You get the feeling that lockdown has been good to Kevin McGahern. He's emerged from it with a new TV series - RTE1's Summer at Seven - a magazine show about the 'new normal' which he co-presents with Sinead Kennedy. He's currently getting in shape after spending the early part of it "living hedonistically, like every day was Friday night at Electric Picnic". And he and his wife, Siobhan, have just found out they have a baby on the way.
"It's a Covid baby I'll have you know," he explains. "The boredom had set in. We'd watched the third season of The Wire and eventually you have to do something else. I don't think we're alone. I'm predicting there is going to be a 'hape' of Covid babies at the end of the day."
While they're delighted, he says a baby is a bit like "a kiln" in a relationship. "It is sort of like turning up the heat and solidifying something. I think it definitely solidified us."
He and Siobhan got married in 2017 in Cavan where they both grew up. He says people were surprised they went for each other.
"Arty people tend to never go out with people from their home town and we were both told, 'oh, I'd say you'll end up with some real fancy one with a beret'. People were surprised that we went local. The only danger is that I've never seen a detailed family tree for her and I come from a long line of people who've bred in the same village. It can get dangerous."
Growing up on a farm in Cavan, Kevin's artiness was a liability in other ways. "I was the eldest and set the bar very low for the two lads coming after me," he explains. "It was fairly obvious from a young age that I was utterly useless at football and farming, which meant I was basically excommunicated from the parish. I was good at art and my parents were supportive of that; they knew I wouldn't have a solid well-paid job but they were supportive of whatever decision I wanted to make."
He went to art college in Scotland and came back with hair tumbling down his shoulders. "I thought I looked like Jim Morrison but I really looked like Michael Jackson when he had that really womanly hair," he explains. "Girls would have killed for it, I should have sold it as a wig."
He thought the best way to make a career in art would be to work in animation, but he was fired from his first job. Then the recession hit and he got a job working in the International Bar, but that didn't last either. "I thought this is the best time to quit the job, while everyone else is getting fired. Being a comedian in the recession was great. It was a socially acceptable time to be unemployed and I loved that. I was on the dole for about six years, I'd say."
He was weaned on the storytelling style of Tommy Tiernan and his early stand-up style was, he says, "like a poor man's Dylan Moran".
"I had a couple of funny songs at the end back then, and Colm O'Regan told me to stick with those," he recalls, "there was a lot to learn." He was spotted by Hardy Bucks' creator Chris Tordoff, who offered him a cameo role in the hit show; he'd eventually have a recurring part. For someone who languished so long in unemployment, he seemed to discover his work ethic and ambition in a big way because after that first break, he was almost constantly in work. He hosted Republic of Telly for three years until the show's last episode at the end of 2016.
He also presented his own documentaries, Fast and Furious and Kevin McGahern's America, for RTE, both of which garnered warm reviews.
So was there any snobbery with moving from the cut and thrust of stand-up into light entertainment?
"I think snobbery comes from a place of not working," he says. "It's very easy to have morals and standards when you've nothing going on. Entertainment is so tough to survive in that everyone is doing whatever they can to survive and you're constantly trying new things."
Did being on television so much mean that he could go back to Cavan with his head held high?
"Success in Ireland is a funny thing, you'll get slagged no matter what you do. You might think you can go back home with your head held high but they'll knock the corners off you very quickly when you round the corner of the pub. But, well, it beats laying bricks anyway," he says.
His live work fell away during the pandemic but he says that he baulked at the idea of following many of his fellow comedians into doing online gigs.
"I was to be touring at the moment and there are a lot of festivals cancelled but to be honest, I'm busier than I was last year. I miss the buzz of performing, stand-up is the great excuse to drink three pints on a Tuesday night. I haven't figured out how to put down pints as an expense. I've seen people do Zoom gigs and I can't get my head around it. Think of any Zoom meeting you've been on, you make a joke and there's this weird delay and you're wondering did the joke land, is that a bad line?"
The new show, Summer at Seven, is recorded live.
"I was apprehensive about that whereas Sinead was relishing it," he says. "I was afraid of something going wrong whereas she was saying 'something could go wrong!' As if that would be part of the fun. Comedy is good for getting you ready for the unexpected. I love a good heckle. It's the most exciting thing in your day, having a verbal sparring match with some drunk lad."
He says the lockdown has encouraged community spirit in Rathgar, where he lives, and he has belatedly "drifted into self improvement".
"It's like the end of Groundhog Day where he learns the piano," he says. "I've avoided getting fit practically my whole life, but I'm trying now. My body is basically a system of bacon fat and elastic bands held together with a system of pulleys. I've been trying to drink less, I didn't think that I'd be able to last three months without going to the pub but here we are - in a sense I think it's been a great thing - being unplugged. The kids who've been forced to stay at home will have way better language skills and development. Meanwhile their parents are like, 'let's give teachers a raise!'"
The sobriety intentions sound noble but, of course, he's drinking for two now.
"That's what I keep telling her! She doesn't appreciate that joke. No, seriously, we are thrilled. It's the first grandchild on my side. We're keeping the gender private for now. I kind of like the idea of being a youngish dad. And we'll always be able to tell him or her they were a Covid baby."
Summer at Seven is on RTE1, Thursdays at 7pm
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