'Stand-up is difficult, you put your life on stage' - Paul Williams meets Katherine Lynch
Published 21/06/2016 | 06:50
Irish comedian Katherine Lynch has told of her fears for small communities in Ireland, saying she is worried they are "dying out".
The Leitrim woman has a real love for small towns - including her own, Mohill.
"In a small town, everyone dies famous," she said. "You don't come home as the girl who has the TV show," she said.
"You come home as Katherine Lynch, as one of the members of a community."
She believes rural customs are also under serious threat.
"I had the same feeling when I walked down Talbot Street and I saw Guiney & Co had closed," she added. "I went 'Oh my God, that makes me sad.'
"It's happening on a big scale and it's happening on a small scale.
"If we want to get political, we need to stop all these big companies taking over our lives.
"Next, we'll just be a human being and a phone, and everything will be that, and we'll just be online shopping. We need to stop destroying ourselves, as humans.
"Why isn't there a situation in these small towns where the locals get cheaper rents to build it up again and get a cottage industry going?" she said.
Katherine was writing and performing from an early age. She would often stage her early plays in her kitchen, with some scriptwriting and costume assistance from her family.
"My father wrote all the sketches, and the rehearsals were all in the kitchen and my mother did the costumes," she said.
"If there was a smoke machine needed, my brother smoking a big fat cigar at the side of the stage would be the smoke machine.
"My dad was such a comedian. He was really, really, really funny. He was the quiet man in the room, and then he'd floor us all with a one-liner. Everybody that knows him would say that."
But it was in Dublin where Katherine truly stole the limelight.
A favourite on the city's gay scene, she was a contemporary and friend of Shirley Temple Bar, Panti Bliss and Brendan Courtney.
"I had a residency for five years down in what is now the Panti Bar. It was called GUBU at the time," she said.
"That's where I honed all the characters. I was an overnight success after 10 years."
In 1998 she won the Alternative Miss Ireland competition and met Warren Meyler, who would become her co-writer.
Now one of Ireland's brightest comedy stars, Katherine also has connections to some of the biggest names in Irish literature and arts.
Speaking about her early days in Mohill, she said author John McGahern was a regular visitor to the Lynch family home.
Katherine's father, an agricultural advisor and writer, was friends with Mr McGahern, and he was often in the kitchen.
"I'd come in from school and throw my satchel down and Mam would say 'Mr Gahern's here!'," she said. "I remember thinking: 'This Mr McGahern - they're making a big deal about him.'
"But then I remember going into the kitchen, and his aura and his presence was enough to floor you. He was a poet, a walking piece of land nearly. He was just an amazing man."
She also remembers meeting Mr McGahern - the author of The Barracks and Amongst Women - in the bars in Mohill, when the town was "heaving" with people on a Saturday evening.
"We all were very reverent towards him," she said. "He wasn't a massive talker, but he loved to sit there," she added.
"He was an observer, as true writers are. My dad would have a few words with him, when he was going up to the bar and I'd have a few words with him."
But Mr McGahern wasn't the only influence on Katherine, who is a grand-niece of Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh.
Asked about her connection to her relative, Katherine said it was "a good thing and a bad thing".
"When I was younger, I wrote a lot of poetry and it's very hard to live up to that," she said.
"It's the proudest thing in my being that I'm a grand-niece of Patrick Kavanagh. I just love him.
"He's my connection to a bigger world. He's my connection to God, as such. Whatever I believe, I believe through him. He's kind of like my priest, between me and something bigger - whatever that is."
But famed intellectuals like Kavanagh aren't the only luminaries on Katherine's family tree.
She also revealed that iconic rebel Che Guevara is also a relation.
"They traced it back from some guy called Patricio Lynch, a Galwegian who set sail to Argentina," she said.
Katherine is always keen to treat you to some of her best-known impressions.
From the adult entertainer Busty Lycra, to Celtic Tiger cub Dalkey Dunphy Davenport, Katherine gives a whistle-stop tour of her wide range of alter-egos.
But the character of Dublin belly dancer Sheila Sheikh was a character that really made an impression with her fans.
"She comes from Tallaght, she does," Katherine said. "I met her loads of times - I met her in the bleedin' early house back in the days."
Katherine added that many people associate the character of Sheila with people in their own lives. "Everyone comes up to me and says: 'You're doing my friend Jacinta, you're doing her'. I'd say: 'No, I'm doing you when I'm doing her.'"
But comedy is not Katherine's only outlet. Gifted with a strong voice, she has already recorded an album and written her own songs.
Katherine said she made her first foray into music with he album Settling Dust, shortly after her father died.
"Actually, one of my favourite jobs is reviewing the books for Pat Kenny. I love Pat. Pat is such a gentleman," she said.
"I just didn't feel like being a comedian, and I had a big well of poems and songs that I had written when I was that age, in my teenage years and early 20s when you're very connected to home and your dad.
"I went into the studio with the most amazing people and then I also collaborated with a lovely guy called Paul Murphy.
"We all fell in love with the music and fell in love with the creative process of it," she added.
"It was the best therapy. I'm so delighted that I was an artist at that time because when a parent dies, you're out to sea. It's awful."
Katherine would love to turn to more serious pursuits and make a documentary.
While she has been performing on stage and on screen since she arrived in Dublin, she says she is lucky not to be haunted by depression like some other comedians.
"I'm glad I don't get that, and I think that is because I have a co-writer. So I don't have that lonely journey of thought that a lot of comedians have," she said.
"Also I hide behind the characters, so I'm not writing about me. I think it's the stand-up that's difficult - the comedians that put their life out on stage."
But in a world of instant entertainment, she said she recognises that live performers of all genres now face a struggle to sell tickets.
"I don't even think Madonna would fill Vicar Street for 16 nights, because there's so much entertainment everywhere," she said.
"Bums on seats are difficult these days, no matter who you are."