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Omagh comedian Kevin McAleer talks playing Uncle Colm on Derry Girls, how he finds material for his stand-up shows, and Brexit

'With Derry Girls it was fantastic to get noticed more, Uncle Colm is a very easy character for me to play and not all that far removed from my own personality...

Actor, writer and comedian Kevin McAleer plays Uncle Colm in the hit TV series Derry Girls
Actor, writer and comedian Kevin McAleer plays Uncle Colm in the hit TV series Derry Girls
Kevin McAleer as Uncle Colm with co-star Siobhan McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael

After nearly 40 years of mirth-making on stage and screen, Omagh comic Kevin McAleer is honest enough to admit that he's not laughing all the way to the bank.

His stand-up routines - the latest themed around him being a "mindfulness guru" - are enjoying something of a renaissance thanks to his scene-stealing turns as perennial bore Uncle Colm in hit Channel Four series Derry Girls.

But despite that fillip thanks to his dull alter ego, Kevin said he has to keep on writing and gigging to earn a crust.

"I wouldn't mind making some more money," he says. "I should be richer - at the risk of sounding like my big-headed guru.

"Someone of my talent I know should be richer but that involves working hard. Maybe it's not too late to do some hard work."

He adds with a laugh: "Even saying that sentence frightens me a bit."

Kevin (63) will be part of a Northern Ireland comedy contingent lined up at this year's Galway Comedy Festival at the end of this month, joined by the likes of Colin Geddis and Shane Todd.

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He continues: "I would like to have more money - mainly to give it to my children. I might just spoil them. I mean, they're not children, they're in their late 30s now, but I'd love to hand them a quarter-of-a-million pounds and say 'buy a wee house'.

"I think they've more money than me at the moment, I hope they're not waiting for their inheritance!"

Kevin, who started his stand-up career in 1981, said his modus operandi is to spread his shows across the year with bouts of writing in between when inspiration calls.

He explains: "You just have to keep writing new stuff, but I actually write very slowly so I think if I could write more quickly I'd be a lot richer than I am today.

"I tend to have big gaps between my ideas and I can't seem to just keep writing continuously. I need an idea and then I write another show around it, like my present show and being a guru-type persona.

"I seem to need a kind of a big idea like that before I can fill all the bits in, but I have managed to keep doing that over the years.

"More generally I trundle along at my own pace; there's no 30-date tours, it's all spread out over the year, there's no start or end to it.

"So I'm just trundling along quietly but then things come along that give you a bit of a catalyst like the Derry Girls. That was certainly a good shot in the arm for me in terms of people noticing me and coming out to see me live. It was very welcome, I'd have been a long time waiting for that for myself."

Most times Kevin will just drive straight home to Omagh after a show, but with a run of gigs from Cork to the festival in Galway via Waterford coming up he said it will feel like a little holiday.

He says: "I very rarely stay in a hotel room because 98% of my work is in Ireland, you can drive home from everywhere now with all the good roads. There's no corner of the country I wouldn't drive back from.

"You'd be awake buzzing until the middle of the night anyway after doing a show, so I just hop in the car and drive home. I'm wide awake and my brain is going at 90mph so I'll be home by the time I stay in a hotel watching rubbish on television, looking through the 300 channels. I'll be home and ready to sleep by two or three in the morning anyway.

"But Galway will feel like a holiday. You couldn't call that working by any stretch of the imagination, there's too much fun going on. The wife's coming along for a mini-trip as well.

"Sometimes I'll get an email from somebody in a small place asking me would I do a show there and I love being asked. The one I'm doing in Cork is in a little town called Watergrasshill which I'd never heard of, but it's only about 20 miles north of Cork city.

"They asked me would I come and do a show there, they've got a little community theatre that they got up and running under their own steam and I'm delighted to go to places like that, it's a real breath of fresh air and the entire community comes out and makes an event out of it.

"The stand-up is my bread and butter and it is the thing that I love doing. The live shows, I still really enjoy doing them, that's the centre of the whole thing.

"With Derry Girls it was fantastic to get noticed more and for more people to come to the gigs. That's really my bread and butter, but Derry Girls was highly enjoyable too and it's a very easy character for me to play. It's not all that far removed from my own personality.

"My wife said - I say it as a joke on stage - that it was a very big acting challenge for me because it was so different from my own personality, but obviously I was being tongue in cheek.

"But some newspaper, you know what these newspaper types are like, got quotes as if it was a line from an interview and it made me sound really big-headed.

"It sounded like I had to explain to people that I wasn't like that person and that I was just a really good actor. You have to be careful when you have your tongue in cheek because it doesn't come across in print."

On a more serious note, Kevin concedes that, like everyone else, it's hard to avoid the looming spectre of Brexit.

"It's obviously something that you can't avoid. It's obviously something that affects everybody and you can't help noticing it," he says.

"I'm not a fan of Brexit to put it very mildly, but it's something that's just happening in front of our eyes, you can't avoid it.

"Obviously for ourselves in the north there's the danger that it could kick off another wave of violence. I hope I'm not tempting fate here, but I don't think that will happen, not on a big scale anyway.

"I think there's certain people who would like it to happen and are doing their best to trigger it, but I don't think there's any appetite from the general public for going back to that sort of nonsense."

Describing himself as "a quiet farmer at heart" he admits that he is "kind of allergic to Facebook and Twitter". "If I had my own I wouldn't do anything else with my day," he jokes.

"It would take over my day. I'd be sitting there all day to see if anyone left a comment. I don't have a smartphone, I've got a very old fashioned £10 phone. For the same reason, if I had a smartphone I'd be looking all day."

He assumes the role of guru for his current show and I suggested he introduces Uncle Colm to the mix and could make his fortune with sleep meditation.

He laughs: "My wife listens to some of these guru types to put her to sleep. Sometimes if I go to bed I'll hear this voice and hear some other man whispering sweet nothings in her headphones and I have to turn it off to get asleep because I've got the hearing of a dog, I can hear things two fields away.

"I'm certainly not satirising people who are into mindfulness or new age philosophies because I wouldn't have any friends left if I did that.

"A lot of my friends are yoga teachers and into those courses, there are a lot of books on our bookshelves that are new age philosophy books.

"I'm more interested in people who see it as a marketing opportunity, I'm more into the fake gurus. Mindfulness is a big worldwide industry and people have got very rich out of it. When they see a trend they move in and make a lot of money out of it, so my guru is satirising that."

Kevin McAleer's show at The Vodafone Comedy Carnival in Galway is on Monday at 8pm

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