‘I’m all about being joyful’: Why Ardal O’Hanlon is on a mission to get us all laughing again

‘I’m all about being joyful’: Why Ardal O’Hanlon is on a mission to get us all laughing again

WHAT we all need right now is a good laugh.

That’s according to comedian Ardal O’Hanlon, who claims the state of the post-pandemic world we live in – between things like Brexit, the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis, leaves many a dark place for people’s minds to wander to.

But not on O’Hanlon’s watch.

No, the Monaghan-born stand-up, writer and star of such TV hits as Father Ted, Death in Paradise and, most recently, a cameo role in Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls, is determined to do his bit to counteract the negativity we find around us.

As such, he is about to set off on tour with an updated version of The Showing Off Must Go On, a show which he managed to get out to some audiences a couple of years back before it was abruptly curtailed by Covid-19.

“This show started back in 2019, I toured it right up until March 2020 when the world stopped, obviously, rudely interrupted by the virus,” he explains.

“So, this is kind of picking up the show again,” says O’Hanlon, “but now of course an awful lot has happened in between, so it has evolved and is quite different to the one I started out with.

“But the foundations, the guts of the show if you like, are still there, comedy is one of those things that are just constantly evolving.”

There are, of course, plenty of new topics for O’Hanlon to cover, post-pandemic.

As a stand-up, the Irishman admits his routines are generally inspired by his life and “the world around us”, and this show is no different.

“I cover everything really,” he explains.

“It’s the usual mixture of silliness, extreme silliness, observational comedy, and whatever bit of profundity slips in there.”

Comedian Ardal O'Hanlon is back on tour in Britain and Ireland next month (Pic: Mark Nixon)

But a couple of key themes do emerge, he confirms. One is about “men acting their age”, which is “something that is important to me”, O’Hanlon explains, and another is the fact that “technology is taking over our lives”.

“There is a fair bit about that in there actually and that kind of stuff that has crept in more during the pandemic, when it was clear that technology was playing an outside part in our life,” he says.

“I touch on all of those areas, but then I touch on more generic areas too, like relationships, like dealing with teenagers, but hopefully dealing with that in a fresh way, you know, an original take on that kind of thing.”

And he is confident the world is ready for jokes about Covid-19, having taken part in a number of online comedy shows during lockdown where “audiences were more than willing to laugh”.

“Obviously you’re not laughing at the horror that is the virus and the horrific consequences for a lot of families,” O’Hanlon clarifies, “but laughing about the way some of us reacted, you know, the crazy things we did.

“Like people moving to the country, people trying to heat their garden in winter – I mean heating an Irish garden, or an English garden in winter? Come on, even the thought of it.

“And the extreme lengths people were going to, taking up crazy hobbies, just doing bizarre things, and the etiquette of Covid-19, all of that – there was lots to mine there, there was lots that was amusing,” he adds.

“Even just watching Normal People, for example, which was a huge show both sides of the Atlantic, which is based on the novel by Sally Rooney and is very graphic in terms of the sex scenes.

“But sitting around watching that with your family, there is a lot of humour to be mined there. Where you are all trapped in the same house together and you have to somehow run along.”

Then there was the issue of pornography, which he claims became “quite a concern” in his own home during lockdown.

“My son, a young boy, 18 years old, was stuck in a house all day, and I am a bit of a prude, so I was worried about pornography,” he laughs.

“So, I had to have this big talk about pornography with my son and that’s now in the show.”

The newly updated version of The Showing Off Must Go On will be on tour in Britain and Ireland this November.

When we spoke, O’Hanlon had just returned from a stint in the US, where he claims audiences were receptive to the updated material but admits there were topics to be avoided too.

“I would always try to be careful when composing a show, so that it would be relatable to a British or Irish audience but also that it would travel, so you touch upon universal stuff,” he explains.

“But the world is very small now, and most references travel well” he adds, “20 years ago I probably would have had to change a lot of this routine for the US, but I didn’t have to change much at all when I was over there.”

There are some topics that don’t sit well with a US audience, however.

“Everyone is very sensitive now, a lot of people are very grumpy, and we all know people who are permanently outraged and very easily offended,” he says.

“You are going to offend people naturally enough in stand-up,” he adds.

“I mean my stuff is relatively clean and relatively inoffensive in a lot of ways, but you have to be careful in certain places.

“In America, for example, religion is a funny topic that you are better off avoiding.

“And politics is also another one, because it is so divided there - it is almost literally two countries there now.”

He explains: “When you play certain places in America, in interests of self-preservation, you have to be very careful in what you say in terms of politics.

“No one is going to take superficial observations on American politics from an outsider - so that’s just something that basic common sense tells you to avoid.

“Stuff like gun control, I have tried that before. Now coming from an American comedian you might get away with it, but coming from an Irish comedian, not really.

“You don’t live there you don’t get the culture, you just drop it, there is no point waving around your liberal credentials, you just use your common sense.”

The Irish comedian is determined to bring laughter back into our lives (Pic: Mark Nixon)

Luckily, O’Hanlon is more concerned with spreading joy while on the comedy circuit.

“To be honest with you, particularly post-pandemic, I am all about being joyful and using comedy as a vehicle to unite people, to have fun and for a bit of escapism – as people are in a pretty dark place at the moment with the cost-of-living crisis and everything else.

“So that is my main priority at the moment, to make people laugh.”

And the comic is confident that laughter can get us all through the dark times, while still getting a political message or two across through the stand-up arena.

“I think comedy is pretty accessible for all, it is not like the theatre or the opera which is kind of exclusive and people can feel like they don’t belong there,” he says.

“Comedy is kind of universal - it’s very portable, you can go to all sorts of places with your comedy.

“For instance, on this tour I am going to the wilds of Scotland to places I have never been to before, places like Oban and Findhorn, you know small places, on the outer reaches of Scotland, and that’s what you can do with stand-up.

“It’s a great platform and it’s not that you ignore the issues either, you still do it in your own little way, almost by stealth.”

He explains: “The show is political because humans are political, we are political animals, you know.

“You do sneak your views in there somewhere without losing the overriding objective of making people laugh.”

That rule applies to other mediums too, including television, claims O’Hanlon, who is one of a number of Irish stars cast in cameo roles in the hit sitcom Derry Girls.

O’Hanlon played Eamonn, the awkward, middle-aged mummy’s boy of the Quinn/McCool extended family, in the Channel 4 show.

He appeared in series two and was brought back for the showstopping final episode of series three, which aired earlier this year.

While admitting working on it was as much fun as it looks, he claims Derry Girls is an example of a show which boasts as much politics as it does humour.

“It’s interesting,” he says, “Derry Girls is a very fluffy, high energy, high-octane show, but that last episode that I was in, with the Good Friday Agreement, a lot of viewers said they learnt more about the history of Northern Ireland in one-hour of comedy than they did in 20 years of watching the news.

“So, comedy is flexible like that, you can use it to say all sorts of things without being really overt about it.”

Regarding the experience of taking part in the show – which has amassed a global fanbase since it first hit our screens in January 2018 – he says: “I loved being involved in Derry Girls.

“I was lucky enough to do a cameo in a couple of episodes in series two and they brought back my character for that landmark episode in series three.

“I worked briefly with Lisa McGee before on a previous show she did years ago called London Irish, so I knew what she was all about and I knew where she was coming from and I know by the sheer fact of casting me in that cameo role that she was making a nod to Father Ted and the history of Irish comedy in British TV.

“So, it’s nice to be part of that continuity and to recognise that link, but apart from anything else it’s just a great show that caught fire that celebrates women, celebrates Derry and celebrates Northern Ireland in a way that Northern Ireland was never represented before on British TV.”

And as TV roles go for O’Hanlon - who starred as Father Dougal McGuire in Fr Ted from 1995-1998 and played lead character DI Jack Mooney in the BBC’s Death in Paradise from 2017-2020 – his Derry Girls debut was a “blessing” in terms of workload.

“To be honest doing those cameo roles is an absolute blessing and a joy,” he says.

“I have been very lucky in my life to be playing leading roles where you have to kind of carry the whole series in some ways and you feel that burden, you feel that responsibility, but to just step in for a few days and do something like that is just a joy.”

Despite being such a familiar face on our screens, and a successful writer too – with his second novel, Brouhaha released earlier this year – for now O’Hanlon is firmly back on the comedy circuit, and he is more than happy to be there.

“Stand up is the thing I always go back to, and I suppose has been the thing that is the centre of my life,” he admits.

“Particularly since the pandemic, you just cherish the time on stage, because we saw how fragile the world is, you know, and how easily you can lose your livelihood and the things you love most, so I suppose now I just cherish it.

“I look forward to it, I really enjoy it and try to make the most of it, to leave nothing behind when I’m up there, you know, to just go for it.”

Ardal O’Hanlon is on tour with The Showing Off Must Go On. Tickets are available here.

PROFILE: Ardal O’Hanlon

Ardal O’Hanlon was born on October 8, 1965, in Mullinary, Carrickmacross in County Monaghan.

One of six children, his father Rory O’Hanlon was a local GP who went on to serve as a Fianna Fáil TD from 1977 to 2011, during which time he held several ministerial roles.

O’Hanlon’s comedy career began in 1988 after leaving Dublin city University (DCU), then known as the National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE Dublin).

That same year he founded the Comedy Cellar, Dublin’s first comedy club, with fellow graduates Barry Murphy and Kevin Gildea, where they would perform comedy routines once a month.

Five years later he travelled to London to crack the comedy circuit in the capital and has not looked back since.

Still based in London, the comedian has since starred in a range of TV shows, including Fr Ted, My Hero, Dr Who, Skins, Death in Paradise and Derry Girls.

He has written and presented various documentaries, including Leagues Apart, about great footballing rivalries in Europe, Guess Who’s Dead, and Holy F*** all for RTE, Tree of the Year for C4, Showbands for the BBC and Ireland with Ardal O’Hanlon for More 4.

His theatre credits include God Of Carnage at the Gate Theatre and The Weir in London’s West End, for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award.

His acclaimed bestselling novel, The Talk Of The Town, was published in 1999, his second novel, Brouhaha was released this year.

He is also the patron of the Aisling Return to Ireland Project, a charity which reconnects vulnerable Irish people living in London with their homeland.