Monday 20 November 2017

'This is the first time where I'm no version of myself, and it's tough' - PJ Gallagher as you've never seen him before

PJ Gallagher
PJ Gallagher
Melanie Finn

Melanie Finn

Comedian PJ Gallagher is reminiscing about his old RTE show Naked Camera. Still one of RTE's most-successful comedies to date, the foul-mouthed hidden camera show was his 'big break' and the one that put him - and Jake Stevens - on the Irish comedy map.

The same show even spawned a spin off, Makin' Jake, that took him over to America where he caught the attention of chat-show king Conan O'Brien. He reveals that he would dearly love to make another version of the hit show - but he fears the format has become "dated".

"We tried to make another one seven years ago. We tried it again one more time with all new, different characters but it just didn't work.

"People just caught us out and to be honest, I think hidden camera shows have had their day now. There's so many things out there now. I think the only reason we got away with it was because there hadn't been anything like that for years.

"Mike Murphy was the last time. That was in the 80s and we came along 30 years later to have a go and it felt like no one had done it in ages.

"So I think you can't do it any more. You say hidden camera show to people now and they just raise their eyes and go, 'Ah Jaysus, yeah whatever.' It's a shame. I loved it."

All of this is delivered with the cheery exuberance that PJ has become famous for and he betrays no sense of regret at having tried to recreate something that just didn't work out.

One of the biggest misnomers about comedians is that they're going to be a barrel of laughs to interview. But unlike many Irish comedians, PJ is genuinely funny off-stage as well as on.

Yet he freely admits that it takes a certain type of character to become a comedian and stand up on stage trying to draw the belly-laughs from a room full of total strangers.

"There's something wrong with all of us. Why else would you do it? Why would you stand up in front of people and ask for their attention if you didn't get enough hugs as a child or something?

"It's not a normal way to behave, to want to get up there and put yourself in front of a jury every day, it's an unusual way to carry on."

It's not hard to see why he's become one of Ireland's best-known comedians, despite having left school when he was 16.

Born in 1975, he grew up in the resolutely middle-class suburb of Clontarf, where he went to St Paul's school and had a perfectly 'normal' upbringing.

Last year saw him reveal that he was actually born in the famous mother-and-baby home Bessborough House. He was placed in foster care as a newborn before being adopted by Helen and the late Sean Gallagher.

He and sister Stacey were adopted and he describes himself as a "typical Irish mammy's boy" and growing up in his house was always "a great bit of craic".

But PJ admitted he has battled from confidence issues throughout his life, which he puts down to being adopted and feeling "like there was never a place for me".

He found some personal resolution after meeting his birth parents, who ended up marrying each other, when he was 28.

He said meeting them was "amazing" and he also discovered he has four half-siblings, two brothers and two sisters.

Meeting them probably helped him lay some demons to rest. It was also cathartic for him to use the experience of being adopted for a new comedy show called Separated at Birth, which met with acclaim.

The famous funnyman, who's married to wife Elaine and lives near his mum in Marino, is now taking a new career turn with his first serious acting role.

After a lifetime playing various interpretations of his own complex characters, the 4fm presenter's now going to put himself in the hands of writer and director Una McKevitt for her new play Alien Documentary as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

And he admits it's a strange experience having to read off a script for a change. The funny man had to brush up on some of those skills he learnt in the Gaiety School of Acting some 17 years ago.

"It's the first time I had to do something where I'm no version of myself. With stand up you can say whatever you want and there's no order to it and generally, you're just trying to get laughs," he said.

It's also a total role-reversal for him as he plays an introverted guy with a shady past.

"It's about three lads who kind of know each other. They have a heart-to-heart and all of us have a dark secret and it kind of comes out. I play a very shy guy. It's the opposite of me. I wouldn't have trouble holding a conversation," he said.

He admits to feeling the pressure of performing alongside two other actors.

"If I get up on stage and something goes wrong during stand-up, it's grand.

"This time there's people leaning on you, depending on you and you can let people down. And like that, you have to stay in character," he said.

"Stand-ups have it easy. Stand-ups will say they have it hard as it's just you standing up on stage.

"But when you do this, you realise it's a much harder gig as there's so many people depending on you. You can't just play for laughs, there's points in this show which are really tragic.

"There's some horrible dark parts and trying to be true to them and get comfortable to not having a laugh, that's tough."


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