'Some viewers genuinely think I interrupt Brian because I'm jealous of him'
Ahead of his four shows at the Millennium Forum in Londonderry next month and two shows later in the year in Belfast, Dara O Briain tells James Rampton about his 'incredibly normal' life and what it's really like working with Professor Brian Cox
Dara O Briain has made a real name for himself as a TV presenter in recent years. He has shone fronting shows as diverse as Mock the Week, Stargazing Live, The Apprentice: You're Fired!, The Panel, School of Hard Sums, Dara O Briain's Science Club, Robot Wars, Dara and Ed's Big Adventure and Go8Bit.
But, as I'm sure you'll be delighted to learn, Dara is about to return to his first love: stand-up. He is embarking on a mammoth national tour with a new show entitled Voice of Reason. "It's my job," the comedian tells me. "I can't wait."
Demand for tickets for the tour, which stretches to the end of the year, has been so high that Dara has just added 22 dates.
And it's no surprise that tickets have been flying off the shelves. His shows are always hugely popular for the simple reason that Dara is one of the most brilliant live comedians in the business. With a dazzling wit and a magnetic stage presence, the Irish comedian possesses a breathtaking ability to create superb off-the-cuff material out of thin air.
A graduate in mathematics and theoretical physics from University College Dublin, the 46-year-old also has a razor-sharp intelligence that he uses to hilarious effect in dismantling all sorts of bogus theories.
The critics have been unanimous in praising Dara's superlative stand-up, with the Daily Telegraph observing that his "way of handling his audience, comedic neurons firing away by the billion a second, has to be seen to be believed".
Dara is a delight to spend time with. An hour in his company flies by. He starts by underlining how pleased he is to be performing to a live audience again. "Doing stand-up is a euphoric experience," he says. "The great thing is the anticipation. You're thinking, 'You're going to love this next bit'."
What Dara does better than any other stand-up is play to the home crowd. He is fantastic at making a show specific to the particular town he is performing in.
"It's wonderful to create local jokes that repay three or seven or even 12 years later," he says. "When I play Coventry, for instance, there are always packets of crisps on the stage. That comes from an audience interaction I had 12 years ago.
"Back then, I was chatting with a guy in the audience who worked for a crisp company. I did a joke about it, and when I came back on stage after the interval, there were 12 packets of crisps waiting for me on stage. Many people in Coventry remember that, so that's the reason why the crisps are still there."
Dara had an equally memorable experience in Glasgow. "There was a plastic bag waiting for me on stage. I did a joke pretending to be Brad Pitt at the end of Se7en - 'What's in the bag?'. It turned out that in the bag was a funny fur hat and scarf combination and a stethoscope.
"That was a reference to Dr Bear, a character I did three shows ago in Glasgow. Someone had left that bag on stage because they remembered it. It's tremendous to build up relationships in all these different places."
He goes on to recall the trademark of his visits to Norwich. "There's a giant duck outside Norwich that I always refer to repeatedly when I'm there. A picture of the duck is on a brown tourism sign next to a picture of a church. Why is the duck the same size as the church?"
In his new tour, Dara will be discussing such topics as the ordinariness of his daily life. He reflects: "If there is a theme to the show, it is that at the age of 46, I have an incredibly normal life."
On stage, Dara will also be mulling over the rise of the nerd. "Nerds have become much cooler recently," he observes. "Thanks to the internet, they can find each other now. It's very positive."
Also in the show he'll be talking about his on-screen relationship with Professor Brian Cox on Stargazing Live. "When Brian and I work together, he is the expert and I am the broadcaster. When he is talking, sometimes a producer says into my earpiece: 'A plane is now hovering over Scandinavia with shots of the aurora borealis. We have to cut to that'.
"So at those moments, I have to interrupt Brian. But furious viewers then write in saying, 'Why did you interrupt Professor Brian Cox? I was enjoying watching him.
"They genuinely think I interrupt Brian because I'm jealous of him. They imagine I'm saying, 'Sorry to interrupt you, Brian, but it is not going to be all about you tonight. I also know things that I want to tell the audience'. Brian and I find that idea hilarious."
The comedian, whose first children's book, Beyond The Sky: You and the Universe, was published by Scholastic UK last year, will also include a very funny routine about how he has become the subject of a fake news website.
"I go in to the madness of this story about these things that are supposed to have happened to me," he explains. "The producers of this fake news site have filled in some details. For example, they mention James Street in Dublin. So some effort has been made in producing it.
"But it's still so ludicrous. The site pops up next to features headlined, 'She has discovered the secret that dentists don't want you to know', and, '20 stars whose lives have been ravaged by drugs.'
"In one of those, they put a picture of Chris O'Dowd beside a picture of Shane McGowan."
This skit emphasises the extent to which the internet has turned into an uncontrollable Wild West. "The internet has become a torrent of disinformation," says Dara.
"There was a tiny moment where we thought we could use the internet to amplify scientific truths and have a great weapon for fighting lies. But no, that was completely wrong. What the internet is really useful for is more lies."
Dara will visit more than 20 countries during the tour, and says his appeal around the world comes from millions of people watching his shows online."The whole thing has opened out and gone global. I recently walked past a bus stop in Stavanger that had a picture of Russell Howard.
"In Troms in the Arctic Circle, I walked on stage and said, 'I don't know how often you have these gigs'. And they called out, 'We had Bill Bailey here last night'. That punctured my balloon a bit. Bill went on to play Svalbard, which is even further north. I thought I was being a hero doing Troms, but he was doing a gig to polar bears in the Svalbard arts centre.
"I get really enthusiastic about science-y stuff. You can see me getting giddy about space. That's why I recently wrote that kids' book about space. But on tour, I'm there to do funny.
"This show is an evening of entertainment. It's two hours of laughing. It's not meant to be pedagogic. It is not meant to say, 'You'll be laughing, but you'll also be learning.'
"Of course, if that happens, then that's grand. But first and foremost, Voice of Reason is just a load of funny stuff.
"Journalists might write, 'Oh, he spoke very eloquently about Ireland'. But I'm more proud of talking about a giant duck."
Dara O Briain brings Voice Of Reason to The Millennium Forum in Derry from April 19 to April 22, and to Belfast's Waterfront Theatre from September 21 to September 22. See daraobriain.com for details