Thursday 18 January 2018

LISTEN - Comedian Pat Shortt on losing his mother: 'When she died we were all shut into a room and told to stay there'

Comedian Pat Shortt at his Limerick studios with Paul Williams. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22
Comedian Pat Shortt at his Limerick studios with Paul Williams. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22

Paul Williams

He may be one of Ireland's most well known comedians, but carving out a solo career away from 'D'Unbelievables' was no easy feat for Pat Shortt.

The Tipperary native (48) was introduced to the comedy scene by mentor Jon Kenny.

When Kenny was diagnosed with cancer, Shortt did not work for two years.

"It was very tough. I had never been on a stage on my own," he said.

"I had done monologues on my own and pieces on my own but I had never got up on stage without Jon being around and I found that difficult initially.

"There's a whole confidence thing that goes with it. The first few times getting on stage I was in pieces, but you keep it going and it worked. After a couple of times you realise, 'yeah, I can do this'."

Kenny was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2000, meaning the pair had to call it quits after years performing to crowds in Ireland, the UK and America.

"Jon got ill, unfortunately. He didn't see that coming himself. It was out of the blue. Thankfully, he's 100pc clear of it and he's well out of the woods," Shortt said.

"He had a couple of rough years. When it started, we were in the middle of a tour and Jon was going abroad for a couple of weeks.

"He had to get blood tests and that's how he became aware of it. He was hoping after a year to get back on his feet, but in Jon's case it took a bit longer, he had a long struggle with it."

He added: "Thankfully, he came out the far side of it fine. From a work point of view, we just couldn't go on as the two of us.

"It was a tough time. I didn't work for two years when Jon got sick.

"I was 30 with two kids and had a mortgage, so you couldn't sit around and do nothing.

"I had to get back to work and Jon was very good about it - he understood - so I went solo."

While 'D'Unbelievables' may be loved now, the duo faced an onslaught of criticism in their early days from Irish critics.

"Jon never got a positive review, very rarely. The positives nearly always came from the international press, they loved us," he said.

"In New York we used to get great reviews, and then you'd come back to Ireland and it would be 'populist', 'rural,' culchie', whatever derogatory term they could throw at us. On the whole you'd get, 'what are they about?'"

It was not until Gay Byrne took a chance on the pair that their hard work translated to success. "We got an offer from 'The Late Late Show', so we took it," he said.

"If Gay Byrne loved you, the whole country was coming to see you. It had that effect.

"It progressed after that. I remember moving from the Tivoli to Vicar Street and we did 14-15 weeks at Vicar Street, which is unheard of now."

Shortt lost his mother at the age of seven, and with 10 siblings, the actor revealed his family had to grow up much quicker than their peers.

"When my mother died we were all shut into a room and told to stay there. There was three younger than me and the rest were older than me," he said.

"For example, cooking dinners and looking after the house. Kids would be out playing in the street and we would be cleaning the floors, doing the laundry.

"A few years in, my sisters all left - they would have gone to college in Dublin - so my memory was of about seven brothers living together in a house with my dad.

"I think my sister gave up her job in the bank in Limerick and came back to look after us. We all kind of grew up very quickly."

The 'Killinaskully' star admires his father Christie for how he dealt with the difficult situation.

"It must have been terrible for him. Looking at my own kids now, kids are very selfish," he said.

"They just think about themselves and I'm sure I was no different. I don't know how we dealt with all of that. He was an incredible man."

Shortt believes his mother's death gave him the thick skin required to navigate the entertainment industry.

"I think I became a bit of a survivor after it, which is not bad for this business."

Irish Independent

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