KILKENNY, Ireland — A hectic few days at Kilkenny, where I’ve interviewed eight comics and seen 33 of their sets – including a six hour run of gigs back to back on Saturday night, jogging from pub to theatre, to nightclub, to hotel conference room and back to pub – darting between merry revellers treating this festival like it’s designed for drinking and enjoying comedy in a convivial atmosphere with friends.
Having taken a Sikh vow, Flight of the Conchords alumni Arj Barker told me about his new health kick, then almost choked on an almond; New York-raised Irishman Des Bishop chatted fascinatingly about performing comedy on both sides of the Atlantic, auditioning for the role of anchorman for The Onion’s forthcoming news network show on IFC and doing a show about his terminally ill father. I also got to shove a camera in PJ Gallagher’s face before he hopped on a plane for a 10,000 ft skydive (video below).
There’s been the odd disappointment. Audiences seem to be down from their usual packed-to-capacity numbers, no doubt a consequence of the global recession’s impact on the Irish economy. Young Scottish star Kevin Bridges missed his debut gigs thanks to a bout of food poisoning in Belfast, yet recovered to perform the following night. And last year’s Edinburgh Comedy Award winner, English poet Tim Key, whose ramshackle, offbeat verse went down well at Langton’s Set Theatre at 8.45pm, played to baffled silence at the Venue Bar of the Ormonde Hotel midnight the following evening. He wasn’t helped by having to follow a fine, crowd-pleasing set from Neil Delamere, but gamely saw his 20 minutes through and received generous applause.
Venues here range from the plush new Set Theatre, which more than one comic enthused would be perfect for recording a DVD, to the intimate Cleere’s, a pub back room that’s essentially just a yard with a corrugated iron roof slung on top. A few years ago, I recall seeing Doug Stanhope die on his ass in one of the group shows, then pull out a blistering solo performance at Cleere’s the next night, the back wall lined with comics and comedy promoters absolutely loving it.
Perhaps it’s indicative of a grimly humorous mood in Ireland just now, but yesterday in Cleere’s I watched the recently married Eric Lalor, Jarlath Regan and Alun Cochrane all scoring some of their biggest laughs with snarky remarks at their wives’ expense, their honeymoon periods assuredly over. By contrast, the longterm married Colin Murphy is spicing up his relationship by erotically inserting thumbs into it. Or trying.
Due to the intricacies of the festival schedule, you invariably end up missing some acts and catching others several times. One of the highlights for me thus far has been seeing 6’8 Greg Davies’ material getting tighter and leaner with each gig, gradually removing the filler from his giant-among-midgets routines in Bangkok. Canadian Mike Wilmot heaping pure sexual filth on top of that already spouted by Sarah Millican was great fun and Irish sketch quartet and rock band Dead Cat Bounce blasted raw energy into both of their gigs I witnessed.
Another distinctive element of this weekend is that laughs aren’t restricted to the gigs. Saturday afternoon saw more than 300 people embark on a treasure hunt across the city with comics strategically presenting clues along the way. Today though, brings the most important show of the five days, the comedians’ soccer match between Ireland and The Rest of the World. A ridiculously competitive encounter, with abuse heaped on the participants by commentators Karl Spain and Fred MacAulay, the energy-sapping sunshine invariably reveals how debilitatingly drunk the comics were the night before. Match report in my next blog.