What is it about English towns and fudge? In his new and highly enjoyable book, Tickling the English, Dara O Briain bravely confronts his English audience with the English fudge enigma. I know what he means, having personally been confronted at every hand's turn with the fudge phenomenon during recent holidays in England -- there's even a shop in York that gives 'fudge-making classes'.
It seems every English town you visit is overly keen to get us all to eat fudge and something called 'sticky toffee pudding'. Who better to address this and a few others of England's most enduring eccentricities than Bray man O Briain? This is the man who, since making his home in London seven years ago, might now be considered Terry Wogan's heir apparent as Britain's 'favourite Irishman'.
Sitting king-like between two teams of comic geniuses chairing BBC's hugely popular show Mock the Week, you can only be impressed with how quickly O Briain has graduated to showbiz royalty, selling out theatres all across the UK. Especially considering how unlikely it seems that attending a gaelscoil and studying maths and theoretical physics at UCD should lead to a career as a massively successful stand-up comic.
How good he really is can be gauged at the reader's leisure by reading Tickling the English, which helpfully pins down O Brian's mercurial wit and gives the reader the chance to work out how he does it as he makes notes on a recent tour that took him in and out of British towns over a seven-month period. His show, and hence the book, revolves around his special mission, to find out from the English themselves three puzzling facts: Why do the English pretend to be unhappy all the time? Why won't they accept that they rank about fifth in everything? And of course, that fudge thing.
Peppering his act (and the book) with fun statistics and facts such as the origin of the name of the city of Nottingham -- apparently it was named after a Saxon chieftain called 'Snot' -- O Briain isn't afraid to show how a clever boy can make jokes without being a smartass. Or by insulting vulnerable people or ethnic minorities.
A real bonus is that O Briain's voice comes off the page and his stage patter transfers successfully to the printed word.
For me, the key to Dara O Briain's charm is how from reading this book it becomes clear the reason he smiles throughout his act is that he is genuinely enjoying the fun he is creating and sharing with his audience.
He never condescends to his audience and this is what makes this 'gifted Irish comedian' (the Observer) such good company. The great thing about Tickling the English is that like all the best comics, from Voltaire to Woody Allen, O Briain is a good writer and manages to preserve the wit and charm of his delivery throughout.