‘I just think all performers are a bit weird...me included’ - Neil Delamere
Neil Delamere tells Deirdre Reynolds why he ditched a career in the wizardry of computers to make people laugh
Neil Delamere is probably good at lots of things: making people laugh on the telly and occasionally standing in for radio presenters such as Ian Dempsey, for instance. Choosing a romantic honeymoon to impress his new wife? Not so much.
"Doing the Inca Trail is one of those things you think is going to be great to brag about afterwards," says the comedian, who wed his long-term girlfriend Jane in June, "until you're freezing the hole off yourself in a tent in the Peruvian mountains."
"Let's just say my wife was not best pleased with me."
Honeymoon etiquette - the first of which is surely not to book you and your beloved on a gruelling four-day trek to Machu Picchu - is just one of the topics Delamere is set to brave on his nationwide stand-up tour, 'The Fresh Prince of Delamere', which kicks off in Athlone later this month.
Ten years after getting his big break on RTÉ comedy series The Panel, however, the Offaly native admits he never aspired to become a stand-up at school.
"God no, I wasn't the class clown at all," tells Neil, who grew up in Edenderry, as we catch up over lunch at Forest Avenue restaurant in Ballsbridge.
"The thoughts of that - performing in front of people in school - would be absolutely terrifying."
"Growing up in a small town in Ireland, there was never any occasion to go see a comedian. I think the first time I ever saw somebody live was Niall Tóibín with my parents.
"I remember being entranced, not necessarily by what he was saying, but by the act itself: a man on his own on the stage. I just thought, 'that's amazing', and it sat in the back of my head.
"Then when I went to college, I saw my first live, what you would term I suppose 'alternative' stand-up, Dara Ó Briain, Deirdre O'Kane and Eddie Bannon," adds the DCU graduate, "and went, 'wow - I have to go and see more of this'.
"I started going into the International [Comedy Club in Dublin], put my name down and did it once. So to then find myself sitting beside Dara Ó Briain on a TV show four years later was kind of bizarre!"
From zero to Holding Out for a Hero, the name of his new four part historical series for RTÉ, today Delamere ranks alongside his own heroes Ó Briain, Tommy Tiernan and Ardal O'Hanlon as one of the country's busiest comics.
Even with his name (which, incidentally, he pronounces Dela-meer and not Dela-mare) in bright lights at Vicar Street and the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, the 35-year-old recalls feeling unsure about making the quantum leap from computer programming to comedy in the noughties.
"No one ever comes along and says, 'You are now able to do this'," says Neil, who packed in his day job after winning the RTÉ New Comedy Awards in 2001. "You don't get a phone call from the mystery comedy god going, 'We have looked at your résumé and it appears that enough people would go see you'.
"You just kind of go: 'God, I think I'll put this on. Sure I'll get a few friends to go. We'll close the balcony - it'll be fine!'"
"It's a slow build," he continues. "In the UK, you can go from not known at all to absolutely massive within a very short space of time because they have so much television and radio and stuff, whereas in Ireland it can take a few years, y'know, for you to get there.
"Your first Kilkenny, you go in and you get a little pack that says 'Welcome to Kilkenny', that's one of those moments where you go: 'I've arrived - I am a comedian'."
Becoming recognised as a comedian, of course, presents the double-edged sword of becoming more recognisable away from the stage and screen too - something the down-to-earth stand-up says he's still acclimatising to.
"It takes a little bit of getting used to alright," admits Neil, who's also a regular on BBC Northern Ireland's weekly comedy panel show, The Blame Game. "But people are very pleasant - except after a certain hour, maybe, in the pub when the chats start getting longer and more random. And I mean genuinely random - not random in the teenage 'Oh my God! It's so random sense - where people come up to you and say: 'I don't think my cyst is going to go away'. It's like, 'What? You didn't even say hello!' Really, genuinely mad stuff."
After years spent perfecting his rapid-fire brand of pub banter, it's perhaps no surprise that fans feel like they know the everyman comedian a little more intimately than they should.
But he hasn't always been so personable, Neil confesses: "When I started off, if somebody heckled me, I'd be so nervous that I'd just slam them: 'Shut your face! I shagged your mam!'
"After a while, you realise that there are different types [of hecklers]. There are heckles like, 'Yeah, I agree with you', and then there are heckles designed to try and arrest control of the gig away from you."
"Television in Ireland, it's not Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon," he adds. "People are much less impressed by anybody they might have seen on RTÉ than on American television. You wouldn't be allowed be an arsehole in a shop in Edenderry - nor should you be."
"I love those people who say, 'I'm very grounded'," laughs Neil. "Only people who are not grounded used the word 'grounded'. Do you know anybody who has a normal job, for want of a better word, who's ever said that? Like a local butcher who goes, 'Yeah, when I create a new steak and it all goes to my head, my wife keeps me grounded'. "
Not that award-winning funny man is immune to a little controversy either; more than 350 viewers reportedly complained to the state broadcaster over his 2011 appearance on The Late Late Show, during which he described the Duchess of Cambridge and sister Pippa Middleton as "rides", sparking a "bitch-fest" with fashion designer Paul Costelloe.
"As a comedian, I think you should be allowed to talk about anything," says Neil. "But I do think a comedian has to be able to stand over what they said as well."
"Context is everything, and usually what happens in a storm of outrage is that subtlety is the first victim: 'I can't believe he said this!' Well, hold on, why did he say this or why did she say this, and what were they trying to say?"
In the opposing corner are the critics who claim today's family-friendly comedy doesn't go far enough, he argues: "People who don't understand comedy think it should always be iconoclastic and it should always be satirical. You get people going, 'Why aren't comedians taking on the establishment?', and some of us probably should be. But then you've no room for Tommy Cooper, and you've no room for Jason Byrne or Morecambe and Wise.
"Comedy is just about whether you can make people laugh," reckons Neil. "And whatever way you can find that, once it's not cheap and it's not sexist or racist, then all bets are off. Do it whatever way you see fit.
"Luckily I've never woken up in the middle of the night going, 'Oh my God - I really shouldn't have said that!'
For his own sake, let's hope the comedian never has to fall back on his primary degree in Computer Applications, a career for which he was wholly unsuited, he reveals: "I'm glad I gave it up. I'm pretty sure there would be computer systems all around Ireland crashing right now if I hadn't.
"During the boom, I remember being sent out for some exorbitant consultancy fee - and you weren't getting it - and I hadn't a clue what I was doing."
"I thought of going back once," he tells, "maybe I had a run of gigs that weren't that great or maybe there wasn't that much work, but I remember ringing a friend to tell him, 'I'm thinking of going back'. He spoke to me like I had a terminal illness, he went, 'You're too far gone' - and he's right."
"I think performers are all a little bit weird, and I would include myself in that," tells Neil, who can be seen on part two of Holding Out For a Hero at 9pm on RTÉ 2 this Monday night. "You have to be a little bit odd to want to stand in a darkened room at night talking to strangers for a living.
"Part of me still thinks, 'Ah yeah, I have the degree now, I can go back'," he jokes. "After doing this for a few years though, you're completely unemployable in any standard job. Now that I've admitted in a national newspaper that I can barely turn on a computer, I'm banjaxed if this doesn't work out!"
A LIFE IN BRIEF
Name: Neil Delamere.
From: Edenderry, County Offaly.
Relationship status: Newly married to event management specialist Jane Russell.
Best known as: Razor-sharp culchie comedian as seen on The Panel.
Likes: People who say 'Mammy' and 'Santy' (as opposed to 'Mum' and 'Santa').
Dislikes: The D4 'Dort' accent.
Neil Delamere's new tour, 'The Fresh Prince of Delamere', runs nationwide from December to March. See www.neildelamere.com/gigs