Dara O Briain interview: comedy, Isle Of Man, IMDB

Dara O Briain chats to us about tough gigs, writing books, touring, and comedy...

Dara O Briain’s latest stand-up show, Crowd Tickler, makes it onto DVD this week, having already enjoyed a digital release. It’s an excellent show, and a week or two back – just as the UK leg of his tour was drawing to a close – we got the chance to speak with the man himself about it. Here’s how it went…

I caught a really good Ed Byrne gig the other week. And what impressed me about it most is that it’s a long time since I’ve seen a comedian have to battle uphill for a good hour and a half against as dead a crowd as I’ve seen in a long time.


Yeah. A Tuesday night in a place you have to drive to. Not a very giving crowd.

Ad – content continues below

Do you still get gigs like that yourself though, given your profile, and given the size of your audience?

Certainly, people arrive now and you don’t have to impress them from the off a lot of the time. People arrive knowing who you are. But yeah, you still get Tuesday nights. You wouldn’t necessarily get a hostile crowd, but you’d get a sit back in their seats, theatre-y maybe suburban crowd. Which is difficult to fire up.

I quite like the conflict part, though.

There is a thing that I used to do too much, in that I’ll give out for not being a good crowd, because it creates some unified reaction. And then you can turn that around.

I had a kind of weird one in the Isle Of Man. On the Friday night, they couldn’t have been more fantastic. They loved everything I did, they were thrilled. But on the Thursday night? Clearly they sell the Friday night first, the Thursday night was people who weren’t in a mad rush to come and see me. I was a performer, a funny person off the telly, so they’ve come to see the show.

The stuff wasn’t really working. It was a muted response, until I started talking about them. And they loved that! So it ended up with me teasing them, saying ‘you couldn’t give a shit about me, you just want to talk about you’. And they also loved that!

Ad – content continues below

It ended up being a great gig, because I was able to spot that happening, and try a Plan B. Which was attack, essentially! While at the same time messing around about Halloween, which is a big thing in that part of the world, and with the traditions of individual towns. Everything has a mini-railway. Literally seven of the top 13 things to do on the Isle Of Man on Trip Advisor are mini-railways!

Presumably, for you, that’s a lot more fun? Marcus Brigstocke once said that even if it’s day 100 of the tour for you, it’s day one for the audience.

I’m 134 dates in!

Does it still feel as instinctive as you come on the stage? Or do you see the finish line?

I’m going to miss it now. Now I’m kind of demob happy, like the last of the days in Edinburgh. I’m at the point where you say ‘I won’t get to say this’. Some of the material might not fit [next year’s] Scandanavian tour, things might change, it won’t be good enough to do in a short set at the Apollo, or at a corporate or something. You miss the bridging bits, the incidental bits that are written into the show but aren’t the killer lines. They’ll go.

There is a touch of it being the last week, and it’s almost the end of something. Whereas if you’d asked me this question two weeks ago? I’d have gone yeah, yeah…!

Ad – content continues below

You said last time around that the DVDs are like your albums. One of the traditions of your discs, though, is that you have an extra feature where you sit and watch the show, drinking, with a fellow comic. Have you done that again?

Yes! Josh Widdecombe! I’ve actually gone down a generation.

Is that because of Lee Mack forgetting to watch the show in advance last time?!

[Laughs] There was a definite element of Lee, you’ve not watched this? Josh watched it in the car back from a gig himself.

Getting someone who’s been around a little bit more? The magic may have gone! I got a fresh face!

Ad – content continues below

Was this tour particular special in that you’ve broken the bi-annual cycle you were on? Presumably family reasons and lots of other work commitments led to this being three years since your previous tour. Did you find yourself particularly raring to go?

Yes. There was a couple of things.

Firstly, they now take so long to tour. This one alone started in October last year, and finishes in November this year. And I’ll still do ones in Scandinavia, across Europe next year. So the shows keep going for about two years now, at which point you’re not doing anything else. By the end of doing four shows in a row every second year, because of family, because of how long the tours are getting, it meant you weren’t doing anything else. You hadn’t lived in any way. You had nothing to talk about.

There’s stuff about small children and stuff, which people don’t want to hear and I don’t want to talk about anyway. So it needed me to have a bit of a gap. I hate the idea of having a long time off stage, but ultimately, you could have the same number of dates, just spread out over a longer period.

The same tour we did before, we started with a three month block before Christmas. It makes it less punishing.

Is that the cycle you see yourself easing towards now? That it’ll be three years before you’re back out on the road?

Ad – content continues below

Yes, yes. Next summer I’ll do Europe with it. But it’ll be the year after next before I hit Dublin again and start again. Then there’s the thing of how much longer will people come out and see it? We’re all on a journey into the unknown at this point of our careers, going ‘right, does this carry on now?’ We’re never sure, because who’s done this? Sean Lock, Bill Bailey… a few people getting to their 40s.

You described it in the past as the Bob Monkhouse phase. You go into your 40s, where backlash lies, and you don’t become loved again until your 50s and 60s.

Exactly. You become the beloved elder statesman.

Are you looking forward to being a beloved elder statesman?

Yeah. I’m not looking forward to the 10 years of obscurity that comes before that!

You’d get to host a quiz show or two at least….

Ad – content continues below

I remember seeing Jasper Carrot at the British Comedy Awards one year, and he was going, “enjoy it everybody, it’s a young man’s game”.

I remember that. His last full comedy gig was a two week residency in Birmingham, where he re-performed some of his most popular material.

Jimmy Carr’s doing a greatest hits tour next year!

Ah, I used to love the naming conventions of his DVDs! You did a book, Tickling The English, that I enjoyed a lot. Are you tempted to go back and try something like that again?

I wouldn’t mind that. I need to find an idea as interesting for me to write about as I did with England. I don’t want to write a memoir, or an autobiography. It’s a case of finding something that has a touch of that popular history, and stories, and observations. For the last while, it’s been more worthwhile me putting my energy into writing stand-up shows than books. It’s a three month block of writing time that I could have written jokes in as well.

I would like to, but at the moment it feels like it’s time that I can better spend doing the on-stage stuff.

Ad – content continues below

I did see you had a review posted 20 minutes after the end of one of your gigs on this tour, incidentally.

Yes! The Bradford Argus & Telegraph.

Was it a good review?

A very good review! She did say she’d been to see the gig at the start of the tour as well! But it did have all the stuff that happened that night too. It was impressive!

When you first were doing these really big tours, even while you had a sizeable presence on Twitter, you always described it back then as kind of stuck in the corner of Twitter. This collection of people having a natter. But it’s not so small anymore! Your follower count is over two million, and the reactions that pour out of everything you do are constant and loud.

Ad – content continues below

Yeah. Not as loud as it was a couple of years ago.

The two million thing is a bloated figure. They don’t pare it down for bots. I think 53% of them aren’t even accounts any more. I found anyway that if I try something, the reaction is much less than it was three years ago. If you go through my followers list, you’ll see three out of every five are bots, or accounts that pick people to follow by some kind of algorithm. It’s nowhere near two million!

One last thing. I was on your IMDB page earlier. You’ve got lots of credits now, so it’s come up with what it thinks are people’s standard traits. For Jason Statham, for instance, it’s “deadpan, sarcastic delivery, and stubble”. Bruce Willis: “often plays men who get caught up in situations far beyond their control”. Tom Cruise is “beaming smile and intense eye contact”. Are you ready for yours?

Go on.

You say “eh” at the end of jokes.

[Laughs] That’s it?

Ad – content continues below

Yep. You’ve got this huge list of credits, and they’ve distilled you down to that.

If I ever do write my autobiography, the title will be ‘To Eh Is Human’. There’s your exclusive. I just have to find now the interest to do it, and the publisher who’ll pay me the money in advance!

Forget that. I’ll ride off the back of your fame and do one of those knock-off cheap biographies.

Oh yeah! That’s fine, just do that! [Laughs]

Dara O Briain, thank you very much.

Crowd Tickler Liveis available as a digital download and on DVD.

Ad – content continues below