Jimeoin: interview

© Steve Ullathorne
Posted: Thu Jul 8 2010

Why does Northern Ireland's greatest export since the DeLorean ply his comedic trade in Australia? Time Out conducts virtually his best interview ever with the incomparable and unpronounceable Jimeoin.

Isn't technology a wonderful thing! It's late afternoon in Time Out Towers when I sit down in front of my laptop in one of our state-of-the-art glass office spaces (by 'state-of-the-art' I mean it's got a phone in it and the windows open). The computer makes a pleasingly old-fashioned ringing tone and before I know it the face of Irish comedian Jimeoin pops up on my screen. It's the middle of the night in Australia, but despite the fact that he looks more or less ready to turn in for bed, he's on good form.

It's quite common for popstars like Madonna or Shakira to be known simply by one name but not so common for comedians. What happened to your surname?
'Well, it's McEwan, but people rarely pronounced it correctly and I was never really that emotionally attached to it, so I just dropped it. Besides, Jimeoin McEwan is quite a mouthful for MCs to get their lips around. It was just easier to stick with my first name.'

And where does the name Jimeoin (pronounced Jim-Owen) come from? I've never heard it before.
'Well, you've never heard of it before because my mother made it up. It's a totally original name. A lot of people think it must be an Irish name, but she just liked the sound of it and that was that. It's weird, though, because a lady recently contacted me who was writing a book on Australian names. She wanted to know what was the origin of my name because it was coming up quite a lot. How weird is that, eh? I was even in a supermarket and this guy told me that not only had he named his son Jimeoin but that six other kids on his estate were also called Jimeoin. They all think it's a traditional name but it was my mum's own creation. It's funny that it's spreading all over the place.'

That shows the impact you've had Down Under. Why do you think it is that Australia has so taken you to its heart?
'I'm not really sure exactly why. It's just a big island that I happen to be living on and that path of success is different for everybody. For some reason, I've done well over here and the people like me and I'm very grateful for that. I'm also aware that this is where I make my living and do the majority of my work, so although I travel around the world doing stand-up, I never stay away from here for very long because I have to keep this plate spinning. Australia's given me a lot.'

Why did you move there in the first place?
'There was no big reason, really. I had spent four years in London and fancied a bit of a change, and it was Australia's bicentennial year so I thought that would be a good time to give it a look. I had no idea I'd end up living here for the next 20 years.'

And had you been doing stand-up before you got there?
'No, not at all. When I got there I started working in construction as a carpenter and I didn't try stand-up for a year or so, and even then it was more or less because I got pushed into it. I was totally naive about the whole scene. One evening I went to a bar and there was a comedy night on. We were there playing pool and a girl I was with put my name down to be in the try-out section. As a result of that I ended up going on stage. I didn't have anything prepared, so I just told these three jokes that I knew. Then I stayed and watched the rest of the night. I was totally blown away by it. I knew that night that I just had to do it again, although it didn't occur to me that I could earn a living from it.

'When I started I opened a deposit account to keep a record of any money that I got paid for gigs, and thought it would be a nice bit of extra money for me to spend. But it only really started presenting itself as a proper job in the recession of 1988. Interest rates were 16 per cent and the building industry died on its arse. I went into stand-up mainly because I didn't really have a choice - there was no other work around.'

Do you ever miss Northern Ireland?
'No. Northern Ireland is a bizarre place. I find the undertones - not that band The Undertones, but what a great name for a band that was - are there even to this day. I still can't meet anyone from back home without trying to figure out what religion they are. It's ingrained in you and it's very tiring. Everybody is put in clearly defined boxes in Northern Ireland. And the first box to figure out is what religion they are. That's why it's nice bringing up my kids in a country that doesn't have those kinds of problems. Having said that, it's always nice to come back to do shows in the UK, especially in summer.'

Jimeoin will be playing The Udderbelly, 9-18 July.