Neil Delamere: 'The day I don't get excited about a new joke, is the day I give up'
His sharp wit has gained hime a fanbase both north and south of the border, and ahead of his 12th stand-up tour, Neil Delamere tells our reporter why he's not ready to hang his mic up just yet
On December 27, when most of us are lying around watching bad television and suffering the after-effects of extreme gluttony, Neil Delamere will take to the stage in Naas on the first date of a six-month stand-up comedy tour. He’s been starting his tours on that date for quite a few years now, and when I ask him why he does it to himself, he shrugs and smiles.
“Every year we book it all up six months in advance, which gives me plenty of time to get it together. So I’m able to relax on Christmas Day, because in a way it’s a bit like the Leaving Cert — the work’s either done at that stage or it’s not. I go out on the 27th, so if it’s not fixed by the 25th, it’s not going to be.”
The 37-year-old Offaly man is an old hand at this stage, having made his stand-up debut way back in 2004, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it gets any easier.
“Come the hour, I’ll still get nervous, I’ll still get excited,” he says, “because with stand-up you just never know what’s going to happen.
“Stand-up is odd in that it’s the only form of entertainment that an audience directly affects. If you write a play, the play is done, but if you’re a stand-up you write it down and you try it out. You road test it, and if they don’t like one bit you go ‘okay, that’s gone, jettisoned for the next show’.
“In terms of writing a live show, you have to think ‘well I’m going to be touring this in six months so, is there any point in me writing a joke about Donald Trump now if he doesn’t get elected?’ So it’s always going to evolve as you go along.
“The great thing is you’ll never be 100pc sure what’s funny — no comic ever is. You write something and you think ‘that’s great, that’s the punch line’. But sometimes people will find the set-up line funnier than the punch-line, and then you just drop the punch-line. You adapt and survive.”
Delamere got his break on ‘The Panel’, RTE2’s sparky comic talk show that ran for most of the noughties and also boosted the careers of contemporaries like Ed Byrne, Colin Murphy, Mairead Farrell and Andrew Maxwell.
He’s a natural on television, has hosted two comic-historical documentary series about the Vikings and Saint Patrick, and for the past decade has appeared as resident panellist on BBC Northern Ireland’s much-loved comedy show, ‘The Blame Game’.
In fact he’s something of a big cheese north of the border, and his tour will include dates at the Ulster Hall, and even staunchly Protestant Ballymena.
“I suppose it goes to show you that you’re insulting both sides equally I suppose,” he jokes. “I’m playing Ballymena on Paddy’s Day, if you’re going to do it you should do it on Paddy’s Day I think.”
He’s grateful to ‘The Blame Game’ for boosting his career in Ulster. “We celebrated 10 seasons this year, and we did a 10th anniversary show last week from the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. It holds 2,000 people and we had to close the applications for tickets after 24 hours, because we got 15,000 applications. It’s massive up there,” he says.
In person, Delamere is friendly, but nervy, intense. I ask him how on earth he ended up in comedy, which has always seemed to me a particularly gruelling way of earning a crust.
“There’s something slightly askew with all of us,” he agrees. “I mean why in God’s name would you stand in front of 400 people wanting their approval, right?
“Where I’m from there’s no theatre, and the first gig I ever saw in my life was in college, it was Eddie Bannon emceeing in DCU, Deirdre O’Kane was the first act, and Dara O Briain was second, and I was sitting there on the floor in DCU going ‘this is absolutely amazing’.
“Then I started going into the International comedy club in Dublin, I was watching more and more acts, and me and a friend of mine had a bet — we wanted to try it once, get up on stage on an open mic night, but it was just going to be a one-off thing, we’d no intention of ever doing it again.”
To his amazement, he liked it, and the experience got him hooked. “I was working in a software engineering house at the time, and then there was this weird confluence of events.
“I won this competition, which meant I’d a little bit of spending money so I could live for a few months if I gave up the job. Then the dot.com bubble burst, and I said to myself ‘well if I don’t do it now I’ll never do it’.”
‘The Panel’ helped establish Delamere’s profile, and a few years later something special happened. “Vicar Street was always the measure of success among us,” he tells me, “and I remember being in the Ilac Centre in 2007 and phoning the producer of ‘The Panel’ to tell him I’d just been booked for one night at Vicar Street, and that they’d had to put on another six or whatever.
“That was an amazing feeling,” he recalls.
A few days ago, the venue presented him with a special award for having completed 50 shows at Vicar Street.
Every comic has their off nights, and Delamere’s worst nightmare came during a late night gig at the Edinburgh Festival. “I got on stage at two o’clock in the morning,” he recalls, “it was a rowdy crowd as you’d imagine. I started to mess around, and talk to the audience and stuff, and I was too inexperienced to mess around like that, I wasn’t good enough yet. Some guy, this pissed Scottish guy, roared ‘get your balls out’, I don’t know why.
“I thought he was bluffing, so I looked at him and said ‘I’ll get mine out if you get yours out’, so he went, ‘yeah, alright’, and he jumped up and he got his balls out.
“Now at that stage all I had to do to win that gig around was to get them out, I should have. But I didn’t, and if there’s anything an Edinburgh audience doesn’t like, it’s a broken promise. When it became evident that I was going to stay, and do the rest of my time, I won around half of them, but I remember some of them going incandescent with rage and shouting, ‘get off, get off!’”
Would he ever consider packing it in? “When I come up with a new joke, or when I’m talking to my missus and I come up with a joke in my head, the day you don’t get excited about that, the day you don’t go ‘oh that’s clever, I can’t wait to tell an audience that’, then it’s time to give up.
“When I was about three years in and I was doing another gig in Edinburgh, it was a tough, tough night and I was talking to a friend thinking, ‘ah you know I might do something else’. And my friend looked at me like I had some sort of terminal disease and went, ‘you’re too far gone’.”
You can buy tickets for the new tour at neildelamere.com