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Colin Murphy: 'Turning 50 is not as traumatic as I'd thought it would be. Put it like this, I don't feel guilty about cutting the hedge outside the house anymore... you expect that of someone who's 50'

Best-known for appearances on BBC NI's The Blame Game, comedian Colin Murphy talks to Lindy McDowell about growing older, the perils of being recognised in the street and why he's lending his support to a week-long campaign to clean up our coasts and waterways

Colin Murphy
Colin Murphy
Colin and Ian Humphreys with Gillian Shields of Coca-Cola HBC
Cleaning up: Colin Murphy with (from left) Peter Rooney of Kilclief Residents Association, Ian Humphreys from Keep NI Beautiful and Debbie Gilles of True Harvest Seeds
Comedian Colin Murphy
Game on: Colin Murphy with the boys from The Blame Game (from left), Neil Delamere, Tim McGarry and Jake O’Kane

He's one of our best-known and most popular comedians, star of stage and screen (both television and movie) with a career now spanning 25 years. So when Colin Murphy started out in this most precarious of sectors of showbiz did he ever imagine that it would last so long?

"I didn't think it would last a week," he says.

How did he get into the comedy business?

"Drink," he replies.

He was at university at the time and with a bit of acting under his belt was a logical choice when he was asked to compere a comedy show. It went well. And from there: "I just sort of drifted into this," is how he puts it.

This year to mark his impressive quarter of a century in the business he's been touring with his Bald Ambition tour - and enjoying it immensely.

"The tour came about with the realisation that I've been doing stand-up for 25 years. I haven't toured in a long, long time but it's been great. In the autumn I'm heading south and looking forward to that too."

He'll be 50 later this summer. Slightly younger than Kylie Minogue, I note. "Slightly better looking too," he quips.

"Turning 50 is not as traumatic as I'd thought it would be. Put it like this, I don't feel guilty about cutting the hedge outside the house anymore. Cutting the hedge - you expect that of someone who's 50. I didn't use to feel this way. I used to think they're leaves, spare them."

He's appeared in a number of television shows and has starred in the movie Divorcing Jack, but is probably best-known to local audiences via BBC NI's panel satire show The Blame Game alongside regulars like Tim McGarry, Neil Delamere and Jake O'Kane.

The show takes a scathing look at the week's headlines so inevitably local politics and local politicians get a burl from the panellists. But Murphy's live shows tend to be more observational humour.

"I try not to read too many papers," he says.

Instead he reads people. He's a great people watcher, he says himself, observing how they behave, how they interact, how they present themselves.

Because he's a well-known face he must constantly get people coming up to him as he goes about his daily business, expecting him always to be on form, to be funny?

"All the time," he says cheerily.

He describes being in a hospital waiting room with a friend recently and being aware that "some people were almost reaching for their phones. But then catching themselves on and realising where they were - realising it's maybe an inappropriate place to do that".

But then, he adds, it's the same with everybody's job. "You're a doctor or a dentist and you go along to a party and people are talking to you and next thing you know they've got their mouth open and you're being asked to give a consultation. Same I would think for joiners and builders. Everybody gets it."

What amuses him most, he says, are those people who vaguely recognise his face and then assume they must know him personally.

"They walk past and they do a double-take and say hello and you know they're thinking, 'Who is this guy? Where do I know him from?'"

Originally from Downpatrick, he's married with a family, lives in Belfast and prefers to keep his private life private.

He's keen to talk though, about the Coca-Cola Clean Coasts Week, which runs until next Sunday and which he's currently helping promote.

As the name suggests, the week-long series of events includes volunteer clean-up efforts along our coasts and inland waterways with family activities ranging from beachside yoga to nature walks, not to mention "seaweed workshops" - of which more later.

Colin is the ideal man to front the campaign because he is already involved in his own freelance beach-cleaning work.

"I do pick up litter as I walk along beaches," he says. "What got me started was seeing friends in West Cork doing it when we were out for a walk and they'd take a bag along with them to pick up litter. I'm not obsessed with it but, yeah, if I'm walking along I'll pick up the odd big piece of rubbish because that's one less big piece of rubbish on the beach."

It's not just the litter louts who leave the food wrappers and drinks cans behind them, he points out. "Fishing ports tend to be a bit prone because stuff gets thrown overboard from boats and that then washes up in the ports."

The coastal clean-up campaign is being promoted with a 'Do Good, Feel Good' message backed up with research that suggests doing something that makes you feel virtuous - like picking up litter - makes you feel more positive, reduces stress, even improves health and makes you live longer.

According to researchers; "'Doing good' can contribute to greater happiness, with endorphins released into the body following an act of good, activating parts of our brain associated with trust, pleasure and social connection. This happiness increases the chance that we will be altruistic and do good deeds in the future, ultimately creating a positive feedback loop of generosity."

Colin agrees: "Absolutely. I do agree with the research on the Do Good, Feel Good findings. I think it's got a lot to do with that sharing of community spirit. People getting together to do something positive. You don't even have to live near the beach. You just have to appreciate it. Doing something in a group like this like this does give you a very nice feeling. It's being altruistic - what they say about giving is better that receiving."

Coca Cola has sponsored the island-wide clean-up of coastal areas and inland waterways for 10 years now in conjunction with partners including the organisation Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. Last year more than 3,000 volunteers took part throughout Ireland collecting an impressive 16 tonnes of litter.

According to Ian Humphreys, CEO of the environmental education charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful: "Thankfully most of us don't litter but there are some people who still don't understand the consequences. Plastic litter that gets washed into the seas kills untold numbers of sea birds, turtles and marine mammals."

Of all the events planned for the week, the one that baffles me, I tell Colin, is the 'seaweed workshop'.

What's a seaweed workshop?

"Basically it's foraging along the coastline for seaweed. In Japan they pay a fortune for it. And it grows on the rocks here. I met a guy in Cork who's actually a seaweed farmer.

"He exports tons of the stuff to Japan for sushi and that kind of thing. Apparently seaweed from Ireland is highly prized because the coastline is clear and the conditions are excellent for growing good seaweed."

Whether you opt for the seaweed foraging or the litter picking Colin insists you'll feel all the better for it.

"Come along, meet up with other people, get a bit of exercise, have a bit of chat, walk along the beach and as you go along pick up some litter and put it in a bag. You'll feel great. Bring the family. Bring the dog.

"And don't forget to clean up after him..."

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