Sunday 19 November 2017

Oliver Callan: My mind is a ping-pong machine and the ball hurtles around aimlessly

Oliver Callan (34.5) is the satirist and impressionist behind 'Callan's Kicks'. The son of a Cork mother, he was raised on a farm in Inniskeen, Co Monaghan, but now lives in south County Dublin. He left journalism six years ago to join the comedy circus

Oliver Callan: We all spend our lives worrying about the future, until we have none. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Oliver Callan: We all spend our lives worrying about the future, until we have none. Photo: Gerry Mooney

The phone alarm goes off at 8am, and by the time I've hit 'snooze' 14 times, the battery is down to 10pc, so I have to get up. As I stagger to the shower like a baby giraffe walking on ice, I curse whatever Netflix junk kept me up two hours later than I intended. After failing to floss - but lying to myself that I will, tomorrow morning, when I have more energy - it's time to eat. First, I open the press containing all the porridge, muesli and flaxseeds, but it all went off two years ago and I know this, so I have toast and eggs instead, comforted by the memory of those good intentions when I bought the healthy stuff. Often, I will have two eggs. I don't believe the claims that they are high in cholesterol, because that ruins breakfast. Marty Whelan on lyric is my choice of radio, as it's cheerful.

I live in south County Dublin, where I moved a few years ago and set up a studio. This is a great place to live when your commute is a 10-minute walk, but I don't think it's safe, because people around here seem to be very fearful. It's beside the sea, so perhaps they live in dread of floods, because they drive huge trucks with fuel emissions that would embarrass a 1984 Ford Cortina. So afraid are they of taking their hand off the wheel, that they won't even salute you if you let them into your lane.

I work from home until lunchtime - it's too shameful to admit what I have for lunch; just look at my midriff in recent photos, and you'll have a good guess - then walk to the office. OK, sometimes I take the car, if it's raining. Or if there's rain forecast. Or someone has mentioned rain in the last seven days. The walk takes 10 minutes. Often, the drive can take 20 minutes, because life doesn't make any sense. I stay in the office and pretend to work for most of the afternoon, but really, I get everything important done in an hour, just like 90pc of the population.

When Callan's Kicks is on air, I have to read massive amounts of news online. I have a few subscriptions so I don't miss anything, but I will usually get distracted and start watching videos and reading content irrelevant to the week's show. Then the endless emails start, all that scrolling and updating and replying to the interminable onslaught that will only end when I die. Or if I run screaming into the forest, like Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans, vowing to shed all technology. Although I'll probably emerge from the forest every now and then, to see if my vow to relinquish all belongings has gone viral.

I've a show touring in the autumn; it won't actually get written - just abandoned, when I run out of time - and lots of the gags will be improvised on the night. Don't tell anyone. They pay a lot to come in.

There is no formal structure to my working life. Callan's Kicks goes out on a Friday. A lot of the writing is done on Wednesday, then rewritten on Thursday and recorded up until midnight. Half of that often gets redone on Friday. I get distracted along the way watching YouTube videos and replying to emails. I work best when the deadline is looming. And I'm most productive at night, when the phone stops ringing and news stops breaking. As an ex-journo, it's the deadline looming that kicks me into action. I had no future in journalism though, I just couldn't hack phones.

As far as coming up with characters goes, either I spot someone, or it's suggested to me who I should do next. I start doing them badly, and then one word and notion just hits me and I have them. For example, when I'm doing Dobbo, I just sit and watch something and commentate as Dobbo, in an excessively cruel way. For example, I was cooking earlier, and RTE News was reporting stuff about Northern Ireland. So I went into Dobbo mode: 'Good Lord, not the North again. The only reason they all agreed to have peace was to keep Tommie Gorman off the news. They lasted just 10 years. Oh well, what can you expect from a region that names an airport after an alcoholic wife-beater?' In summary, I torture everyone with a new impression until they beg me to stop, to tone it down for taste, and, hey presto - a new Callan's Kicker is born.

The inspiration comes from anywhere, any time. My mind is like a ping-pong machine, and the ball hurtles about aimlessly until it hits something and pings. The 'Brian Cody interview' sketch that I had ready for the hurling final - I came up with that while I was cutting a hedge. The impressions and character building is largely done in my head, but the Callan's Kicks shows are written with a surprisingly large team, with a huge drinking capacity.

I would like to do lots of writing and less emailing, accounting, logistics and driving about like a storm-chaser. I have a few ideas whereby I hope to spend my entire future life reading lots, and writing even lotser.

For exercise, I now cycle to meetings. And my remote-control arm gets plenty of flexing. Oh, and the same arm opens wine, too. It's very active. I should drink with my left to balance it out, lest I develop Popeye-right-arm syndrome.

I mostly cook at home, but it usually tastes of disappointment. For treats, I go to La Reserve in Ranelagh, with friends, to discuss sketch ideas.

Before bed, I read things like John Connolly, which give me nightmares. Or watch things on Netflix, which also give me nightmares. I love nightmares. Mine are often directed by Stanley Kubrick. Before sleep, I picture dreadful, evil people and fantasise about taking them out with a sniper rifle or a silenced revolver. It relaxes me. It's like the Tarantino version of counting sheep. Am I happy? That's a ridiculous question. We all spend our lives worrying about the future, until we have none.

In conversation with Emily Hourican

'Oliver Callan Live' is a night of music, satire and comedy, at venues across Ireland until November 28. For dates, see

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