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'That arrogance that he has; it's the most un-Irish trait there is' - Comedian Colin Murphy on MMA star Conor McGregor

The best comedians don't take themselves too seriously - but, fresh from his self-confessed mid-life crisis, Colin Murphy thinks it's all a joke. As he gears up for a new tour, he tells Lauren Murphy that top of his newly minted bucket list are painting, podcasting... and possibly Love Island

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Comedian Colin Murphy. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Comedian Colin Murphy. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Game for a laugh: Colin with Neil Delamere on RTÉ's The Panel

Game for a laugh: Colin with Neil Delamere on RTÉ's The Panel

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Comedian Colin Murphy. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Colin Murphy turned 50 earlier this year - and when you're 50, he says, you should really start knocking items off your bucket list. The Belfast comedian arrives into a Dublin bar bearing the evidence of one of those items in the form of a stiff hobble and a loud "oof!" as he takes a seat. "I've been training for a half marathon," he explains, wincing theatrically. "I did 10 miles yesterday and I'm still not right from it. Proper mid-life crisis stuff."

As well as long-distance running, Murphy - who still lives in south Belfast with his wife, Patricia, and two teenage sons - has another hidden talent up his sleeve, which ties into yet another bucket list goal. "I was in the Royal Hibernian Academy earlier and that's my other ambition - to get my picture into the RHA next year," he nods. "A lot of English comedians - like Joe Lycett - paint, and he's got something in the Royal Academy in London, so he encouraged me to do it. What's my style?" He frowns. "Well, let's just say we're still figuring that one out."

Before he made a living from making people laugh via various mediums - from stand-up to television to regular guest appearances on various panel shows - art school graduate Murphy worked in a diverse series of jobs: illustrator for Elle magazine, college lecturer, jobbing actor; "whatever paid the bills", he shrugs.

Like many before him, he drifted into comedy when he was "drunk and a friend encouraged" him to MC the Queens University Student Union comedy night, a regular gig he continued for the next 25 years. Yet even now, Murphy is reluctant to describe what he does as a 'career'.

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Game for a laugh: Colin with Neil Delamere on RTÉ's The Panel

Game for a laugh: Colin with Neil Delamere on RTÉ's The Panel

Game for a laugh: Colin with Neil Delamere on RTÉ's The Panel

"Comedy's not a proper job," he scoffs, before launching into an amusing rant. "Anybody who talks about it as a career is insane. It's a job, but no more than that; it's just a job. Take the number of podcasts that comedians do these days... it drives me nuts when comedians talk to other comedians about comedy. Like anybody gives a s**t! Who wants to listen to that?

"It's like listening to plumbers talking to plumbers about plumbing, and expecting people who aren't plumbers to sit in and listen to it, going, 'Oh yeah, yeah, hmmm.' I get really angry about it; it really does piss me off. It's nothing special - it annoys me when people think it is. Bulls**t."

Although he has officially been making people laugh professionally for half of his life, he admits that there have been times when he has questioned his commitment to the job.

"Oh yeah - probably the last five years," he says, nodding. "I just hit some sort of bump. I've asked around and it happens to a lot of people at some point. You just fall out of love with it. It lasted a worrying length of time - about two years, maybe longer. It was really not fun and I stopped doing gigs. And then something happened; I did a gig at a little festival in Clonmel and something just clicked. I suddenly got this buzz again. And I made a point of saying, 'Right, I'm gonna do a show.'"

With a new stand-up show, Bald Ambition - his first in eight years - set to tour the country from September until December, Murphy reflects upon the changing face of comedy since he first started gigging more than two decades ago. One of the main reasons for the transformation, he reckons, is social media.

"I think I used to have thick skin... I dunno, maybe I was just unaware of [getting abuse]," he shrugs. "If I was doing it now at that age, and getting social media feedback from people who weren't even there, I don't think I would handle it as well. Back then, people heckled way, way more - it was like social media unplugged. And that's easier to deal with because they're there in the room, face to face, not hiding behind a screen - so you can put them down and you can slam them and make fun of them... and eventually they'll go, 'Oh, fair play, I was wrong,' or, 'I still believe you're s**t,'" he laughs. "But at least you can deal with it face to face. People don't heckle anymore, at all. I try to be nice on social media... I don't slag things off, ever. But who cares what I think? I just try to be positive, and it seems to work."

That's not to say that Bald Ambition is all sunshine and lollipops; in fact, he reserves some of his most potent vitriol for one Conor McGregor.

"I f***ing hate him!" he laughs, shaking his head. "I hate that whole thing anyway, UFC or MMA - macho b******s. But I hate that arrogance that he has; it's the most un-Irish trait there is. For a man that relies on his Irishness to sell himself around the world, it just makes me f***ing angry. I was doing a gig in Kilkenny and was going on about McGregor at length. I started speaking to a guy in the audience because he owned a gym, and it turned out that he was Conor McGregor's coach. Of course, everyone else in the room knew who he was, and I was going, 'Why the f**k did no one tell me?!'"

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One topic that the show does veer away from, however, is Brexit.

"I don't want to put people off," he jokes. "I'll maybe do Brexit in the next one. But no, I couldn't do it because I'll get too angry about it to talk about it rationally, or make fun of it. I can't talk about it, because it's just not funny anymore. I mean, did you..." He stops himself, grimacing. "No. I can't."

Murphy has been a regular feature on TV screens both north and south of the border since his early days in the business. Alongside his regular appearances on RTÉ's The Panel and BBC NI's ongoing panel show The Blame Game, he has had roles in various films (including Divorcing Jack) and TV shows (such as BBC TV movie Holy Cross).

"I do enjoy it," he says, nodding. "Stand-up can be quite lonely because you're on your own a lot of the time. But telly's really easy, because there's always loads of people around and they look after everything, and all you have to do is sit there. And the hours are way better, and the money's better.

"But people get more wound up by comedy than they do anything else. Have you seen anybody complain about a drama as much? It's always confused me: people's expectations for comedy - and it's the hardest thing, because you won't please everyone. I mean, I hate Marvel movies with a passion and yet people review them seriously - as if they're actual movies! Then somebody comes on a show and delivers a line that maybe doesn't land, and it's, 'Oh, that's s**t.' People get so angry!"

He has particularly fond memories of Blizzard of Odd, the brilliant (and much missed) RTÉ series that ran from 2001-2005 and made Murphy a well-known name on the comedy circuit south of the border. A precursor to the likes of Republic of Telly and even Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, it cast a wry eye back over the previous week's televisual offerings and threw into the mix some odd, quirky and downright strange clips dredged from the internet.

"I really loved doing that show. It's amazing how many people still remember it," he smiles. "It was great fun and, in fairness, RTÉ let us away with absolute murder. The things we got away with were phenomenal, language-wise, and the insane things we put on screen."

With a new three-part series, Colin Murphy's Panic Room, in the works for the BBC - which examines "things that I was afraid of or worried about when I was a teenager", from the Cold War to UFOs to armageddon - and set to air early next year, it has been a busy year for Murphy, all told.

You could argue, in fact, that he has been consistently busy with various projects since he first began down this comedy route, but there is also a sense that he should have - and maybe could have - been a bigger success in territories other than Ireland and the UK.

"Well, that's the thing," he shrugs. "All those people [who have done great stuff] have got where they are because of talent. I have a lot of contemporaries and friends of mine who are hugely successful - not only in England but all over the world - and it's down to talent. I don't have that level of talent, and I know that. But it's also their commitment. Maybe with a bit more effort, I would have been marginally more successful, but I don't think I would've been at the level of those people, to be perfectly honest.

"Do I have regrets? About not having enough talent? Yes," he deadpans. "But y'know, if I'd done a few more panel shows in England, I'd be doing exactly what we're doing right now in Swansea, as opposed to Dublin. I'd have made a bit more money, but who knows?"

He does get asked for selfies the odd time, he says, but "only when people are drunk. And I usually have to tell them my name. It's: 'I know you... you're from that thing on telly - what is it?' And then it's usually, 'My wife thinks you're brilliant,' or, 'My mum thinks you're class,'" he laughs. "I know where I am in the great scheme of things, and I'm totally comfortable with that."

He may downplay his 'career', but he is clearly still ambitious. When I suggest that he might make the perfect voiceover for a Love Island-style reality show - with his blend of cynicism, sharp humour and droll delivery - he looks temporarily aghast.

"Oh, the commentary? I thought you meant actually going on Love Island!" he guffaws. "My wife wouldn't be too happy about that - and neither would the audience if they saw me in a pair of Speedos, complaining about the heat. The voiceover thing? Yeah, those are quite fun, actually. They're not that far away from Blizzard, that Come Dine with Me-style, slightly cynical stuff.

"But it would depress me if fans of that programme came to see me doing stand-up - that would be the downside. And you'd know if that was the case, because the audience would start to change colour to a slightly more orange shade, and there'd be a lot of manscaping and HD going on. No - my audience all have pubes. That's the one thing I do know - you can hear a rustling. They might be grey, but they're there!"

In any case, there is still lots to do, he agrees; now that he's recaptured his comedy mojo, he'd like to get into radio and podcasting.

"I've got an odd idea for a podcast - and it's not comedians talking about comedians, no," he reveals. "I think there's something in it, so I might try that. Okay," he sighs good-naturedly, "you've made me put another thing on the bucket list.

"And Love Island? Sure, maybe I'll sign up for that, too. Why not? You never know what'll happen, do you?"

'Bald Ambition' runs nationwide from September until December. See thatcolinmurphy.com for full listings


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