Monday 26 September 2016

Wonder Woman: Katherine Lynch's year of exhaling

With Katherine Lynch's new one-woman show, Crappily Ever After, about to hit the theatres she spoke to our reporter about new love, grief and getting her mojo back having shed the pounds

Donal Lynch

Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30

Like her idol, Bette Midler, Katherine has a number of strings to her bow: an album, a production company, as well as sold-out tours and DVDs. Photo: Fergal Phillips.
Like her idol, Bette Midler, Katherine has a number of strings to her bow: an album, a production company, as well as sold-out tours and DVDs. Photo: Fergal Phillips.
After a period of disillusionment Katherine Lynch is unleashing her bawdy side once more. Photo: Fergal Phillips

There's something about family that makes one regress. One night in the parents' home is enough to bring out the surly, door-slamming teenager in a lot of people. Siblings magically call forth the competitive adolescent. And after a few minutes in my cousin Katherine Lynch's company, I feel I might very well throw a toddler tantrum. I'm not happy. She's on the coffee. Which is just not her at all, even if it is 5pm with the sun still shining. We've met in a bar. The bottles are glinting enticingly. And besides, she's making me look like a lush. Which I'm not at all, at least not in the context of our family. We have standards.

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To make up for this lapse in style, she seems to have regressed herself, back to her 20s weight - she's lost the equivalent of a person since I last saw her. She's also got a hot new man, whom we're not supposed to freak out by calling hot or new. And, after a period of disillusionment, and getting over the immediate grief of losing her beloved father, Tom, to Parkinson's disease, she's once again unleashing her bawdy brand of brilliance on the world. "I was in grief over the last few years. I call them the inhale years and the exhale years. I had been working since 1998 between the gay bars and TV, always having been in character, every night of the week. So I needed what I called an exhale year. I went down to France, I went to New York and trained in acting and I spent all my savings. It was liberating."

She has a new one-woman show, Crappily Ever After (we decide Crappy Endings, another possibility, sounds a bit scatological), with characters like Slow White - the coke dealer who's always late to parties - and Sleeping Booty - the girl who spikes her own drink. And to the critics who don't like the verbal plays and puns she has a tongue-in-cheek message: "There's nobody talented in this country, except me - and Twink."

Besides being egregiously biased and up for any bit of reflected glory, one does have to say the timing is right for a Katherine revival. If you look at the last 10 years of comedy in Ireland, few have come close to her ratings. Like an Irish Mrs Merton, she used various alter egos to ask the difficult questions. She had sold-out tours and DVDs by the shed-load but never seemed to win universal acclaim from critics, who grappled for subtexts to her skits. It hardly mattered though. Five hit series later, which include Katherine Lynch's Working Girls, Single Ladies, Wonder Women and Wagon's Den, and she was on her way.

Before that though, there was a childhood in Mohill, Co Leitrim, and then a move to Dublin in the early 1990s, with aspirations to become a poet, like her granduncle, the great Patrick Kavanagh. To pay the pills she took a job in The Lace Lady, an antiques shop on Leeson Street which was run by Dee Ryan, mother of former magazine publisher and man-about-town, John Ryan.

She began studying theatre at the Bull Alley Theatre Training School in the Liberties and had ambitions to be a serious actress.

It soon became apparent that her real talent was for comedy, however - while working part time as a waitress at the now-defunct Smalltalk Cafe, where she performed a ribald version of Riverdance for Quentin Tarantino.

"I worked in there with Declan Buckley (Shirley Temple Bar), and Warren (Myler, her writing partner, long-time friend and producer), Brendan Courtney seemed to live there. All the stars would come in after their gigs."

Occasionally, over the blaring music and banter, she would hear the tuts of middle Ireland.

"I remember one woman, who quite fancied herself as an educated person, coming into the bar and she said to me, 'Katherine, what are you doing with yourself? You'll have to get out of this freak show'."

Instead she took the show on the road - although initially it was all as a joke. In the late 1990s she travelled with Panti to New York for a taping of Maury Povich's chat show. Katherine posed as Panti's bemused sister, who was allegedly eager to see him made over as a 'man's man', complete with cigar and suit.

"We did it for the free flights," she laughs. "But, to me, all of that was just a little adventure that I'd have just left in the vaults. It took the genius of Panti to recycle it for a stage show."

But, in fact, it was Katherine, not Panti, who made the first leap out of the gay scene - she was crowned Alternative Miss Ireland in 1998 - and into the mainstream. Eurovision legend Shay Healy and RTE producer Marion Cullen - who had written material for Podge and Rodge and Blizzard of Odd among other things - came into Capel Street bar GUBU (named after CJ Haughey's Malcolm McArthur-era acronym - Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented) to the sight of one of Katherine's original characters, Busty Lycra, prancing down the bar.

That led to her doing a test for camera and eventually being granted her own show, which was a near instant hit in the ratings.

Did she ever feel guilty about leaving the old gay scene coterie behind? "I did have two people I worked with on Busty Lycra's G-Spot and I took them with me but everyone else had their own residencies and they were in their own starting blocks, you could say, so they weren't going to join me in my race.

"The only one I felt bad about was Rory (Panti) because his talent was massive. I knew he was destined for big things."

But meanwhile, she was enjoying her own success. After the show took off, the characters took on lives of their own.

"For about a year I could hardly go out," Katherine recalls. "I had people torturing me on the street or down the phone to do the accents. That might be fun for about an hour of the night but then it gets old. You end up feeling a small bit jaded. But then other things happened like doing U2's Christmas party and you turn into the overexcited little girl from Leitrim again."

One of the characters she invented was a pop star wannabe Traveller called Bernie Walsh. Given that Katherine has no Traveller lineage herself, it might have opened her to criticisms of performing "…like an Irish version of blackface?" She finishes my thought.

"I've heard that before. I suppose looking back on it, I might not get away now with some of the things I said then but I was always very careful never to stereotype that woman. She was an independent woman, with her own career; she didn't have a husband or kids. I didn't make her downtrodden in any sense. She had individuality and freedom."

Looking back at tapes of old shows it's also remarkable how much more slimmed down Katherine has become now - like Benjamin Button she seems to be ageing in reverse. Was it career or vanity that prompted the weight loss?

"To be honest, I didn't give a shit about how I looked in terms of how I looked for my career, but I did in terms of my personal life," she tells me. "The magic secret was … wait for it … get up off your arse and go to the gym. I did a 12-week programme. It's 'like 12 steps to fabulousness''. You do weights and consume very little carbs. Which was a little rough, because I do love carbs. It was also giving up wine, I'd say, although it's not really the wine itself as much as it is the way you eat after you drink and during the drinking."

She's been happily in a new relationship for the past six months, with a Galway man, and says that dating provided another spur to get in her current shape.

"I don't want to be non-feminist in the way I think about it all. Part of me doesn't want to say that losing weight doesn't make you happier or more confident but it does. It makes you look younger, feel younger and it makes you able to run for the bus. Men are quite visual, so there is that as well. I'm in my early 40s now; I want to feel good about myself."

She vociferously campaigned for the Yes side in the marriage referendum but she says that personally she's in no rush herself to get a ring on her finger.

"One part of me is really old-fashioned and loves the idea of the normal feminine things like a nice man in your life that you cook for but there's another part of me that realises that that's like playing the one-arm bandits. Some get lucky and might have that but a lot of women won't. Love is a complete and utter lottery.

"I wonder were the generation who were older than us really happy. Nobody goes out to a dinner party and says that their husband and kids are making them miserable. No matter how difficult freedom is, it's always the better option."

When she was working as a waitress back in the day, kids represented "a scourge" to her, but when her own nephew, Dylan, was born, she changed her mind on them.

"I can still have children and maybe I will. I think part of the reason I never had children is that I had an idyllic childhood and you sort of go through your life with the burden then of trying to recreate that. And if you think you can't then you don't bother. My tragedy was that I was raised by Mary Poppins.

"All Irish girls have a thing of thinking the men they meet won't live up to their dad. There is this idea that you're damaged by a rough childhood. But I am jealous of the people who have an asshole of a dad and a bitch of a mam because, believe me, when a lot of those people are older - and this has happened with friends of mine - they are the very ones who grab happiness for themselves with the families they make later on."

Like her idol, Bette Midler, she has a number of strings to her bow - she put out a well-received album a couple of years ago (featuring a cover of Raglan Road) and her production company has recently completed some big projects, including Vogue Williams's well-received series.

She is also in a book club with Mary O'Rourke and long-time friend, singer Brian Kennedy, which she describes as "always thought-provoking and good fun - Mary is as sharp as a tack".

Katherine owns her own apartment in Temple Bar, which she shares with childhood friend and stand-up comedienne, Josephine McCaffrey. Katherine says living in the heart of the city centre has its upsides - "there's always someone to meet for coffee or a drink, sometimes I have to switch my phone off" - and its downsides: "Temple Bar is not policed at all. Homelessness is heartbreaking but there are also situations where (homeless people) don't have respect; there was a time when a junkie would go into a derelict building to shoot up. I've seen people shooting heroin into their legs, their necks, their penises. It has turned my stomach each time."

She's looking forward to getting back on the stage for her comedy play, You Don't Bring Me Flowers.

"I was afraid of working with a whole group of women in case I turned out to be this total diva bitch. And it turns out I am," she laughs.

"Ah no, not really it would have been even better if I was. I was raging I wasn't. I'm looking forward to getting my mojo back and getting back into my one-woman show."

The shadows have lengthened around us. And, since we're in the Front Lounge, with any luck there is one of the aforementioned shows about to commence. We've been yakking for an hour-and-a-half and I've finally prevailed on her to have a glass of wine.

She clinks her glass against mine: "There's one in every family." Or in our case, two.

You Don't Bring Me Flowers runs at the Tivoli Theatre every Friday and Saturday in April, tickets from Ticketmaster. Katherine's one-woman show Crappily Ever After is in the Civic Theatre from November 9 to November 12 See @katherinelyncho on Twitter

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