, ya know. Irish people, as we know, are some of the most generous people in the world. Nobody has said no to me. And that’s anybody from well-know, high-profile celebrities and sports personalities, like Miriam O’ Callaghan, Rob Kearney, Norah Casey, Mary Kennedy, Rosanna Davison, all of these fabulous people, the list goes on and on. I just had a text message there from Vogue Williams to say she was posting over some items, and Vogue donated last year as well. Roz Purcell was in touch this morning saying the same, so was Holly Wright, and Holly Carpenter. But apart from that, it’s the people who I wouldn’t have known, in AV (audio-visual), and staging, and events, things like that, they’re all providing it for free too. And that’s worth thousands and thousands of euro. But they want to help. I think most Irish people want to help, but they just don’t know how or what to do. So I’ve given them that outlet.”

Thinking back a few years to the moment when Lorraine first knew that she needed to do something to help these people, and then arriving at the idea of Fashion Relief with her husband Peter, did she have any idea at all at that time that this would become something which, as Lorraine has since said many times, she feels like she’ll be involved with for the rest of her life?

“Ya know what? I didn’t even know if the first one would work! You have to take some risks in your career. And I thought this was a risk worth taking. So we said we’d try it and just do our best. I mean, when you’re out there, in these countries, and you see that €20 would feed a family for a week, gosh, even longer, I knew that no matter what we raised it would help in some way. And it’s all been because of people being so generous. But no, I really had no idea. To go from one event in year one, and then last year having five events! And this year, we’ll probably have five or six altogether. It’s been great. And we’ve now raised over €200,000 which I never imagined we’d do, because Fashion Relief is not even two years old, although we’re on our third lot of events.” 

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

Des Bishop

First Published November 2019

TRUMP, SEX, & DEATH

(Part 2)

Des Bishop brings his brand new TAKE THE POINTS show to Tullamore on November 30th.

Whatever’s going on in your life right now, do yourself a favour and get along to see DES BISHOP when he brings his brand new show, TAKE THE POINTS, to the Tullamore Court Hotel on November 30th. I had the pleasure of catching his Maynooth performance a few weeks back and here’s what I can assure you: If all is great in your world right now, spending some time with Des will make it even better. And if things aren’t turning out exactly how you’d like them to right now, an evening in his company will set you on a course to somewhere much closer to where you want to be. Because nothing is as good for the soul as laughter, and few comedians out there can make people laugh as hard, or for as long, as Des can.

In Part 2 of our chat, the subject turned to a certain Mr. Trump, as it so often does these days. And more specifically, how a huge part of the problem with everything to do with Trump is the people who support him – both in terms of voters and the Republican party – because he couldn’t do any of what he has done, or is doing, were it not for those who enable him to do so. So, taking a show like Love Island and linking it to Trump because they’re both so incredibly fake, and lacking in any kind of substance, but yet, some people love them, I asked Des if he thinks this shows that, even in this day and age, it’s still so incredibly easy to manipulate people?

“Yeah, people can be manipulated, that’s for sure. However, Love Island doesn’t claim to be anything other than light entertainment. Some people take it seriously, yeah, but that’s part of the fun of it, right? But it’s not pretending to be anything other than a dumb show with good-looking people on an island. Whereas Trump is the leader of the largest economy in the free world. So the whole world kind of relies on him. But I do get what you’re saying about people being manipulated easily. At the same time, there are very intelligent people that love Love Island, but they’re intelligent enough to know that this is their guilty pleasure. But they’re still up on world affairs as well! [laughs]. The reality is that Trump is tapping into peoples’ real fears and hates. People have hated immigrants for centuries. He’s tapping into some dangerous stuff that has been effective for leaders over the years, but it usually ends badly! When you tap into that nationalistic, anti-immigrant vote – which is out there – it tends to not finish well. That’s what he’s doing.” 

 
 

Des lost his mam earlier this year, but he’s remembering her through the new show he’s working on for next year…

“It’s going to be a little bit more like ‘My Dad Was Nearly James Bond’ [than just a regular stand-up comedy show]. Except it’s probably less of a narrative journey than that was. It’s really…a lot of stand-up about funerals! [laughs]. I guess if it was D’Unbelievables, it would be D’Funeral! [laughs]. They might have even done that! Well first of all, my mother was an interesting character, it’s a little bit about her, and anxiety. She was actually a little bit of a crazy mom, to be honest with ya. Quite the character, none the less, but probably not the mother of the year, ya know. So I get to have some fun with her as an individual. And I get to have some fun with death. ‘My Dad Was Nearly James Bond’ was about nursing my father. It was nearly a tribute to him. And this is very much a tribute to my mother, but it’s very honest about the complicated character that she was. Like, with my dad, at the funeral, it was unanimous. Everybody was like, ‘Your dad was such an amazing guy.’ With my mom, a lot of people came up and they’d say stuff like, ‘She was formidable!’ [laughs]. They were very different characters! It’s a bit of craic about my mom, with a lot of funny stuff about funerals, and just dealing with ‘the end’, ya know. Which everybody deals with. And listen, the show doesn’t shirk from the emotions of loss. The final third of the show is a little bit more stylised, there’s more performance in it, possibly some props, and there’ll definitely be video throughout the whole show. I have a theatrical idea for the final third of the show, but I do have to practise that and make sure that it works. But that’s o.k, because there’s two and a half months to go. I’m way ahead of schedule compared to other shows, because I did run about thirty minutes of material about my mom immediately after she died, at the Melbourne and Sydney Comedy Festivals. The stand-up kinda wrote itself. There was just a lot of funny stories about my mom dying and dealing with death. It wasn’t about grief, it was about death. I mean, I wasn’t even grieving yet, I was still in f*&king shock.”

Des continued, “And by the way, when I talk about my mother being a crazy, complicated character, I kinda use my mother to mirror myself. So really, it’s a lot of jokes about me, and my quirky nature. And about anxiety, too. That’s the other part of the show that I haven’t written yet. That’s been sort of a late-term realisation that I probably have had anxiety my whole life! My mother, DEFINITELY had anxiety her whole life! [laughs]. I’ve never taken anything [medication] for anxiety, but it’s clear as day that it’s there. So I make some jokes about it. I called it ‘Mia Mamma’ because I didn’t want it to seem like I was being negative, but I did have the potential title of ‘Unnecessary Chaos’ because if we were to describe our childhood, I think me and my brothers would be unanimous in calling it…unnecessary chaos! Certainly, there was a lot of stress that just didn’t need to exist. I mean, I know raising kids is hard. I now see other people raising kids and I realise there just isn’t as much stress in a normal house as there was in ours! [laughs]. But the great thing about that is that when you talk about it, a lot of people have had that experience. My mother was Irish-American, and there was a lot of Irish things goin’ on, mainly that she was the child of alcoholics, bad alcoholism. I think a lot of Irish people can identify with the dysfunctional upbringing, the lack of emotional nurturing, passive-aggression, non-directness…, ya know [laughs]. Trying to navigate and make sense of very complicated emotions. Which, possibly, maybe the youngest generation of Irish aren’t dealing with in the same way. I think a lot of people will identify with that, too. And obviously people who’ve been through the loss of their parents, and their grandparents. I mean, it’s not the same, but I would never belittle it. I lost all my grandparents, but I was only close to one, my grandmother. And that was sad, but it’s different, like. But anything can be funny, so I think people will appreciate the humour. Women joke about their periods, I find it f&*king hilarious but I’ve never had a period, ya know what I mean?! [laughs].” 

When did Des and Katie Boyle, his co-host on their podcast The Shift, realise there was enough material in that particular subject – sex, dating, etc – to warrant exploration through a whole series as opposed to something that might just have been a once-off show?

“Well, first of all, I had the Des Bishop podcast, which was great, but…it’s a lot of work! I faltered the first time, which was the big mistake. I should have never faltered the first time, I shouldn’t have let it slip because it was going great-guns. But I got lazy, I hold my hands up. Got lazy, it was a lot of work. I got it goin’ again the second time, but it never had the same momentum. Podcast listeners hate when ya f&*king fade on them! And getting guests was a pain in the ass. I started to try and do it on my own, but that was tough, too, and it faded again. I didn’t want it to, but it did. But that time it just kinda happened, and eventually it was just like, it had gone on too long. So I said to myself if I’m ever doin’ a podcast again, I’m getting a partner. But I also thought, ya know, there’s so many comedians just talkin’ to comedians, I want something different. And there’s not a lot of sex/dating podcasts in Ireland, whereas there’s a f&*k-load of them in the States! So I was like twelve months sayin’ I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it…but I wanted to get an Irish woman living in New York. Now I had got to know Katie, but I wasn’t thinkin’ about Katie, because I knew that she was a bit innocent! [laughs]. And she admitted that herself when I asked her. But eventually, I was just like f&*k it, I’m just gonna ask this Katie one. Cos’ I hardly knew her. So we met in Brooklyn, and I was like, listen, I have this idea…And she was like, ‘I know f&*k all about these topics!’ [laughs]. But she said, ‘Look, it will be a journey for me, and I’d be willin’ to try.’ So we did. We were like screw it, let’s try it.”

 

And that decision proved to be a wise move, as Des explained…

 

“I did a test one and it got a really positive response, I put it up on the Des Bishop podcast feed. We did a few and I could see that it was going to be tough – in relation to your actual question – because her experience was limited, and also, there’s only so much that you can actually talk about. But it caught a fire fairly fast and people really liked Katie, so I thought, f&*k it, we’ll work it out. And as I expected, it does broaden out. I mean really it’s a sex and dating podcast, but it’s also a cross-generational podcast, cos’ Katie is a millennial and I’m a Gen X. It naturally just found itself talking about some mental health stuff as well, which will probably come up again. And it’s just good craic. You get really strong reactions from people, particularly in Ireland, where people have quite a lot of hang-ups, ya know. And because I’m a little older, we have some older listeners and it’s kind of quite liberating for them, to just realise that they don’t have to be as f&*king uptight about sex. We have twenty-year old listeners, and I think for them, it’s way more natural, they’re way more open talking about sex. If you look at a podcast like It Galz, they’re two Dublin girls that are really open about sex, a little bit younger than me, and they have a HUGE following among young women. And you can see that that group of young women in Ireland just have a completely different attitude to sex than when I was that age. I think that’s quite positive. The Shift is slightly less irreverent than It Galz, and also tries to be a little more on the educational side. But that’s partially because I feel like we – and our listeners – are looking for that. 

 
 

Des believes that for the Gen Zs that listen to The Shift, and the Gen Zs that listen to other podcasts like It Galz, it’s more about identification and reassurance…

 

“Which I hope they’re getting that from ours too. I mean, we get some great emails from people that have had real results. There was one woman who had never had an orgasm with another person, and [that changed] only from us basically saying you just have to tell the guy you’re with what you like. Just tell him what you want him to do. And she was like, ‘I never thought I could do that.’ That’s such a basic bit of information! I’m a comic, and Katie’s a comic, with limited experience really, in terms of sex advice! [laughs]. And yet, that simple thing can have this huge effect. It just goes to show you that if two randomers just burst out a fact like that and it has a real effect on someone’s life, like, Ireland has not had enough openness around sex. That’s basically evidence. And it’s unfortunate in a way that some people are like, oh, that’s kinda dirty, that podcast you’re doin’. When really, it isn’t. It’s relationships. Most people are in relationships. A lot of it is about dating. A lot of it is about life. Just normal life.” 

ENDS

Des Bishop

First Published November 2019

ALWAYS ON POINT

(Part 1)

November 30th sees Des Bishop bring his new show, Take The Points, to the Tullamore Court Hotel.

Great comedy is nearly always sculpted from truth. And great comedians have an innate ability to seek out the truth of life despite all of the distractions it comes wrapped up in. And within the truth – be in happy, sad, ugly or beautiful – great comedians can always find the humour there. That’s why the really great ones do so much more than just ‘tell jokes.’ They actually tell us about life, and about ourselves. DES BISHOP certainly falls into that category, and he’s bringing his new show, TAKE THE POINTS, to the Tullamore Court Hotel on November 30th.

I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Des before he went on stage for a recent show, and I began by asking him about ‘Take The Points.’ Sometimes comedians or musicians pick a title for a new tour or album just because they need to put something on the tickets and the posters! But there are also some who choose a title that genuinely gives somewhat of an overview of a theme that might be running through the show or body of work. Which scenario was most true of Des in this case, I wondered?

“This title now falls in between those two things. Because I did just need a title. But…I also wanted to have a generic enough title that would still encompass the fact that the show is going to try and tackle certain issues. But at the same time, it does come from, ‘Take the points and the goals will come’, ya know. It’s a sentence that just resonates. It’s not offensive or anything. But when you read the description of the show, you’re like, o.k, point taken, as a guy the world is changing. There’s a lot of just, ya know Irish stuff and funny stuff, and dirty stuff, in the show [laughs]. But it does stay true to some of the description of the title of the show, too. It’s not a very themed show, though, by any stretch of the imagination.”

I wondered if there was also something in the origins of the title – take your points and the goals will come – that suggested if we, as a society, and indeed a world in general, can work on getting some of the little things right again, this in turn will lead us to being better placed to correct some of the bigger things, too?

“I think when I wrote the title it was just when I was thinking about inspiration for the show. Now you have to realise that it was this time last year that I was working on this show. I was doing some preliminary shows which would become ‘Take The Points’. But at the time, I was very much thinking that as a guy it’s very easy to get defensive about the news right now, ya know. Masculinity, and men behaving badly…, and obviously there’s a real push for equality. Even within my own industry, I can see that change. So you’re responding to that all the time. You’re trying to celebrate what’s good about it, while at the same time, trying not to get too down about the fact that some of this is because a lot of people of your own gender have been acting the prick! And also, people within your own industry were behaving in a certain way and…it was like a shock to me. So you feel like a dumbass that you didn’t see these things goin’ on around ya. So there’s also that. That kind of guilty by association type of feeling? This, by the way, is the process behind the jokes, not the jokes themselves. You’re tryin’ to make sense of all these emotions. And there are a couple of bits in the show where I challenged myself to write about that. It’s not so much like you were sayin’ about getting the little things right, it’s really about making sense of where we’re at right now. I thought I’d write more jokes about men being defensive but actually, it ended up not really being the case. It’s funny, because in Ireland it’s actually easier to tell it like it is. The world is changing, so let’s tell some jokes about the changing world. In the States, it’s more difficult because people are more divided. So there, when you do certain material, it’s almost like you’re taking a side. Whereas here, in Ireland, it’s not as divided. People might think it is, but it’s not. So you don’t actually feel like you’re taking a side, you’re just making funny jokes about the things that we’ve seen and the changes that have happened.” 

A recent review of the show stated that one of the topics Des touches on is the bad rep straight white men are getting these days. Is this something that Des himself has been personally exposed to in some way, or more what he’s been observing happening around him?

“That review was literally from the first show! The first official show. I mean, listen, it’s clear as day that it’s not completely acceptable to dismiss straight white men as the ultimate privileged group, and that they were not aware of that privilege. And there’s a move against that dominance. And you’d have to welcome it to a large extent, because you’d have to be blind to see that not everybody was as represented. I’ll just use my own industry, for example. Suddenly, when you see female representation in the media rising, it’s very easy to see then that f*$king hell, there was a lot of guys in this game, ya know! [laughs]. When more women are doing it, and more are getting better – because there were just so few – suddenly, there’s a lot of women around! And it’s actually way more fun. It’s way better. Now, none of us – the guys – were actively keeping women out. That was just the way of it. These things happen. No individual straight white guy could take responsibility for what happened in the world, or for whatever reason why straight white men seem to have done the best up to now. So you just have to say yeah, o.k, I see that. And you can do some jokes about it. I do think there’s some humour too in the flippancy with which people dismiss straight white men as if they also are not a group of people themselves! [laughs]. There’s some great stuff you can read about the things straight white men don’t like about being called straight white men, because they don’t like to see themselves as a group. They sort of like to see other groups as groups, and everything deviates from them [laughs]. But I do also think that people can be a bit irresponsible with the flippancy with which they dismiss straight white men. Because you can fall into the trap of suggesting that somebody’s achievements weren’t earned just because they had the privilege of being a straight white guy. But on the flip side, there’s just as many people that will turn around and say, well, she only got that because they’re tryin’ to get more women in the business, or in politics, whatever. The truth of the matter is, you can’t f*$king win! [laughs]. 

 

“But”, continued Des, “one thing we do know for sure, is that when people see themselves represented in a job, or in a position, it attracts more people of that gender, race, sexual identity…it attracts them to it. So it’s worth a little bit of a shove to balance out the numbers to get more people in. Only because, if you think of it in purely capitalistic terms, competition brings…and I’m not a real capitalist, but at the same time, if there’s more competition, the game is gonna rise. If you look at hip-hop, it was so basic in the late 70s and early 80s. But then it just kept evolving and evolving…to the state that it’s at now, which is so complicated and complex. It’s the same with comedy. If suddenly there’s a whole other group of people that are now competing, and inspiring people, and talking about different things, and speaking about it from a female point of view, or from a Nigerian who came to Ireland’s point of view…ya know, it’s just good. Because it’s fresh, and it’s different, and it helps everybody. But unfortunately, it’s very easy to be defensive. And I am not immune to that, being defensive or being resentful. All these emotions rise up. But I guess if you can just be honest about it, then it doesn’t take over. But a lot of people aren’t honest with themselves. They just get angry. And they express that anger online. And, as you know, it’s easy to find a home, a safe place for your anger. And that’s where the divisions come from. And it’s amplified in the States. But it’s here, too. And I have to say, I have, at times, been a little bit afraid to take what is essentially a centrist position. I nearly called this show ‘No Fence To Sit On’! [laughs]. A good title, but a little long, though, I thought! But it’s almost like that, like having a nuanced position on something is a cop-out nowadays. That used to be smart politics. But now you can’t sit on the fence. You can’t just say, well sometimes I’m this, but sometimes I’m that. You have to pick a tribe. And people talk about tribes all the time now. I’m definitely not in a tribe. Traditionally, I would have been a left-wing, liberal guy. And I am very much that guy. But I’m also a guy that thinks people stifle debate from the left-wing liberal side. That’s clear as day. You’re actually a hypocrite and you’re contradicting yourself if you can’t see that ‘cancel-culture’ hasn’t been 100% positive. I see positives effects of it sometimes, but there are definitely some negative aspects to it. In the sense that people just assume their positions are right all the time.” 

 
 

When Des turned 40 a few years back, he said, “Street cred just loses meaning when you hit 40, because you realise that all the worrying you did about other peoples’ opinions is just bullshit.” As he moves towards his mid-forties now, I wondered if this was a feeling that had perhaps intensified, or even altered?

“No, that’s still pretty much how I feel. The only thing I will say is that even since that time, because that was before #MeToo, and before, ya know…Trump! [laughs]. And Brexit. I definitely just cannot handle the stress of online debate. I don’t mean comments, because at this stage now, I can’t be bothered with that. But I do try to avoid controversy more than I used to. Like, I can see, particularly in the States, there’s a lot of guys that are really thriving on being an anti-PC crusader. And sometimes it’s entertaining. And they’re really thriving in that space of people who have had enough of that PC culture. My problem with that is that I can see why people find PC culture frustrating, but then they dismiss the aspects of it that are positive. So what you’re doing is you’re just tapping into peoples’ anger which is irrational. There’s a whole cohort over there that are living in that angry male space. I would like to speak out against that, but sometimes I actually just don’t because I can’t handle the f*$ing stress, ya know. These guys are so aggressive online, the fans, not the comedians. The comedians are my friends! And a lot of the material is just really funny! I think it’s good to do material about tackling P.C. culture. I see Jonathan Pie did one just the other day tackling cancel-culture. But sometimes, ya know, I just don’t like that energy of controversy. Unfortunately, controversy drives a lot of the business these days and it’s f&$ing tedious. It’s not good debate, but you’d be blue in the face talkin’ about it.” 

When Des looks at everything Trump has been doing to America – and by extension in one way or another, to the rest of the world – over these past few years, where does he think it’s all leading?

“It’s hard to know. Right now, as somebody who’s studied history, you’d have to say that it just looks like a time where humanity – or certainly western humanity, as we know it, the peaceful, post World War Two order that we’ve experienced – will only come to its senses when a serious tragedy happens. That’s me wearing my history hat. However, there may also be a post-Brexit, post-Trump, enough-is-enough, rational reawakening! [laughs]. That may happen. Because people are a bit sick of it all. But then, when you see…well let’s take the two extremes, right, the people who love Trump and the people who are very, very anti-Trump. I’m anti-Trump, but at the same time, I’m not as committed to being anti-Trump as some people are. And if you look at how far apart those people are [pro and anti-Trump], it doesn’t bring a lot of hope. And also, in fairness, can we just say that President Trump is so sh&t, he couldn’t be a worse president! How you can be blind to his narcissism, his delusion, his one or two lucky positives that are completely washed away by innumerable negatives, ya know…It’s easy to be right every now and then. But he’s just so f&$kin’ bad, on top of the corruption and everything about the guy. But I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, because you just never know. I thought maybe he would just dump a load of money into infrastructure. Which, by the way, Obama wanted to do anyway. But the Republicans wouldn’t let him. Now, they’ve just bumped up the deficit with nothing to show for it. And it’s so frustrating, because I think there was a real opportunity when Trump got elected to invest money in infrastructure and take advantage of the fact that the economy had recovered. But he’s just blown that completely. I would have been happy to eat my pride, swallow my words, and just be like, ya know what, Trump did bring in a different take and it kinda worked. But God…he’s so f&$king bad!”

 

Des went on, “And they won’t accept any criticism, the Trump people. Comparing Obama and Trump, it’s kinda pointless. Obviously people loved Obama, but they weren’t afraid to be critical of the mistakes he made. Trump people just won’t be critical of massive mistakes! It is a little worrying that people are that divided. It does feel a little bit, sort of like…fascisty! And now that’s frowned upon, too, to bring up fascism. But Trump clearly likes dictators, he admires them. That’s what he wants. And there’s people behind him who seem to be inclined that way, the Breitbart people, Steven Miller, these people. They’re clearly a little bit fascist. Even though Steven Miller is Jewish, which is strange. But it’s funny, because Trump is not like Hitler. People compare him to Hitler. But Hitler was f&$king organised! Trump is more like Hugo Chavez. He could be given twenty-five years to completely f&$k over America. And America will be done!”

 
 

ENDS