Friday 16 November 2018

Do I amuse you... Do you think I'm a funny guy?

In the week David O'Doherty won the UK's top comedy prize, Eamon Sweeney picks Ireland's top 10 stand-ups

Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

Last Saturday, Dubliner David O'Doherty joined the elite of Irish stand-ups when he scooped comedy's most illustrious honour at the Edinburgh Festival.

The man from Sandymount, Dublin joins such homegrown winners of 'the Oscar of comedy' as Tommy Tiernan (1996) -- who went on to sell out more than 100 shows in Dublin's Vicar Street - and Dylan Moran (1998), who later starred in his award-winning Channel 4 sitcom, Black Books.

But will O'Doherty be able to match their achievements? And just how funny is the current crop of Irish comedians who came in their wake?

If the self-regarding patter that passes for cutting-edge comedy on RTE's The Panel is anything to go by, standards here have dropped in the meantime. That said, O'Doherty was a popular winner of the Prize Formerly Known As The Perrier (and currently known as the if.comedy award, after sponsors Intelligent Finance). One reviewer in the UK raved: "When a stand-up gig goes this well, you do get a sense of how religions are started."

In the wake of O'Doherty's historic victory, here's a timely round-up of the greatest Irish comedy acts of all time.

1. Dave Allen

Even though Allen is widely hailed as a massive influence by scores of comedians, his position in modern comedy is still sorely underrated.

Born in Firhouse in 1936, he enjoyed a career spanning four decades. After a stint as a journalist, Allen became a Butlins Redcoat. In 1961, he worked as a compere with a then unknown group called The Beatles and toured the UK and France.

Allen patented a relaxed 'sit-down-stand up' style on shows such as Tonight With Dave Allen in Australia and Dave Allen at Large for the BBC. Graham McCann, editor of the superb collection, The Essential David Allen, wrote: "He loved wildflowers, the Irish rugby team, art, whisky, laughter, the company of friends, peace of mind and his family."

Allen died peacefully in his sleep in March 2006. "He was an original," Eddie Izzard said in tribute. "He carved his own path and he was a torchbearer for all the excellent Irish comics who have followed in recent years."

2. Tommy Tiernan

Tommy Tiernan is easily the most successful and consistently funny Irish comedian of modern times. Born in Cardonagh, Co Donegal, Tiernan went to St Patrick's Classical School in Navan, where his classmates included fellow Perrier winner Dylan Moran and his best friend, the madcap ginger gaelgoir presenter Hector Ó hEochagáin.

No other comic in Ireland can match Tommy for box office records. Indeed, staff in Vicar Street, Dublin, where Tiernan plays multiple-night residencies for weeks at a time, nicknamed the newly installed PA system "Tommy Tiernan's CD player".

3. Dylan Moran

It's astonishing that two Perrier Award winners attended the same school. While Moran has concentrated on writing and television in recent years, including the phenomenally successful Black Books series, he's planning a live comeback tour for this winter and recently performed in a one-off show for the Liverpool European Capital of Culture celebrations alongside Tommy Tiernan and Ardal O'Hanlon, entitled The Three Fellas. In the late Nineties, Dylan often looked like he'd just gotten out of bed before the show. Indeed, on many occasions, he just had.

4. Sean Hughes

A One Night Stand with Sean Hughes won the Perrier in 1990, making the Dubliner the youngest ever recipient of the award. His Channel 4 series Sean's Show was a massive success in the early Nineties and picked up the station's best sitcom accolade. He marked the occasion of his 30th birthday with the acclaimed Sean Hughes is Thirty Somehow tour.

Hughes has also written two novels, worked as a radio presenter and, most notably, as a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. More recently, he played the part of Pat on Coronation Street.

5. David O'Doherty

David O'Doherty is the newest face in the elite of Irish comedy in the wake of his Edinburgh success. Indeed, O'Doherty is no stranger to winning, as he won a Leinster Schools Junior Cup medal playing rugby with St Michael's in 1991. In 1999, he picked up his first comedy gong in the So You Think You're Funny newcomers competition in Edinburgh.

In addition to receiving a Best Newcomer nomination for David O'Doherty -- The Boy Who Saved Comedy in 2000, he came extremely close to bagging the if.comedy prize in 2006. Of course, his current show, Let's Comedy triumphed in 2008.

6. Mr Trellis

Four of Ireland's finest and funniest comedy minds blazed a trail for alternative stand-up in the late Eighties with the surreal genius of Mr Trellis.

Ardal O'Hanlon, Barry Murphy and Kevin Gildea reunited to perform a special one-off show entitled Messin' to mark their 20th anniversary at this year's Cat Laughs. The wacky sketches were still hilarious and remarkably fresh after all these years.

Of course, Ardal went on to be Father Dougal Maguire on Father Ted and Barry still writes and performs as part of Aprés Match.

Without Mr Trellis, Irish comedy simply wouldn't be as thriving as it is today.

7. Jason Byrne

By all accounts, Jason's show Cats Under Mats Having Chats With Bats was also one of the highlights of this year's Edinburgh and garnered five-star reviews. Byrne's high octane comedy whirlwind is a perennial hit with audiences and he regularly fills Vicar St for long runs.

A maestro at improvisation, no two Jason Byrne shows are ever alike. He also hosts the popular RTÉ show Anonymous, where Byrne has persuaded disguised celebrities such as Nicky Byrne and Patrick Kielty to wind up Brian O'Driscoll, Northern Irish politicians and many other public figures.

8. Brendan Grace

Grace is a true giant of Irish comedy and still holds an honoured place in our imagination for his portrayal of the Dublin schoolboy character, Bottler.

The late Frank Sinatra called him "my man in Europe" and Ol' Blue Eyes booked Grace to compere tours with Sammy Davis Jr and Liza Minelli all over the continent. His turn as Father Stack on Father Ted is widely hailed by many Tedheads as one of the highlights of the whole series. This year, Grace played two sold-out shows in the Helix and appeared at Feile Chamlocha in Newry.

9. Dermot Morgan

Best known to the world at large as Father Ted, Morgan's Scrap Saturday is still the funniest programme ever to be broadcast on Irish radio. His work for The Live Mike was also priceless.

Of course, Morgan died at the age of 45 of a sudden heart attack just 24 hours after completing the final season of Father Ted. In June this year, a fundraising event to create an Irish comedy bursary was staged in Vicar St called An Audience Without Dermot Morgan.

10. D'Unbelievables

While some urbane comedy aficionados would turn their noses up in disgust at the D'Unbelievables, there's no denying the fact that Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny were one of the funniest Irish comedy double acts of all time, hilariously parodying the kind of characters you'd encounter on any street corner in Ireland.

They're certainly the most successful. Between them, both D'Unbelievables and Tommy Tiernan have outsold every other comedy DVD on the market in this country hands down.

As for a comeback, both Shortt and Kenny have repeatedly said, "never say never".

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