Older but no wiser: Comedian Jake O'Kane talks post-Christmas touring
Comedian Jake O'Kane is currently gearing up for his annual post-Christmas tour. David Roy spoke to the north Belfast stand-up about being Old Enough To Know Better
LIKE painful intestinal bloating, the cathartic binning of tinsel and living on left-over turkey scraps until your January pay day, comedian Jake O'Kane's annual stand-up tour has become a post-Christmas tradition.
The north Belfast funnyman and BBC Blame Game panellist will kick-off his latest run of live dates on December 29 in Lisburn. The audience at the Island Hall will be the very first to experience O'Kane's new Old Enough To Know Better show.
Combining a satirical multi-media enhanced review of Northern Ireland's 2016 (in which articles from this newspaper play a key role) with material inspired by his own late-middle aged foibles, it promises to be a more streamlined version of last year's similarly structured Gaggin' On It show.
While that tour unexpectedly lived up to its title when one inebriated punter laughed so hard she actually vomited over the unfortunate soul sitting in front of her, happily, this freak over-reaction is not typical of the audiences who enjoy blowing off their Christmas cobwebs at O'Kane's gigs.
"There is a bit of a 'thank god that's over' vibe," he tells me of the north's post-Christmas comedy punters. "That's definitely in the air. I didn't realise for ages that a lot of these people will have received tickets as Christmas presents, so they're getting there for nothing as well."
As to whether these seasonal variables result in people laughing a little bit easier/louder than at other times of the year, O'Kane doesn't pass up the opportunity to poke fun at his long-suffering Blame Game co-panellist, Neil Delamere.
"Well, it all depends whose show they're going to: at Delamere's they don't, but at mine they do," he chuckles.
To be fair, the Co Offaly comic has just added an extra early-January date at Armagh's Marketplace Theatre 'by popular demand'.
Indeed, it seems both Blame Gamers are packing them in at the moment: Two of the four Old Enough To Know Better dates at Belfast's Waterfront Hall Studio are already at capacity and an extra show at Belfast's Crumlin Road Gaol has just been added for February 17 in between two dates at the Lyric Theatre on February 12 and 19.
The pair celebrated 10 years of The Blame Game's TV incarnation by recording a special anniversary episode at The Waterfront Hall in Belfast back in October – a milestone which O'Kane describes as "like the blink of an eye".
"I was quite surprised that it was 10 years," he admits of the Tim McGarry-hosted show which began on Radio Ulster in 2005 and also features panellist Colin Murphy.
"It's nice because there was a time when we were all ferociously competitive, rushing for the same punchline and jumping all over each other – but now we all have our wee roles: I'm the grumpy old man, Delamere is the cheeky southerner, Murph does whimsy and Tim does the one-liners. It really is genuinely fun now and we bounce off each other so much better, which only comes with experience.
"It looks easy, but I think when you see the some of the guests sitting there looking as if everyone else is talking a different language, God love them, you realise that's only because we do know each other so well.
"We had 14,000 applications for 2,000 tickets for the anniversary show, so it seems to have a following."
On the subject of ticket sales, given his obvious popularity on home turf, you might wonder why O'Kane doesn't just treat his audience to one massive gig at The Waterfront Hall proper rather than doing four nights at the smaller Studio.
"I choose to do that because the atmosphere is better and it works better for stand-up," explains the comic, who got his start compering the long-running comedy night at The Empire in Belfast in the early 1990s.
"That's where stand-up is for me. That's why I love doing the theatres – 400 or 500-seaters are perfect. Fair play to the guys who are doing the auditoriums to 2,000 people a night, but I don't think that's stand-up. I need to be able to see the whites of their eyes and they need to be able to see the whites of my eyes to get that immediacy. I don't think you get that in the bigger rooms. I just don't feel it.
"I want the audience to really enjoy it, so I'd rather do four nights' work than one big bang because I know it'll be more fun – for me and them."
While O'Kane knocked his previous show into shape with a pair of warm-up performances at The Black Box in Belfast, it seems this time around he's determined to just jump right into the tour proper.
"With this sort of show, there's no way you're gonna rehearse it," he tells me. "I don't do rehearsals, I can't do it. Every year I go 'I'm going to sit down in January, I'm going to go through The Irish News and I'm going to do it properly'.
"Then, by February, I've discovered old bits of Muhammed Ali on YouTube. By March you discover PornHub – and then suddenly it's November.
"Some comedians do rehearse, but a wee bit more flying by the coatails just seems to suit me. It would be boring for me if it was the same every single night – I think that comes from years of doing The Empire."
As mentioned, this year O'Kane will be making an effort to streamline his set compared to the Gaggin' On It tour which found him doing up to two-and-a-half hours of material at a time.
"They were mammoth," he says, "but I've learned that, with the best will in the world, people get sore bums. An hour-10, hour-20 is more than enough.
"The first time I did it I was very OCD and went chronologically through the year. Near the end of the tour, one of the techs came up to me after the show going 'Do you realise what you said?'
"I says 'What?', and he tells me: 'You got to November and sighed 'It's OK, we're nearly there''.
So it's a lot looser and the editing is much tighter, if that makes sense. That's how these things evolve."
Punters are advised to arrive early to catch O'Kane's opening act Terry McHugh: the young north Belfast comic comes highly rated by the headliner, who himself credits Blame Game producer Jackie Hamilton with giving him a crucial leg-up in the business.
"There's a lot of kids who basically call themselves stand-ups," he explains. "But I'm sorry, putting clips on YouTube is not stand-up: you are not a comedian. When people hire a babysitter, buy your tickets and splash out on a taxi to come to your show – then you're a comedian.
"A lot of them suddenly realise it isn't as easy as it looks once they come to play The Empire. That's why, when you do see someone who is talented like Terry McHugh, I think guys like me have an obligation to help bring them on."
:: Full Old Enough To Know Better ticket and tour information available at JakeOKane.com