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Co Down comedian Jordan Robinson on using humour to cope with death of dad as he faces open heart surgery at 26

'I find using humour about tragedy and stuff is quite cathartic... so my stand-up show has jokes about impending open heart surgery and the sudden death of my dad'

Comedian Jordan Robinson who will be performing at Belfast’s Sunflower Bar
Comedian Jordan Robinson who will be performing at Belfast’s Sunflower Bar

By Linda Stewart

Jordan Robinson has two major events looming in his immediate future. One is his first solo stand-up show taking place at the Sunflower Bar in Belfast on November 19 entitled Pig Heart. The other is his open heart surgery, scheduled to take place in the next few months.

As you might imagine from the title of the show, the two are related.

"The muscle that is normally put into a replacement valve a lot of the time it is made up of pig tissue," Jordan (26) explains.

"My whole show closer is based on the heart surgery thing."

The young comedian from Derryboy in Co Down admits there is another reason for the scheduling.

"I'm putting all my thoughts into the show so that I don't have to worry about the surgery - so it's not at the forefront of my mind," he confesses.

"That is my game plan about the show and it seems to be working out okay."

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Born with a congenital heart condition, Jordan has undergone numerous surgical interventions throughout his life.

"When I was born, I had congenital heart disease and I had a number of surgeries up until the big one that I am having soon," he says.

"I just kept going into hospital every so often for pulmonary stretches which is widening the valve in the heart that is narrowed thanks to the condition I have."

Jordan and his late dad Leslie
Jordan and his late dad Leslie
With his mum Anne and brother Sam

Jordan says he always knew that open heart surgery was a possibility.

"I knew there was probably a higher chance that I would need it, but I just didn't know when," he says.

"I haven't been given an actual date yet - I've just been given a ballpark time of two to five months."

Jordan says he still isn't 100% clear on why he has the condition, but the forthcoming operation will aim to repair the bicuspid valve in his heart.

"When I was born, one of the valves in the heart was too narrow and it means one side is overworking and the other side is underworking," he says.

"So the right side of my heart has ballooned up large and the left side is either normal-sized or slightly smaller than normal and the surgery is to fix that."

Jordan Robinson
Jordan Robinson

However, even if all goes to plan, the surgery will not completely fix his heart, he stresses.

"The valve will always be leaking, but it will be a better quality of life," he says.

"If I don't get surgery, my life expectancy is five to 10 years."

As a child, Jordan says, he didn't notice any major differences in his general health from other children his age, but in recent years the effects of the heart condition have become more apparent.

"Now that I've grown up and I've got bigger and badder, I find my lung power is not as good as it should be because the blood is not being properly pumped to the lungs," he says.

Jordan says the first time he underwent pulmonary stretching was in 1993, when he was a couple of weeks old.

"It happened maybe three or four times when I was in primary school. I can't really remember too much about it, so I assume it didn't take too long.

"There was nothing throughout my teenage years and then I had it again in 2017," he says.

The session in 2017 was keyhole surgery that took one day and he didn't go under general anaesthetic for it.

"You literally go in early in the day and you are out by 8pm or 9pm," Jordan explains.

"It's not like general anaesthetic so you're not completely unconscious. I think it was diazepam they put me on.

"There were complications with me being put under completely because of the heart."

The surgical procedure is known as a valvuloplasty, stretching the pulmonary valve's walls to improve blood flow, and it involves inserting a catheter that has a balloon on the end that can inflate and stretch the heart's walls.

Because he wasn't under general anaesthetic, Jordan remembers experiencing the procedure.

"They go up through the pulmonary valve in your groin and I remember feeling it going up my arm. It definitely wasn't the best experience," he says.

Jordan says he's only been doing comedy for a few years, after starting out in improv and then moving onto stand-up. But he admits he wasn't especially into comedy as a child, although he did become a fan of stand-ups such as Reginald D Hunter when he grew older.

"I was really a baseball fan when I was younger, which was really weird," he says.

"I wasn't overly into comedy. I was maybe 15 or 16 when I started getting into it. I started collecting stand-up DVDs, but I never thought of getting into it myself."

As a teenager, he admits he had no firm ideas about what he wanted to do as a career.

"I really didn't know. When I was younger, I kind of got career advice counsellors in schools saying I would probably suit something solitary, work like lorry driving or something. But it's quite the opposite now," he says.

"After I left school, I started doing creative media and photography in Belfast Met and at SERC in Bangor. It was good craic.

"But I haven't really done anything with it - I've been working in bars ever since.

"I am not working at the minute just because of the heart surgery and the whole anxiety stuff."

However, the move into comedy began as the result of a chance encounter at a cafe in Belfast where an improv night was being held.

"It started with me basically volunteering to do improv at a cafe in Belfast - it was a pay what you want cafe. And that led to me meeting Paul Moane and he started the Belfast Improv Theatre," he says.

"From then, I just started doing improv and the natural progression was to stand-up.

"Improv is really easier because you are with the other people in the team and it's a really supportive community. It's easier at the end of the day as everybody has got your back," he says.

"Stand-up is a bit more difficult - you have to believe that you are funny.

"There's no real rhyme or reason to anything I talk about - I talk about anything I find interesting. Literally anything, like if horror movies were in Northern Ireland to the pros and cons of dolphins."

As you might expect, the heart surgery is one of the recurring topics and another is the shockingly sudden loss of Jordan's beloved dad Leslie in 2012, leaving him in mourning with his mum Anne and brother Sam (27).

"A lot of stand-up is about past experiences, my dad dying and stuff like that - how that left relationships for the rest of the family," Jordan says.

Leslie, who ran a wholesale furniture business, lost his life to acute respiratory distress syndrome.

"He was a really big personality. He owned a couple of businesses, one in Dublin and one in Mallusk, and he was a nice guy," Jordan says.

"He used to play rugby for Collegians in Belfast. I'm really fascinated with everything he did."

His dad's death came out of nowhere, he says.

"It was really, really quick. On my 19th birthday he went into a coma and he died a couple of weeks later. It came completely out of the blue and there were no symptoms," Jordan says.

"But you find that using humour is a great way to cope with tragedy and stuff like that. I still do jokes about it in my set because I find it quite cathartic."

He is looking forward to his first solo show, which will be 40 minutes of stand-up with support act Jack Magee, from Dundrum, opening the show. All money raised on the night will be donated to Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke.

"They were really good to us when my dad was in hospital," Jordan explains. "He needed some type of machine and they flew it over from Germany for him and that kept him alive for a couple more weeks than I would have had with him."

Jordan Robinson's Pig Heart show is at the Sunflower Bar, Belfast, on November 19 and tickets are PWUW (pay what you want) with Eventbrite tickets priced at £5

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