Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Comedy

If there's one thing Northern Irish people have always been good at it's laughing at themselves, especially during times of hardship.

It can be no coincidence that hard times here have brought some of the most popular comedy acts, whether it's Paddy Kielty's now infamous balaclava-adorned routines at the Empire Bar, the Orange Lily antics of Jimmy Young or even the unique take on the Troubles provided by the Hole in the Wall Gang.

And the ongoing doom and gloom over the world's financial woes and their trickle-down effect on Northern Ireland are yet another backdrop against which the comedy scene here is in good health.

Big name stand-up acts who once cut their teeth on audiences at venues like the Empire (eg Dara O Briain or Phil Jupitus) are now returning as nationally-feted stars, easily able to fill big venues like the Waterfront Hall or Grand Opera House. Yet there remains a burgeoning grassroots comedy scene here, much like that of the early 1990s when comedy was becoming 'the new rock and roll'.

One veteran of that era, still going strong today, is Colin Murphy, who is pleased at the continuation of the medium in bars and pubs across the province, such as the Pavilion and the Black Box.

"Places like the Empire and Queen's aren't the place for someone's very first time on stage, so it's a nicer environment to try your stuff for the first time," he says.

Comedians and venues are also finding the audiences changing in their demands, in part due to the sheer competition for their pounds in an increasingly diverse and well-catered for market.

With more shows on offer, acts are under increasing pressure to deliver the goods - and Ulster audiences are well known on the comedy circuit for being quick to rile if their performers aren't hitting the mark as quickly as they'd like. What has also changed from 20 years ago is the subject matter. Anyone revisiting the comedy clubs after such a stretch of time might notice that, just as Northern Ireland has moved on politically from the Troubles, so too has it's comedy subject matter.

"I have found the audience don't want that anymore, and they are right," says Murphy.

"I went to an open mic slot recently and the young comedian mentioned being stopped at a police checkpoint, how they had heard of this but never experienced it.

"The points of reference have now gone for anyone under the age of about 30."


From Belfast Telegraph