Monday 18 December 2017

There's part of Hal in Mrs Brown

Hal Roach 1927 - 2012
Hal Roach 1927 - 2012

Comedian Brendan O'Carroll pays tribute to Hal Roche.

"ONCE upon a time there were two Chinese... Now look how many there are!"

That's one of Hal Roach's throwaway lines. He threw them away and I caught them and ate them up like a well-prepared meal.

It was 1972, and I was a fresh-faced waiter in the Green Isle Hotel. Every Saturday night we had a cabaret in the restaurant, with Norman Metcalf playing the organ and various artists plying their trade. I was lucky to have seen Cecil Sheridan there, the first man I ever saw doing drag. But the star that shone brightest for me was our own Hal Roach.

Genius. He stood, his left heel tucked tightly into the arch of his right foot, his hand pulling on an invisible beard, as if he were searching for the next story. I watched, and learnt and laughed, and laughed.

I would serve him a cup of coffee after his act.

I was aged just 17, and I would go back home every Saturday night he was on, and do his whole stand-up routine for my mother, who would be in stitches.

One night I told Hal I wanted to be a comedian.

"Son," he said, "there is no such thing as a comedian under 30 years of age."

"Mr Roach," I said, "I am going to be the biggest comedian in Ireland before I'm 25."

"My God," he replied, "I think I am going to have one of my turns."

He was right, of course, well in my case anyway, I didn't do my first real gig until I was 35.

So then, what did I learn from Hal Roach? Well just look at 'Mrs Brown's Boys'. That's what I learnt.

Anything I know about comic timing I learnt from Hal Roach. The same for movement and expression, go on, look closely at Mrs Brown... it is all there and it's all Hal Roach.

Even Mrs Brown's voice has a little bit of Hal in there -- if you listen closely.

I got a lovely text from Hal's family asking me if I would do a eulogy at his funeral on Thursday. I am so honoured to have been asked, but I'm in America at the moment and can't get home in time.

So let me say here some of what I would say if I were there.

Hal Roach was a class act. He was the Arthur Askey; the Les Dawson; the Eric Morecambe of Irish comedy, all rolled into one.

As a young man I got a fantastic job as a roadie for Brendan Grace, a huge star and the first comic to do an entire 'show'.

I stopped touring with Brendan in 1977. But some time later, I got a call from Brendan. He had now got a show on RTE and he asked if I had an idea for a sketch to fill a gap.

I did. I wrote a sketch with myself, Brendan Grace, and the late Dermot Morgan all playing Hal Roach.

Brendan was the Daddy Hal Roach, Dermot was the Mammy Hal Roach, and I was the son Hal. I called it 'The Roach Five' -- it was a blast to do!

The sketch was so popular I got lots of offers from it, but more than that it gave me a feeling that I could maybe do this comedy thing.

Which I did. And do.

The next time I met Hal was when he came to see my first play 'The Course' at The Tivoli Theatre in 1995.

It was me meeting Hal Roach, not as the waiter, but as Brendan O'Caroll the writer and comedian. I'll never forget the hug Hal gave me.

Hal never made a fuss over me when Mrs Brown became popular.

He always had this great attitude in the business, and one that I hope I will carry on -- humility. Nobody is due success, you have to earn it.

He would say, "Congratulations on your success but, remember you have to get up every day and start the day again, trying to earn it all over again. The day you think you can get it without working for it, that's the day you will fail."

He understood how hard comedy was. That's was why I never heard him speak badly of any other comedian. He knew that every comic was trying, and he knew how hard the job was.

More than that, he was tremendously encouraging to the other comedians he met.

And Hal met everybody. He gigged all over the world, flying the Irish comedy flag. He did the cruise ships for so long, I thought he must have fins and gills.

If there are any hecklers in heaven, they'll be getting it from Hal, big time!

I remember one night very long ago in the Green Isle hotel when we had this very famous millionaire and his wife in.

The wife had more than enough to drink and started heckling Hal during his routine.

"I'm as good as that myself," she shouted up.

As quick as a flash, Hal hit back: "You probably, are, madam, but I get paid, and you are good for nothing."

I am sad today. But Hal would not like that. He would prefer me to smile. So I will, for him.

My last face to face chat with Hal was a transient meeting in Dublin Airport some years back, me coming in, him going out. He had recently had a lung removed. We hugged and I said: "The operation must have been a success, you look fantastic,"

"Brendan," he said: "I never felt better!"

He smiled his impish smile and went on: "Actually, I feel so good, I might get the other lung removed, too."

Thanks for the laughs Hal. You will not be forgotten. Not in this house.

Irish Independent

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