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Oliver Callan on perfecting his Mary Lou impression and why people call him a Shinner: ‘The Government almost revolves around whatever Sinn Féin is doing’

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Comedian Oliver Callan knows the importance of making his work topical. Picture by David Conachy

Comedian Oliver Callan knows the importance of making his work topical. Picture by David Conachy

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald

King Charles said Callan was 'a dangerous man'

King Charles said Callan was 'a dangerous man'

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Comedian Oliver Callan knows the importance of making his work topical. Picture by David Conachy

Comedian Oliver Callan is trying to master a decent impression of Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. What he has is good, but he’s finding it hard to perfect.

He has mastered impressions of Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin and Michael D Higgins — but says McDonald is now the one to crack.

The woman who would be taoiseach has become a “phenomenon in Ireland”, he says. 

“Big up to all my Mary Lou-atics out there,” he shouts in character, “My Sinn Féin-luencers, we are going to TikTok the shock, Tiocfaidh ár pensions, we won and let’s be positive. The Government is collapsing and Britney is finally free.”

A champion of political satire, Callan knows the importance of making his work on radio and television topical — which is why he wants to get his McDonald voice “just right”.

‘If I was in Fine Gael I would have ousted Leo and put in Helen McEntee’

“I have been watching the personality around Mary Lou, even the branding has become quite extraordinary and there are still two and a half years until the next election. 

“She is clearly now a massively influential person, and the reason I think that is happening in the south is that the Government almost revolves around whatever Sinn Féin is doing and talking about. The attention of the Government is on Sinn Féin...

“And the Government is in a trap, particularly Leo Varadkar. Nobody is talking about him, but everyone is talking about Mary Lou.”

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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald

If successful at the next election, McDonald may well be the first female to lead the Irish government and if that happens, “it will wipe away every previous historic moments we have had”, he says. 

“From the youngest to the first gay — all those moments will be gone. We’re now into the game of who can be the first female taoiseach.

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"If I was in Fine Gael I would have ousted Leo and put in Helen McEntee to steal that crown from the Shinners. It is going to be a big selling point at the next election, particularly with women voters.”

He is quick to compliment McDonald, so is Callan a secret Sinn Féin supporter?

“No. But I do get accused of being a Shinner, because I am from County Monaghan and seem to be harder on the people who are in power — therefore I must be a Shinner.”

He says he does comedy “through the prism of journalism with opinions, but with no agenda.”

He met Prince Charles ‘and he did an Irish accent, which was interesting’

The death of Queen Elizabeth means Callan will also have to work on his King Charles impression — but fortunately, he has already spent time with him.

Having met him at a dinner in 2019, Callan was introduced at the table as “the guy who does voices”.

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King Charles said Callan was 'a dangerous man'

King Charles said Callan was 'a dangerous man'

King Charles said Callan was 'a dangerous man'

“Straight away, the then prince asked me: ‘Who do you do?’. So I did Boris Johnson and Donald Trump quite loudly in the corner. Simon Coveney [our Minister for Foreign Affairs] broke away from a conversation with the British Ambassador, looked over and turned pale. 

“Charles certainly laughed, and he did an Irish accent, which was interesting. People might immediately think he is making fun of the Irish, but he wasn’t.

“During an address to the room, Charles looked at me and said: ‘He is a dangerous man to know’. I will definitely use that in my next poster. ‘He is a dangerous man,’ signed King Charles III’,” says Callan. 

He praises Charles for “understanding a lot about Ireland and wanting to know more” — unlike some of the people he met in his new myth-busting exploration into Ireland’s culture for the BBC aimed at educating Britain about its neighbour.

“We set out to kill stereotypes and educate them somewhat on the dynamics of modern Ireland,” he said.

And on that very different Ireland to the one he grew up in, Callan will marry John Lannin, his partner of 10 years, at Castle Leslie Estate in Monaghan next month. “We are really looking forward to it,” he smiles. 

Back to his work and he is busy as ever — his hit RTÉ show Callan’s Kicks will be 10 years’ old at Christmas, which gives him plenty of time to get that McDonald voice down. 

Six episodes of ‘Killing Leprechauns’ are now streaming on BBC Sounds. ‘Callan’s Kicks’ returns to RTÉ Radio One on Fridays at 6.30pm and on podcast from October 7 


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