Sunday 22 July 2018

Are Cork people especially funny, or is it just that they think they are?

A quirky slice of Cork humour lit up YouTube this week and was shared over a million times. But are Leesiders especially funny, or is it just that they think they are? Frank Coughlan looks for the city's funny bone

Sporting chants: Kevin Murphy (aka Richy Sheehy) on Sky 1's Soccer AM to perform his rendition of 'Sugar, Sugar' last Saturday
Sporting chants: Kevin Murphy (aka Richy Sheehy) on Sky 1's Soccer AM to perform his rendition of 'Sugar, Sugar' last Saturday
Cork comedy gold in Cha & Miah
John Creedon as gay hairdresser Terence

Did you hear the one about the Cork guy who didn't think he was funny?

No, me neither. Because everyone in the city thinks he's a comedian. Obviously, like.

As a place that has elevated exceptionalism to something of an art form, Cork naturally considers itself the most hilarious place on the planet, just as it reckons it's the best at most things most of the time.

You know the drill.

Cork comedy gold in Cha & Miah
Cork comedy gold in Cha & Miah

There's only one Keano, the Real Taoiseach, the People's Republic. And so it goes.

This week, Cork's greatest Liverpool fan Kevin Murphy uploaded a video of his new footie chant, to the tune of 'Sugar, Sugar' by The Archies.

Except it's not by dopey langer Kevin at all, but Cork-born and Amsterdam-based stand-up Richy Sheehy.

Recorded with last weekend's big one against Manchester City in mind, it's a rallying call to the Kop in the aftermath of the sale of prize asset Philippe Coutinho to Barca.

Shared well over a million times and retweeted by Anfield legend Jamie Carragher, it is truly hilarious and clever with it.

Pure Cork too, of course. Northside by the sound of it.

John Creedon as gay hairdresser Terence
John Creedon as gay hairdresser Terence

A reminder, perhaps that even though the southern capital isn't as ridiculously funny as it thinks it is by right and birth, it can still make you laugh when you least expect it.

But is this YouTube sensation a hoot because of its accent and distinct Corkness, or has it nothing to do with that? Is it just funny anyway?

Let's not start analysing what comedy is. There is nothing less funny in the entire world than the examination of what tickles us. No laugh at all. It's a waste of time, too.

And the components that make something funny out of a sense of place are equally slippery and elusive.

But Cork does seem to have a knack for self-deprecation and there is something in the sing-song delivery and hang-dog expressiveness that adds other vital ingredients. Mix into that a sense of indignation, often with peacock hubris, and you do indeed get a heady stew.

Before John Creedon became a national treasure as purveyor of great tunes on the wireless, he created the character Terence, a gay Cork hairdresser who used to regale Gerry Ryan's huge 2FM audience with the little triumphs and tragedies of his life.

It wouldn't get commissioned today, but it was eye-watering and unmistakably Cork.

This was the 1980s when Cork, shorn of big industries like the Fords and Dunlops, was on its knees. It was a bleak place of moving statues, long dole queues and desperately in need of cheering up.

Terence - irreverent, indignant and innocent at the same time - was a defiant signal that the place hadn't entirely lost its swagger. He was gently subversive too which made him even more adorable.

There was never any doubt about the bloodline of the Hall's Pictorial Weekly two-hander Cha & Miah of a decade earlier.

Both Michael Twomey and his straight man Frank Duggan had one gag, tirelessly and brilliantly regifted on RTÉ every week where they sat on a park bench and waxed sing-song and lyrical about Cork's pivotal and central role in western civilisation and their puzzlement that western civilisation wasn't suitably appreciative.

"I dunno, boy," Cha would say, shaking his head more in sorrow than anger.

Back then, of course, Jack Lynch was either Taoiseach or threatening to be, the hurlers were doing threes-in-a-row and Rory Gallagher was turning down offers to join the Rolling Stones.

A hungover George Best even turned out for the local football team. It was the only time in his entire career that he failed to score away from home.

Cork was in its own heaven.

Both Twomey and Duggan were veterans of the stage in their hometown and their humour and delivery were fine-tuned to the peculiarities and the affectations of their own. The sort of people who were full of themselves, but strangely likeable at the same time.

The curtain calls and grease paint that shaped Cha & Miah's act over time would have been just as familiar to Billa O'Connell, a legend of countless Opera House pantos and Summer Revels.

In a grey and dreary post-war city, Billa was the performer Corkonians turned to for a bit of light relief. He was their Bob Hope. His humour, rooted in the vernacular, would not have travelled well. But then it never had to.

Local boy Danny La Rue did travel and the drag queen became a huge star in baby-boom Britain. While Dev's prudish Ireland didn't go in for that class of thing, his home town was quietly proud of him and his gorgeous frocks.

The queen gave him an OBE, but his own City Hall never made him a Freeman.

More openly embraced was effortlessly funny actor and mimic Niall Tóibín, the northsider who had a way of narrowing his eyes and delivering a 'who-do-you-think-you're-coddin' acerbic aside that would put manners on any transgressor.

But the city still has a funny bone. Chris Walley and Alex Murphy created more than a few belly-laughs in Peter Foott's movie The Young Offenders in 2016 and a six-part TV spin-off for BBC3 has just wrapped.

Last year local comic group Cahoots had one of the unexpected hits of the RTÉ autumn season with charming and mischievous The School, shot in Cobh.

And it will be interesting to see how the New York comedy circuit is taking to the self-exiled stand-up Maeve Higgins, who brings an unmistakably Leeside drollness to everything she does. Cork's loss could well be Brooklyn's gain. It's the city that can't stop giving.

Graham Norton might be Britain's favourite chatshow host these days but he first came to prominence with a drag turn as Mother Teresa at the Edinburgh Festival. It's not what his nice Church of Ireland mother in sleepy Bandon would have had in mind for him but it paid off.

Is there anything peculiarly Cork about Graham's comedy shtick? No, but the city is entitled to claim him anyway.

But you don't have to sit on a couch or in an auditorium to expose yourself to the best comedy. Like Dublin, Liverpool or any place with an exaggerated sense of its own importance, you will find that the local wags have some of the best lines.

Nor do you have to be a football fan to be entertained at a Cork City match. The one-liners are unrehearsed, always funny and sometimes savage. They are nearly always unrepeatable, too.

I have to go back to my childhood, though, to find my favourite football put-down.

Donie Leahy, a Cork soccer legend who sadly died in 2015, was coming back from a long lay-off and very obviously carrying an extra stone. An injury crisis meant he had to come on as a sub in a crucial cup game.

Visibly unfit and completely immobile, we watched in bemusement as the game passed him by. He seemed marooned on the centre circle like a car with flat tyres.

Eventually an exasperated fan cupped his mouth in his hands and roared so all could hear: "Lie down Donie, you'd cover more ground."

The Flower Lodge crowd erupted.

Now, that's Cork humour, boy. Write it down.

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