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Relatively Speaking: A chat with Conal and Rory Gallen

By Simon Fallaha

Originally from Londonderry, the Donegal-based comedian Conal Gallen has become one of Ireland's most popular performers of the past 30 years. His hit show A Bit On The Side, which he co-wrote with his son Rory, will be taking to the stage at Belfast's Odyssey Arena this Saturday for its final ever performance.

My dad has always been a big role model. I've a nine-year-old daughter called Amber, and I always say that if I can be half the father to her as he was to me, my older sister Trasa and my younger brother Ciaran, we'll be alright.

I remember telling Dad the day after his surprise 50th birthday party that he was going to be a grandfather. He jokingly said: "I'm not old enough yet!" But I doubt he was genuinely shocked. I think his comic side helps him to deal with a lot of things.

He certainly did panic, though, when I went with him to a gig as a child and the technician pulled out. He feared he'd have to cancel, but then I stepped in and helped out. At one point, he told my mother: "We'll do it with Rory this time, and get a new sound man for the next gig." We're still waiting for the new man to come!

After I left school, I went straight into the entertainment business. That's not to say that I didn't think about going to university. I did apply for computer courses, but my dad could tell that my heart wasn't in it. So he said: "I'll take you on full-time." It all happened from there.

It's hard to explain just how enjoyable writing A Bit On The Side has been. Both Dad and I have found ourselves in stitches while we work. The buzz you get from doing something like that is hard to top. And we complement one another, in that we both want to squeeze as many laughs as we can into the running time.

We were admittedly a little concerned before the production first opened in Ballybofey. We wondered if the humour would come off, but it did, and the support just keeps on coming from back home. No one believed the play would get this far. When we're not working, Dad and I like to play golf or see other shows. Sometimes, it's great to be able to sit and enjoy other people's performances rather than getting lost in everything that has to be done backstage.

We're not your typical father and son; we're probably a lot closer than most. While my friends at secondary school were out socialising, I worked with my dad every week, and he has become one of my best friends.

Name: Rory Gallen

Age: 29

Occupation: Writer/technician Relationship to Conal: Son

 

I was born on Derry's Northland Road, and my in-laws still live in the city. Having spent what must have been a year of my theatrical life in the Millennium Forum - I've done the first five pantos there, in addition to all my stand-up work - I like to think my taste in comedy rubs off well on the city's people. They've a terrific sense of humour, like my son Rory.

Ever since growing up in Ballybofey, Co Donegal, Rory has shown himself to be a bright person with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, the kind of kid who'd wake up singing a song. When Rory was about 12, family pressures and travelling had taken their toll on the guy who normally did the sound and lights at my gigs, and Rory stepped in to help me. What I didn't realise was that he'd been watching the lighting and sound man all the time, so he practically knew what he was doing from the moment he started.

Then along came A Bit On The Side. I'd never written a play before, and I don't think that it would have been a lot of fun to write it on my own, so I'm very glad Rory was involved. It was a hilarious process with lots of loud laughs along the way.

There were issues about which lines to leave in, where the most laughs would come from, and how a scene would progress and so on, but Rory and I never seriously argued about it.

We'd also work outside in the garden - one of us would have the laptop, the other would act out the play, and we'd find ourselves falling into fits of laughter. I thought that if anyone drove in and saw what we were like, they'd think we had lost it! It was the most enjoyable thing I've ever done, right up there with singing my song Horse It Into Ya, Cynthia with the Ulster Orchestra in the Ulster Hall.

Name: Conal Gallen

Age: 59

Occupation: Writer/singer/comedian

Relationship to Rory: Father

Not quite marital bliss...

Since its first performance in 2013, A Bit On The Side, has been an instant hit with audiences and critics alike, selling out venues across Ireland.

Described as a "comedy farce" and "a tale of passion and intrigue", the production - starring Conal Gallen, Paddy McMenamin, Jack Quinn and Cathleen Bradley - takes place in the household of Bridie and Willie Murphy, a couple who have fought the "war of marriage" for over 30 years.

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