KILKENNY, Ireland — In terms of physical comedy, I can’t imagine Albuquerque’s Pajama Men get upstaged too often. But the abiding memory of the first gig I saw at this year’s Carlsberg Cat Laughs Festival in Kilkenny, Ireland, was of homegrown trio Des Bishop, Jason Byrne and Dara O’Briain awkwardly miming Bishop’s recent threesome debut, an impromptu performance for which the biggest laughs were cruelly reserved for O’Briain’s manbreasts.
Part of a superb bill that also featured the aggressively neurotic Moshe Kasher, it was by no means atypical for this prestigious, invite-only gathering of comics from all over the English-speaking world. Although officially a city, tiny Kilkenny’s venues are a 20-minute walk from each other at most. Over the weekend, the countless pubs and bars of this attractive medieval dwelling are packed with comedygoers and clubbers knocking back pints of beer, enjoying the balmy summer evenings and invariably first-rate stand-up.
US and Canadian acts have been a cornerstone of the festival from its inception. After MC Byrne had warmed up the sweltering crowd in the Ormonde Hotel’s ballroom, joshing with latecomers and marvelling how in Ireland an emergency exit can be blocked by three chairs and a piano, Kasher took the stage for a seriously impressive Cat Laughs debut.
The West Coast-born comic scarcely bothered trying to ingratiate himself with the locals, launching into his arrogantly assured routines on his gay Hitler haircut, hellish visions of Heaven and floundering etiquette when complimenting a vagina, earning himself an especially sustained round of applause for his weirdly hairy arms and freakish limp wrist as much as anything else.
The endlessly inventive Pajama Men might not seem ideally suited to a tight, 20 minute set. But Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez delivered a strong showing that had the crowd craning their necks to see which way their mini-movies of quirkily choreographed, trademark physical comedy would go next. Closing on the jerkily rendered imaginings of an extramarital affair within the setup of a horror movie, it’s virtually impossible to describe them properly, but the pair left an indelible impression.
Finally, New York-born, Irish-raised Bishop came on to ask if the audience wanted deep or dirty comedy. In the event, he delivered both, reflecting on Irish emotional “retardation” in relation to his terminally ill father, a former model and actor who had a shot at playing James Bond but gave it up to raise a family. Thereafter, we were into the filth. Except the cocksure Bishop wanted to discuss male impotence, dragging the initially hesitant crowd on a journey of touchy-feely solidarity about malfunctioning sex. After alluding to his recent ménage a trios, he ran out of time and left it hanging in the air like a pervy odour.
Just as Byrne was about to close the show though, Bishop bounded back on to try and elicit some laughs from the sordid tale, the compere remaining beside him to mime the three-in-a-bed romp. Sensing they were struggling, the unbidden O’Briain suddenly appeared, pint in hand, to complete the unlikely casting. What followed wasn’t pretty, often grim and wholly lacking in the subtleties of the Pajamas’ performance. But no-one in that hot, sweaty room will forget it in a hurry.