Take a chance and have a laugh
Aidan Shields, stand-up comic, TEFL Teacher, dad and MC of the Juicebox comedy club talks to Margaret Roddy about bringing some of the biggest names in comedy to Dundalk
Tell us a bit about yourself - about the life which led you to comedy
Middle child. Five other siblings. I am from Dundalk but grew up in Toronto, Canada. Moved there when I was seven. I was dragged there kicking and screaming in 1990 and then in 1996, when I was nice and settled, dragged kicking and screaming back to Dundalk. I was always supposed to return to Toronto, enrolling in high school year after year, but I guess the town got a grip of me fairly quickly. Smoking fags, penny sweets and running through fields on the Red Barns road soon overshadowed my urban lifestyle of riding subways and skateboarding (badly) through down town Toronto.
When I came home I went to O'Fiaich College or The Tech as it is/was known. I'm not sure that was the best school for someone who sounded like 'a yank', looked like 'a grunger' and felt like a sore thumb but I managed a few years of it.
After secondary school, I worked as a milkman for a while then I worked in the Home Improvement Centre in William's Mall. To this day I could tell you how to build a house from scratch but have no idea how to actually do it. When I got made redundant from there I took my few pound and moved back to Toronto for a short while. My plan was to make a lot of money and meet the lads in Australia. Instead, I got a job removing asbestos for €11 an hour, spent most of my money on cigarettes and came back to Ireland a short while later.
In 2004, my girlfriend at the time told me she was pregnant. This, just before I told her I had been fired from my job in Atlantic Homecare. Now 21 and with a child on the way I decided to go to college. The likes of Trinity and UCD probably laughed at my attempts to apply for journalism with such paltry CAO points. DKIT on the other hand welcomed me with open arms onto their Cultural Studies course. It, like many liberal arts or humanities courses, had its advantages and disadvantages. One being you learn really cool stuff and actually enjoy doing each module, the other being you're almost less employable than when you started.
College with a newborn wasn't easy but DKIT was really cool and supportive at the time. My two year old son was in creche there and was more popular in the hallways than me. He probably should have ran for Student Union vice president instead of me. He probably would have got a lot more support. And had better policies. 'A slide in every classroom!'
After graduating I studied to become a 'TEFL teacher'. However, I didn't travel anywhere exotic with it other than Dublin where I've been working for last 6 years. People are funny when they ask you where you teach. 'Primary or secondary?'. 'Tefl.' 'Oh! That's nice. At least you travel.' 'I get the Matthews bus to Dublin.' 'Oh!'
I haven't worked in a couple of months due to being on crutches. A couple of operations have left me leeching cups of tea off my mother while I recover. The doctors keep recommending I drink more water, but we all know nothing heals bones faster than about forty six cups of tea a day.
I have a new baby girl too. Her name is Pippa. She's 9 month's old. She's sweet. She's starting to crawl. Pretty sure she's doing it just to spite me. She still hasn't forgiven me for spending Christmas in hospital and not seeing her.
Were you always interested in the stage/comedy? Did you take part in shows at school/youth clubs?
I always liked telling jokes I'd heard or read but had never really thought about doing it. In DKIT I did a bit of acting which scared the Be Jayzus out of me but held my concentration which is not an easy thing to do. I loved the adrenaline rush of acting. I think that's what I chase more. It was like bungee jumping without having to worry about your face smashing off the concrete 100ft below. I also joined the local Spiral Staircase theatre group which was great fun. I think I learned how NOT to act there…which is an equally important lesson. I wasn't so interested in learning lines. I loved the idea of improvving Shakespeare. I guess I'm like a spoiled Daniel Day Lewis who would just rather Wikipedia everything.
How did you get involved in the comedy scene? Where did you start out?
I did my first gig in DKIT. My friend Mark O'Leary kept begging me to do it. He kept telling me I was funny. I was terrified at the idea and kept refusing but then again if someone keeps telling you something…soon you start to believe it. Perhaps Mark was just desperate for his Event Management project to be a success but either way he slowly persuaded me.
On my first night I hid in a cubicle with my joke book in the college bar and texted Mark to tell him I couldn't do it. He brought me out to bar, filled me with Dutch courage, and watched me do fifteen minutes instead of the five I was terrified to do moments before. I basically abandoned all material on the night and made fun of people from Drogheda (who made up most of the audience and had been heckling me). I remember getting good laughs and some FAS apprentice wanting to kill me and me thinking that was a successful first night in comedy. It would be another couple of years before gathered the courage to do open mics in Dublin and set my sights on becoming a comedian. I blame Mark. He's probably laughing somewhere. With people from Drogheda.
What's the worst and best bits of going on stage in front of an audience?
The best is probably knowing it's going well. Getting an injection of adrenaline up there and finding another gear you didn't know you had. And meeting random people at festivals and they say 'Hey, you're that guy I saw in Leitrim in that noisy bar. Nobody was listening to you but I thought you were funny'. Good times.
The worst for me is when I bomb and know I bomb or another comic has bombed and giving each other false pats on the back. I generally ignore the person or just disappear 'cos the only thing worse than bombing is people trying to pretend you didn't bomb.
That and not getting any money for travelling across the country to do a few minutes of material. I once travelled to Galway for a competition and got knocked out in first round after doing a two minutes set. Not even a free pint out of it. I'm not bitter.
How would you describe your act?
Irreverent. Cheeky. Honest. Laidback. Odd. Or as recently described 'socially unacceptable commentary your ma wouldn't fall out with you over.'
You've been running the Juicebox for a few years now. What prompted you to start the club in Dundalk?
Running the club was a combination of wanting to bring more comedy to Dundalk and also wanting more stage time and a chance to learn to MC. I am always looking for ways to improve the club and follow examples from clubs in Dublin and the U.K. Though those changes aren't always suited to a Dundalk audience. JuiceBox has always supported local comedians at a grassroots level but also wants to be a professional comedy club where punters are treated to the very best underground comedy talent from Ireland, the U.K and further afield. We work alongside foreign comedy promoters to bring unique acts that have loads of TV experience but may still not be household names here such as Tommy Tiernan and Jason Byrne.
Comedy seems to be one of the things which continued to draw audiences even during the recession - why to you think that is?
I don't know if I would agree with that exactly. Many clubs struggle to get numbers through the doors even during the good times unless you have strong TV personalities headlining. A lot of punters won't take a chance on club comics entertaining them if they haven't seen them on the Late Late show cursing at Catholics. I would love if more folk supported Irish comedy and gave the clubs a chance instead of just filling theatres. Sometimes tickets for solo shows are 20 to 25 quid whereas you can usually see a list of top quality up-and-coming acts for a tenner or less.
I see more couples or those on first or second dates coming to shows. Which is a great idea really. 'Cos you don't have to say much. You're both going to laugh the night away and someone else is basically going to do all the hard work for you. We'll leave the awkward shifting to you.
Who have been your favourite acts to host in the Spirit Store? And who are your comedy heroes?
Tommy Tiernan making a surprise appearance was brilliant. I'd be a big fan of Tommy and him popping in unannounced was just brilliant. Phil Kay came over from Scotland. He has to be seen live. Words or YouTube will not do him justice. Surreal nonsense. But mind-blowing at the same time. I'm a big fan of American comedy too. Perhaps because I grew up with more of it than Irish/English stuff. Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Dave Chapelle. I love honesty in comedy. Doug Stanhope tells it like it is. You might not always like it or agree with it. But breaking down taboos and saying the unsayable would be a high priority. It takes great skill to do that without coming across as militant and I admire those who can do it and make it look easy. It's not.
People of Dundalk and beyond. Support live Irish comedy. You'll enjoy it. I swear. Take a chance on names you're not sure of. There is so much amazing talent out there but only the same names get recycled on TV and radio. Worst case you'll get to see someone bomb hard which can be more memorable than a good act. Just don't heckle. Nobody likes hecklers. You're not helping the show. Your friends will disown you. And probably your family. And rightfully so.
Next show is Thursday February 8th. I'll be supporting Canadian comedy legend Glenn Wool upstairs at the Spirit Store. Tickets can be bought at www.spiritstore.ie or McAteer's Food House. Tickets are €12.50 + booking fee. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook @JuiceboxComedy