Dara O'Briain: Interview

  • Sex, clubbing, age concern and ‘thundering shite about hangovers’ – Dara O’Briain on the indisputable laws of stand-up

    I’ve always found myself relatively tongue-tied in press interviews, because I know my ramble has to go through the journalist’s filter and invariably comes out with the tone and inflection turned to lead. By contrast, telly interviews are a chance to perform stand-up in a chair. So they end up as portions of the set carved up and doled out. A little bit for Parky, a tiny something for Jonathan Ross.

    That shouldn’t sound cynical, by the way. As I get older, I get less bothered with this horse-shit notion of my stand-up being about ‘delivering my truth’. I’m an entertainer (a dirty word for some). So, if I get booked on to a telly show to chat, you’d better be sure I’m going in well armed with funny stuff. I remember when I was a kid, and adored comedy, that I used to be sooo disappointed when a comic came on ‘Wogan’ and wasn’t being funny. That’s a nice illusion we build up – that every time you open your mouth, something funny comes out.
    It’s worth the work to keep that up.

    Oh yeah, bloody Time Out. I opened the magazine in the first week of January, feeling bloated and overfed and every one of my (then) 33 years, to read a description of ‘Three Men in a Boat’ (the documentary with me, Griff Rhys Jones and Rory McGrath rowing the Thames) that described us as ‘three middle-aged men’. I was 33, for Christ’s sake! I’m only 34 now! All right! I’ll go to the gym a little more, maybe lay off the pies…

    I mean, a magazine of record calling you ‘middle-aged’ has to hurt. Plus, you then begin to wonder whether all the things you were doing that were normal for a 33-year-old now look a little, well, wrong being done by a middle-aged man. Playing a PlayStation portable on the tube, leering at women, dancing – all of it seems so… seedy… now.

    And yes, I do look older than I am, always have. I did an entire show about it in Edinburgh in 2001, just before I turned 30. At the start, I would ask the crowd to guess my age. Night after night, the average would hit 37, to the extent that my saying ‘I’m 29, for fuck’s sake’ was one of the biggest laughs of the night.

    Doing a show about growing older is, ironically, a bit of a rite of passage for all comics anyway. It’s a bit like the way young newspaper columnists eventually start writing pieces about how ‘staying in is the new going out!’. No. It’s not. THAT’S JUST YOU!! Age will always
    be one of those universal themes that underpins comedy. It’s all good physics really. The second law of thermodynamics. Disorder increases as time progresses, and we’ll just stand on stage and use the chaos for material.

    Last year’s tour had stuff explicitly about age, talking about the culture’s obsession with youth (the killer phrase was ‘It’s time for a new motto… Young People! They’re good to look at and fun to fuck, but there’s nothing going on upstairs!’ – the 19-year-olds always took it well, but the thirtysomethings adored it) and warning against calcifying as you get older. (The show ended with phrases we should never utter, like ‘Wow! Radio 2 has really changed, hasn’t it?’ No, you’ve changed. Radio 2 was always sitting there waiting for you. Or ‘Y’know, I think that lap-dancer really likes me.’)

    Last year’s show was also the home of the phrase ‘Nostalgia is heroin for old people’, which is frankly a shameful attempt to get into books of quotes. As well as reflecting the fact I can’t stand the tendency of older people to tell us how the world is always getting worse. Every generation is smarter than the previous one.

    If you disagree and start giving out about young people, you are basically saying that you and your friends were the pinnacle of evolution. Were you? Millions of years of random mutation and natural selection and we peaked with you?

    I’ve nothing against old people, though, just the ones who get reactionary and conservative. There’s nothing more beautiful than an old comic still working. I know it always seems like a game for the twentysomethings, but what joy there is in seeing Jackie Mason or Joan Rivers and knowing you can carry on doing this forever if you want. The circuit I’m on isn’t old enough to have that many 70-year-olds still gigging, but ask us again in 40 years.

    The most awkward period for young comics is the changeover from talking about single life to grown-up life. If you’ve developed a style of chatting about clubbing and fucking, say, then you have difficult days ahead when you settle down. The crowds in comedy clubs are your standard twentysomethings and they couldn’t give a thundering shite about your longer hangover or (nightmare!) your new child. Wow, is baby stuff ever the kiss of death! That’s the one hard-and-fast rule of comedy. Had a child? Good for you. NEVER talk about it in the clubs. You might as well have thrown a cadaver in their faces. In fact, my show this year has absolutely nothing to do with age. If it’s about anything, it’s about identity and conventions. But those themes are very loose. It’s just me messing about for a couple of hours.

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