He’ll be the first comedian to tread the boards at this year’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, but Ardal O’Hanlon’s been here before, and he’s relishing the opportunity to get back in front of a Belfast audience, says Jamie McDowell
Ardal O’Hanlon says he always looks forward to coming to Belfast. “It reminds me of Dublin and Glasgow — there's the same sort of crowd. In Belfast you're kept on your toes, and that's what you want, really. The last thing you want as a stand-up comedian is to be playing to a sleepy commuter audience.”
The actor (44), originally from Carrickmacross, Monaghan, is talking about his gig in the city this Monday. He’s still best known for his role as Father Dougal McGuire in hit TV comedy Fr Ted, about the misadventures of three priests on an Irish island.
He has also had success as an author. His critically acclaimed book, The Talk of the Town, was included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. He’s chuffed about it: “I was pleased that somebody found the book worthy of inclusion in the list. It wasn't down to a public vote or anything so it means nothing in that respect. Some people think that comedians like me have no business writing novels so it was really good to get mentioned in it.”
Ardal added: “It was an experience for me because, as a comedian, you can change the subject very quickly. When you're on stage you'll go through 100 different topics in one night that can all be very loosely linked. When writing the novel, I had to deal with isolation, discipline and dedication. I get side-tracked very easily and have a very short attention span.”
His family circumstances have changed the way he works: “When I was younger and living in London I would have done two to three gigs a night and was working seven nights a week. But now I have three kids, Emily (12), Rebecca (10) and Redmond (7), so I limit myself to the odd tour or festival abroad. If I'm performing in Australia for example, I can bring my family with me and make a holiday out of it. It's a lot harder these days trying to maintain a work/life balance.”
He added: “As I get older I'm becoming more of a grumpy old man. But why else would you do it? In stand-up you want to communicate your frustrations with life to the crowd, albeit the very silly bits on the fringes, but it's all about expressing yourself and the state of the nation which provides me with plenty of fodder.”
He’s performed all over the world, and found himself playing to crowds in some quite surreal surroundings. He recently embarked on a tour of China.
“China is full of ex-pats who've been starved of this sort of entertainment for a long time. There are plenty of people from Canada, America, the UK and Ireland living or working there at the moment. There's an agent living in China who brings over acts from England for them. In some cases the venues aren't perfect. I've found myself doing shows in hotel lobbies or restaurants.”
Stand-up is the one medium that has remained constant throughout his career.
Since his most memorable role in Father Ted, Ardal has starred in shows such as the BBC’s My Hero and Val Falvey on RTE.
Regarding Father Ted, he said: “It was the first big thing that I ever did and it was a great break for me. I've got great memories of the show and the location where we filmed it. We all got on very because we were all Irish people working in London and that made us all a bit giddy.”
Dermot Morgan, who played Father Ted Crilly, died suddenly in 1998. “It was obviously very shocking at the time because it happened so suddenly. It closed that chapter in our lives.”
Ardal still gets people asking him about the role: “If I'm doing stand-up, someone will give me a bit of banter about Dougal. I don't get it as much now though as I did about 10 years ago. It’s nice when you see younger kids getting interested in the show and just knowing that it's still popular today.”
What can punters expect on Monday? “I like to think my shows are a bit irregular and cutting edge. I'll talk about issues that affect us now like the recession and just a general catalogue of woe but also about our ability to deal with it and stay positive.”
Ardal O’Hanlon, Festival Marquee, Monday, 8pm. See www.cqaf.com or telephone: 028 9023 2403