Dara Ó Briain on playing Derry and Belfast and why stand-up is his 'real' career
Top comedian and TV presenter Dara Ó Briain is bringing his current stand-up tour to Derry and Belfast. The Co Wicklow comic told David Roy about Voice of Reason and why stand-up will always be his 'real' career
DARA Ó Briain may have become a fixture on TV thanks to hits like Mock The Week, Dara Ó Briain's Go 8-Bit, Stargazing Live and Dara and Ed’s Big Adventure (his travel team-up with fellow Irish comic Ed Byrne), but the Co Wicklow comedian always returns to his first love of live stand-up comedy every year, to the delight of fans in Ireland and further afield.
"In Tromsø in the Arctic Circle, I walked on stage and said, ‘I don’t know how often you have these gigs’," he recalls of his 2016 tour date in the remote Norwegian town.
"They called out: 'We had Bill Bailey here last night!' That punctured my balloon a bit. Bill went on to play Svalbard, which is even further north. I thought I was being a hero doing Tromsø, but he was doing a gig to polar bears in the Svalbard arts centre."
Ó Briain (46), a graduate in mathematics and theoretical physics from University College Dublin, is of course one of Ireland's top stand-up talents: for evidence, look no further than swathes of glowing reviews and his five stand-up DVDs, including 2015's Crowd Tickler and 2012's Craic Dealer.
He has currently set out to visit more than 20 countries with his tour for Voice of Reason, which kicked off on home turf last year with an impressive run of 11 consecutive gigs at Dublin's Vicar Street.
In fact, somewhat incredibly, over the past six months the Mock The Week host has already played the Dublin venue 24 times – and counting.
Groundhog Day, anyone?
"We've already done 24 of maybe 40, hopefully, by the end of the year," enthuses Ó Briain, who lives in London with his wife and two children.
"They've gone by in a blur. Vicar St is such a relaxed, chatty room, probably because people don't sit in theatre seats but around tables with drink in front of them, and so each show goes off in mad, unexpected directions depending on the crowd.
"Plus it's still early in the tour, relatively. Groundhog Day kicks in round about about show 70/80, so by my calculations... just after Belfast."
Indeed, Ó Briain has also announced a pair of dates at The Waterfront Hall on September 21 and 22: but he's a shed-load more touring to do first, including a trio of Derry shows at Millennium Forum from April 20 to 22 and (you guessed it) yet more Vicar Street dates.
"I prefer threading the Dublin gigs throughout the tour, rather than getting them done as a block, as it's nice to check back in to base throughout the year," he explains.
"I often need a pick-me-up after a hard week in Bristol."
Happily, it seems Ó Briain also enjoys venturing north of the Irish border on occasion and is already looking forward to the Derry and Belfast shows.
"I love both those rooms," he says, "even The Waterfront, which is technically a concert hall – and that shouldn't work for comedy, but it always does.
"I also have so much history in the two towns now, from priests exercising in glitter in Derry, to blind psychics in Belfast and loads more, so it's like stepping back in to a long-running conversation with old friends.
"I have a 'local' in each town, and best of all, my opening story in Ireland, which I had to drop in England and Scotland? You'll love it, and it's back in the show!"
As well as becoming an icon of astronomy via the BBC's hugely popular Stargazing Live show with Professor Brian Cox and an unlikely pin-up for educators thanks to the Beeb's School of Hard Sums and Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club, Ó Briain has recently found celebrity in the retro gaming universe thanks to his involvement in highly entertaining Dave gameshow, Dara Ó Briain's Go 8-Bit.
So, does he now get loads of people wanting to talk to him about obscure Sega MegaDrive titles?
"Yes! And the MegaDrive wasn't even my era," admits the stand-up and presenter. "I was in college, drinking and chasing women during the MegaDrive. But show me a Commodore 64 and I will become weak at the knees.
"I'm also secretly really awful at games, despite having played them for years. I last about eight seconds in any online games – never under my own name, of course.
"My online name? 'realEdByrne'."
As mentioned, despite this hugely successful 'off-stage' career – which now also includes 'published author' thanks to his first children's book, 2017's Beyond The Sky: You and The Universe – Ó Briain keeps coming back to the mic.
"I do stand-up, because it is my actual career," he confides. "All the telly stuff, while fun, is secretly meant to just be a promotional tool to get you to come to the live gigs. Don't tell the BBC that. Although, they've long noticed that there are entire years and more, that they ask me to do stuff and the answer is 'No. Touring'. See? I do turn some things down."
He adds: "I get really enthusiastic about science-y stuff. You can see me getting giddy about space. That’s why I recently wrote that kids’ book about space. But on tour, I’m there to do funny.
"This show is an evening of entertainment. It’s two hours of laughing. It’s not meant to be pedagogic. It is not meant to say, ‘You’ll be laughing, but you’ll also be learning.’
"Of course, if that happens, that’s grand. But first and foremost, ‘Voice of Reason’ is just a load of funny stuff. Doing stand-up is a euphoric experience. The great thing is the anticipation. You’re thinking, ‘You’re going to love this next bit!’"
And, in case you were in any doubt, it seems recent rumours of Ó Briain's demise have been greatly exaggerated: In Voice of Reason, the comedian recounts how a 'fake news' website published a story that he had been killed in a car crash.
"I go into the madness of this story about these things that are supposed to have happened to me," he explains. "The producers of this fake news site have filled in some details. For example, they mention James Street in Dublin. So some effort has been made in producing it. But it’s still so ludicrous.
"The site pops up next to features headlined, ‘She has discovered the secret that dentists don’t want you to know’ and ‘20 stars whose lives have been ravaged by drugs.’
"In one of those, they put a picture of Chris O’Dowd beside a picture of Shane McGowan."
However, the Bray native admits that – thankfully – this kind of thing is something of an anomaly for him.
"If there is a theme to the show, it is that at the age of 46, I have an incredibly normal life," he says.
Well, 'normal' for him anyway.
Tickets for all Irish dates available now via Daraobriain.com