Irish comedy legend Jimeoin on comedy, golf and the 11-plus
Lorraine Wylie chats to Northern Ireland-bred comic Jimeoin about bringing his new show Roast Chicken Result to Ireland and enjoying comedy success on both sides of the world
EVERYBODY knows the best thing after a night at the pub is the grub on the way home. It's strange how a few drinks can ramp up the appetite, sending us scouring the town, desperate for food, preferably anything fried in batter.
It's as though alcohol hits a panic button in the brain, warning that famine is imminent and forcing us to eat truckloads of calories before we die of starvation.
Experts may use scientific jargon to explain the phenomenon but comic Jimeoin uses it to make people laugh. In fact, his current show Roast Chicken Result is inspired by the joy of arriving home after a few beers to find a tasty bird waiting in his fridge.
Taking a break from his busy schedule, he tells me what makes him smile and why, as a schoolboy in Northern Ireland, training at an "Al-Qaeda camp for the 11-plus" just wasn't funny.
"I went to primary school all over the place – it was really quite bizarre," the comedian says in a voice that retains a distinct northern Irish twang, despite him having lived in Australia for most of his adult life.
"My mum was a teacher and she taught in Limavady for years so I went to school there for a while. I remember going to school in this little Morris Minor, there was 11 of us all crammed into it.
"Later I was farmed out to my aunties, so I went to school near Omagh. But coming up to the 11-plus I had to live with my granny for two years.
"The 11-plus was a funny old exam but it was very, very important because passing it meant I could get into Dominican [College, in Portstewart] for free.
"So I was sent off to do some special training. I suppose you could call it the ‘Al-Qaeda camp for the 11-plus'!"
Although he grew up in Northern Ireland (and managed to pass his 11-plus), James Eoin Stephen Paul McKeown was actually born in Leamington Spa, Warwichshire.
His unusual name, a hybrid of James and John (Eoin in Irish), was chosen by his mother who called him after both his grandfathers.
Today, the moniker has even found its way into the baby books Down Under, with parents all over Australia calling their children ‘Jimeoin.'
He was just 22 when he decided to leave home and bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the world. It was there that he found his niche in comedy.
"I had no idea that stand-up was just talking so when a friend put my name forward for a try-out session in a comedy club, I told jokes.
"Then I started to think, if this stuff makes me laugh, maybe it'll make other people laugh too. It went from there."
Twenty-five years later and he's still pulling the crowds on both sides of the world. With barely seconds to win over an audience, is stage fright ever a problem?
"Well, walking on stage for the first time was a bit like doing a bungee jump," he recalls.
"Very scary. But it's like everything, when you do it a number of times, it gets easier."
A 'tumble-weed' moment, when the audience fails to respond or a routine falls flat, is something all artists dread. Does the pressure to be on form ever get to him?
"There was a time when I'd seen a car crash and it had a terrible effect on me," he recalls.
"It left me spooked for about two years afterwards and I really struggled with any kind of tension. So yeah, sometimes it can be hard.
"But then again, [at a show] you have to accept that some things are beyond your control and it can go wrong. It can be anything. Maybe the PA system isn't working or the lights aren't right or maybe I'm just not focused.
"You just have to accept it and realise it isn't the end of the world."
Can he tell if immediately how a performance is going to work out?
"Yeah, you can tell early on, especially if its not going to work out well," he chuckles.
"I mean, if you put too much pressure on something to be funny, chances are it won't be. Any time someone says to me ‘this is such an important gig for you, it'll really help your career and it's important you do well cos you're gonna go places', I think, 'well f*** that then, that's me stuffed!'
"Do you know, there's a very true saying – ‘fortune seldom favours the needy'. Have you heard it? Well, it means people sense desperation – there's the smell of despair."
Well known for his sharp, observational style of comedy, Jimeoin draws on common experiences, picking up on the smallest details of human behaviour. He gives me an example.
"You can pick out that Northern Ireland accent anywhere. One time I was in an airport somewhere in France and all I could hear was this ‘dinny, ninny, mimmy' sound,” he laughs, certain that he's got the cadence of speech down to a tee.
"Then I heard over the PA, 'EasyJet Flight to Belfast', and thought 'ahha, I was right!'."
Talking with Jimeoin is like being at your own personal comedy show. But what makes the star laugh?
"When I was growing up, I remember watching John Lydon and The Sex Pistols on television and thinking them hilarious," he reveals.
"I was never really into the establishment kind of comedy as a kid and thought The Sex Pistols the funniest thing ever. They were just taking the p***. I'd say they were my biggest comedy influence.”
A household name on both sides of the world and a career spanning 25 years, it's obvious Jimeoin enjoys success. When he isn't sharing his observations with an audience, he enjoys a round of golf or watching football.
"Well, in Portstewart, everyone plays golf. My sister has just got tickets to the British Open."
I tell him that I heard Tump might be playing at Royal Portrush next year.
"Shush, he'll give us a bad name," he jokes.
There is one thing that really makes Jimeoin happy – hanging out with family. Despite living in Australia, he gets home to see his relatives in Portstewart quite often.
"It's not like being a migrant in the 50s when people went away never to return. I come back all the time now. I like to visit and keep up with friends and family. I've got my sisters here with me now and a niece is travelling down to join us.
"I've got four kids and sometimes, when I'm at the Fringe in Edinburgh, I'll rent a flat for us and we'll hang out then travel over to Portstewart together.
"My mum and dad are gone now but I like to visit the place where I grew up and feel that connection. Yeah, definitely, I'm very blessed.”
:: Jimeoin, October 19 and 20, Waterfront Hall, Belfast (Waterfront.co.uk), November 2, Vicar Street, Dublin,(Ticketmaster.ie), November 3, Millennium Forum, Derry (Millenniumforum.co.uk). For more tour dates see Jimeoin.com