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'If you don't like us, be specific, and we'll have a chat' - The Two Johnnies talk success and begrudgery

Ireland's latest comedy sensation, The Two Johnnies, sat down with Donal Lynch to talk success, begrudgery and celebrity rehab


Tipp's finest: The Two Johnnies

Tipp's finest: The Two Johnnies

Tipp's finest: The Two Johnnies

It's about time that Ireland had its own version of Ant and Dec, and Johnny McMahon and Johnny O'Brien have no doubt who would be who. "I'd be Ant, 100pc," says McMahon, aka Johnny Smacks, to vigorous nods from his co-conspirator. "I'm 100pc going to rehab. As long as it's cool rehab. Like not some place in Clare. I want somewhere that's like a spa."

Between now and living that particular dream, there are a few more adventures to be had, however. The boys have just had a week of it. They were in LA, where they took "a bunch of meetings" and performed a live show to an audience who seemed to lap up their music-infused humour - it has been described as 'D'Unbelievables meets The Saw Doctors'.

Then they were back for the The Late Late Show, which, despite their zillions of followers online, is the bit of their success which impresses people at home in Tipperary the most.

"I think people thought we were just clowns until we appeared on the Late Late," says O'Brien, aka Johnny B. "But when they saw us there they thought: the boys must be on to something."

In fact the irony is that The Two Johnnies barely need the Late Late. In the democracy of social media, new young stars can promote themselves without the benediction of television kingmakers. The Johnnies have had six - count 'em - number ones in the charts here. Their podcast is listened to by hundreds of thousands of people. They have millions of hits on YouTube and have performed to sold-out crowds at Electric Picnic.

"The way it is now you can drive your own ship," Johnny Smacks says. "You don't have to be put on somewhere. Even at home you still get people saying 'isn't it great while it lasts' or 'make hay while the sun shines', when we haven't got to the tip of the iceberg with this stuff. There are guys out there who are huge at this. We'd love to get into TV but if we never get into TV there are lads who are not doing that who still have millions of followers."

If they sound confident it might be because they started with nothing. Nine years ago Johnny Smacks moved to Johnny B's hometown of Cahir and rented a room in the latter's house. Johnny B already had his own band and had been on RTE singing a witty song about Tipperary hurlers. It was known in the area that he had a facility for comedy and music.

"I got asked to be in local pantomime and I said no, but I thought Johnny (Smacks) would be good for it because he's the type of guy who always has a big group around him in a bar," Johnny B recalls. "Anyway we wrote a song for this panto all about Robin Hood and Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, and only on the night did we realise that there was no Prince John in this panto. We had been given the 110-page script but we hadn't read it - we are busy men."

Thereafter the pair upped their level of professionalism. They got matching suits and created a GAA-themed Dancing with the Stars for their local club. They performed at a local festival in Tipperary and toured the show they wrote around the country.

They established a presence on Facebook and YouTube. They were on Up For The Match. Viewers lapped up their playful takes on the the trials of country living, from settling into a new GAA club, to realising you're washed up as a player.

They had a massive hit called The Sileage Song which kept George Ezra and Drake off the top spot in the charts here. Their audience was "lots of farmers" - "we must be the only ones who do Vicar Street and five per cent of Dubs there," Johnny B says. "But culchie lads are getting cooler - it's all skinny jeans and fresh fades now."

Despite the fact that they still weren't making much money - "a million hits on YouTube would get you maybe a hundred quid," Johnny Smacks says, and an Irish number one is not much more lucrative - they realised they were on to something and that they could make a go of it.

"I said I wanted to give up my job and he said it's too early," Johnny Smacks, who was a butcher recalls, "So I came to him and said, I've given up the job. I hated it to be honest. I don't really like work."

Johnny B gave up his family business, which made hurleys. "After I did that I had people saying to me 'oh you gave up the hurleys, that's a pity'," he recalls. "And I was thinking 'it's not a pity at all! I'm going on tour!'."

Late Late show researcher Maura Fay had been in talks to bring the lads on to the show to do one of their songs, and while that appearance didn't work out at the time, they stayed in touch with her and she now produces their podcast. They describe her as "like the third Johnny".

"There are podcasts in America that have been going for years and they are light years ahead of what we have here," Johnny B explains. "We film our podcasts, which a lot of people here don't do. We are signed to a company called ACast and they make money thorough a mix of distribution and ad agency. They have all the stats on who's listening."

They have their share of critics but say they have no time for mindless bashing of their act.

"People aren't constructive online," Johnny B says. "If someone says 'you were offensive to this person' you can get into a conversation with them and ask why but if they just say 'you're useless'… They are the same people tweeting that (Adam) Lallana is useless for Liverpool. And you think, well, he's not useless, he's a professional footballer who plays for a top team and makes millions more than you do. Don't tell us we're useless, we're on tour. If you don't like us, be specific, and we'll have a chat."

There have been no comedy groupies so far, they say.

"I'm single and fabulous," Johnny B explains.

"I have a girlfriend," Johnny Smack adds, "but she doesn't like the limelight but that's fine and it's pretty good for business. You'd nearly be afraid putting up something online in case people are nasty."

They have a book now, and nobody is more surprised than them. "We thought writing a book would be really difficult but it actually wasn't that bad," Johnny Smacks explains. "We went away to Lanzarote for two weeks to write the book and we didn't write anything out there in fairness but then we came back and knuckled down. And what we actually wrote went straight in the book. No edits, no changes, just spellcheck. I don't know, was someone out sick that day in Gill (the publisher), or what."

More podcasts and a live tour are in the works, but despite the relentless pressure to come up with new material, they say it hasn't become a grind yet.

"It is enjoyable but at the end of the day we do have to work hard," Johnny Smacks says. "People say when you start your own business you'll really start working and that's true - we work night and day on this. It's a passion so it doesn't feel like work, whereas if I start a 12-hour shift the day before Christmas Eve boning and rolling turkeys - that's work!"

Dear Johnnies … is published by Gill books and priced €12.99

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