The man with PMA
Brendan O'Connor on how Brendan O'Carroll finds time to write, perform - and mind other people's business
BRENDAN O'Carroll enters a room like some kind of Tasmanian devil, fizzing and popping with his legendary PMA (Positive Mental Attitude, stupid). This constant flow of energy doesn't let up for the next while as he zooms through a rundown of his own projects, critiques Richard Branson's business acumen, tells me how the country should be run and throws in a few business ideas for me while he's at it.
Then he will ring a man who contacted him while he was on the Gerry Ryan show earlier that morning. The man claims to have a patent which could halve road deaths and he thinks O'Carroll could be the man to bring the project to fruition. O'Carroll meets people like this all the time, people with great ideas who don't know anything about business. He tells them how to do business plans, market ideas and secure investors. Other people's business problems become his own personal problems; faced with a business dilemma, he feels the need to work it out.
It is surprising, then, that this populist entertainer and entrepreneur, the type of character who would be lauded in other countries, can be so unfashionable in certain quarters of Ireland. O'Carroll, in many ways, exemplifies the Celtic Tiger: he's a bottomless pit of ideas and energy who apparently knows no limitations; nothing scares him; he always has an eye to business.
Business today is the five-night stand at the Olympia Theatre starting on Tuesday night. Brendan hasn't done stand-up in a while and when promoter Denis Desmond from MCD told him he had a free theatre for a week, he thought, ``Why not?'' He says it's a chance to get grounded, to say ``Howya'' again in the most direct way. ``A play is great when the whole theatre is roaring laughing, but I want to be part of it. Stand-up is very one-to-one. A play is one step removed from the audience, a book is two steps removed and then there's film, which is five steps removed. I want to stand on the stage and say, `How's it going?' and some guy in the audience shouts, `Go on, ya bollix!'''
The show will also be an opportunity for O'Carroll to tell his audience about the ups and downs of the last few years. The title, A Mick in the Kickey, refers to that kick in the groin just when we think things are going well. It is quite a personal story.
He has spent the last two years working off enormous debts he accrued during the filming of his movie Sparrow's Trap. Having lost his distributor three days before filming began, O'Carroll went ahead anyway a huge mistake. ``I should have stopped but there were 90 people there and I had promised them work.'' People in the Irish film industry assured him the film was a limited company and he was not liable for the debts, but O'Carroll took it all personally. ``It was working-class pride: `Don't get the HP, son, save up for it.'''
Waking up day after day to 90 people he couldn't pay was a huge setback, but O'Carroll brazened it out like the little gurrier he is. The ability to fall back on stand-up meant he could keep his kids in school and pay the mortgage interest during the worst times. He now has a co-producer raising finance. The movie is out in February and O'Carroll should make all his money back.
Around the same time as all this, O'Carroll found his marriage in trouble. He puts the difficulties down to his wife Doreen not liking showbusiness. ``I'd say to her, `What do you mean? This is our dream ...' and she said, `No, this is your dream.''' The split was amicable and O'Carroll says life is much the same now ``Work, work, work'' except he sees more of his kids as two of them are on the road with him.
As black as things got, O'Carroll never lost sight of his potential. His attitude was: ``I could work my way out of this, trade my way out of it.'' And he did. He is in Glasgow playing to sell-out houses with Mrs Brown's Last Wedding and a recent month-long book tour in America saw his third novel, The Granny, hit the top 20. Good Mourning Mrs Brown, his new play, kicks off early next year, as always, in Cork. Then there's the airline.
FOR, believe it or not, he has found time to start an intercity Irish airline. Though the plan was in difficulty for a while, the recent train strike convinced the backers that the idea was worth a go. It kicks off next St Patrick's Day.
The one thing that would seem to be missing from O'Carroll's portfolio is a TV career. He says he needs to make money to pay off his debts. On the day we met, he had already taken in a million pounds at the box office in Glasgow. He can't afford to be stuck in a studio making TV programmes for a pittance.
Furthermore, he admits that he got it ``so wrong'' with his last venture into TV, the game show Hot Milk and Pepper. O'Carroll did the show primarily because a senior RTÉ figure suggested to him that he owed RTÉ a show, considering all that they had done for him. O'Carroll thought about it, figured the guy had a point and vowed to take the next thing RTÉ offered him. When presented with a choice between a You've Been Framed-style show and a game show, O'Carroll went for the game show. Big mistake. With 45 minutes in studio needing to be cut to 25 minutes for TV, something had to go out of Hot Milk and Pepper. The quiz couldn't go, and so O'Carroll's comedy had to be filleted out. When he saw the finished product, he couldn't believe it.
Nowadays, he does TV when he's got something to sell. He doesn't feel RTÉ has made any conscious decision not to use him, pointing out, ``If I have something they want, they'll ask me for it.'' He adds ruefully that the next thing he does on TV will have to be ``f**king hilarious''.
In the meantime, there is what is described with typical Brendan O'Carroll pizzazz as ``a multimillion-dollar deal'' with Penguin for three more books. There is the national lottery to be sorted out and of course the long-mooted O'Carroll political career which gets ``closer every year''. Brendan O'Carroll up the Aras, anyone?
* A Mick in the Kickey is at the Olympia, October 10-14, tickets from £12.50. Box office, Tel: 01-6777744