Jake O'Kane: Compared to my cystoscopy, everything's a piece of p***
If it's almost Christmas then it's almost time for Jake O'Kane's annual review of the year show. David Roy spoke to the Belfast comedian about sending up 2017's political calamities, minding his manners and choosing his best bits'
"THREE weeks is a long time in this place – Arlene Foster might marry the Pope or something," laughs Belfast comedian Jake O'Kane when asked why he always leaves preparing his annual 'review of the year' show until the very last minute.
The Still Sittin' On The Fence tour will once again find O'Kane sharing his thoughts on his favourite political scandals, cock-ups and calamities of the past 12 months at 22 mostly sold-out dates around the north over the post-Christmas period, including his first show, at Lisburn's Lagan Valley Arts Centre on December 27 and four nights at The Waterfront Studio in Belfast from January 10 to 13.
With a towering stack of Irish News back issues to remind him of the headlines – "That's how I know I won't libel anybody – because youse have said it first," he says of employing our stories and pictures as visual aids in the show – and plenty of personal material to fit into the set as well, the Blame Game man and regular compere at The Empire Laughs Back comedy club explains that it's always a struggle to condense things into a set that won't numb the bums and/or the brains of those who find Jake O'Kane live tickets in their stocking on Christmas morning.
"It's hard to edit this s***e," he admits of prepping this hugely successful comedy recap, now in its fifth year of touring.
"The first year was very anally retentive; I was going month to month and it was just too much – it was ball-breaking. But it's a lot looser now – it has to be."
As ever, 2017 has provided a wealth of locally themed material to choose from: so much, in fact, that O'Kane initially struggles to pick out his favourite moments from a year marked by the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.
"I stood on stage a year ago and said, 'Listen, there'll be another crisis soon – I guarantee it'," he tells me. "I mean, you don't have to be Nostradamus to do that here, like. It's so nauseatingly predictable.
"Now we're 11 months into an assembly that isn't sitting and yet the bas***ds are still getting full pay. It irritates me greatly and it should be worked out.
"I don't believe this s***e that they're working behind the scenes, so I've been doing this thing on Twitter, 'today your MLA stole £131'. It was up to £10m a month or so ago.
"But [Arlene Foster's] 'crocodiles' stuff was great. And the Shinners – they started off jumping on RHI, then suddenly it was the Irish language and gay rights and marriage."
The latest tour is, of course, named for O'Kane's infamous ability to irritate both 'sides' here, something also reflected in its cartoon caricature-style posters created by an artist who – perhaps wisely – wishes to remain anonymous.
"I did say to him, 'Do you want credit?', but he was like 'No, no, you're all right'," the comedian chuckles.
As an active Twitterer, the Belfast man gets immediate feedback on his often controversial views on local issues.
"I had one guy on Twitter calling me a 'West Brit pro-British bas***d'," he recalls. "Then the very next one said 'You let on to be a liberal, but you're actually a Fenian bas***d'. So I must be doing something right."
On the non-political front, previous shows have found O'Kane sharing the occasionally excruciating details of his various ailments, from his rapidly deteriorating eyesight and being diagnosed as having coeliac disease to undergoing a particularly unpleasant medical procedure involving a microscopic camera and his urethra.
"Compared to last year and my cystoscopy, everything's a piece of p***," he reports of his current state of health. "I won't fall apart before January, that's the main thing."
Currently back on TV and radio with The Blame Game, earlier in the year the comedian hosted an entertaining one-off BBC documentary titled Putting Manners On Us. It found working class Belfast man O'Kane taking posh English 'etiquette expert' William Hanson on a tour of Northern Ireland's unique foibles.
Inevitably, this mismatched pair got on famously, and the comic will be talking about some of their exploits which were deemed unsuitable for broadcast in his new live show.
"I thought I'd hate him," O'Kane admits. "He looks like a mannequin – imagine Prince Charles, only posher. I thought it was going to be a nightmare, but I loved it. He's a lovely guy.
"He comes across as a 'Tim, Nice But Dim' kind of character, but he's as sharp as a tack. I sent him up to the Orange Order museum, which was a laugh – though they couldn't actually show it. So I'm going to talk about that a bit."
Once the Still Sittin' On The Fence Tour is over, O'Kane won't have much time to rest before gearing up for a special two-night stand at Belfast's Grand Opera House on March 9 and 10.
As its title suggests, Jake O'Kane's Best Bits will find the funnyman combining all the highlights from his recent tours into one concentrated laugh-athon – if he can actually remember them, that is.
"I have no memory," the comedian admits. "The way I do stuff is that I'll go on at The Empire, start on something and then go off on a tangent – and then that becomes a bit of material.
"It's pathetic, but I've lost so much good stuff by not writing it down."
Thankfully, due to the more structured nature of his annual 'news review' gigs, O'Kane does at least have some notes to refer to for the previous five years' worth of topical 'sleggings'.
"Every year I've had to write something down, just so that I've an idea of where I'm coming from," he tells me. "Which is good, because otherwise it would be a 20-minute show."
Of course, even at £25 a ticket, arguably that would still present better value for money than your current MLA.
:: For full Jake O'Kane tour dates and ticket details, see FB.com/Jake.Okane