Arts

Neil Delamere on new stand-up show Controlled Substance and the return of Soft Border Patrol

Blame Game regular Neil Delamere is currently on the road with his new stand-up show Controlled Substance. The Co Offaly man tells David Roy why it has nothing to do with drugs...

Neil Delamere is on the road with his new stand-up show Controlled Substance

"THAT'S the joy of Brexit, isn't it? It's the gift that keeps on giving," says Co Offaly comedian Neil Delamere of the ongoing political nightmare that is Britain's attempt to part ways with the European Union.

"While it's terrifying for a lot of people – me included, I have to say – because no-one can figure out what's going to be the outcome, the small silver lining in that cloud is that there's ample material every single week for a topical comedy panel show."

Indeed, Theresa May and co's ongoing woes have very much become manna from heaven for the stars of BBC Northern Ireland and Radio Ulster's long-running hit The Blame Game, on which Edenderry-born Delamere (39) has been a fixture alongside his northern comedy foils Jake O'Kane, Colin Murphy and Tim McGarry since its inception in 2005.

However, the 'B word' is also part and parcel of the comic's new stand-up show Controlled Substance – which he'll be touring throughout Ireland during the first half of next year including a slew of already sold-out dates – and also forms the backdrop to BBC sitcom Soft Border Patrol, set to return to our screens just as we all finally find out exactly what Brexit actually means, in which Delamere plays Irish border-monitoring CCTV man Niall Sweeney.

Not that everyone seems to have caught on to the fact that the show's title Controlled Substance is actually a reference to the lack of control we have over our lives in these uncertain times rather than narcotics – as he explains.

"You'd be surprised," Delamere tells me of some of the drug-related queries he's been fielding about the his latest set, the follow-up to his recent Smartbomb tour.

"'Is it cocaine or heroin it refers to?' 'Have you been pulled over by the gardai or the PSNI recently?'

"My idea actually came from a conversation I was having with somebody that we all just want a little control over our lives.

"[With Brexit] the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain and the people of the Republic didn't have a vote – yet both sides are going to be the worst affected of anyone in Europe in the event of a very hard Brexit.

"That kind of makes you realise that you don't have a lot of control. And the rest of the show is kind of about what you do to cope with that, which is basically to relinquish control."

He adds: "It sounds more serious than it actually is, though. This is not just me coming out of some Native American sweat lodge after doing peyote in the desert and having chatted to a roadrunner who told me the secret of relinquishing control.

"It's a fairly light-hearted look at where we are at the moment."

Controlled Substance also touches on how the stand-up believes that, while money might not solve people's problems, it at least allows them to drop everything and take themselves off somewhere they'd rather be.

"It's not necessarily material goods that we want, because you can only wear one suit or drive one car at a time," he explains. "But when you hear people saying 'Oh, if I won the Lotto, I'd still work' – those people should be taken out and punished severely.

"Like, if I won the Lotto, I wouldn't even finish this conversation – and neither would you. You'd just hang up the phone and I'd be left shouting into the handset."

This seems rather at odds with the popular conception that stand-up comedy is some form of compulsion rather than just an occupation. Jerry Seinfeld and some of the other biggest, richest names in the business will tell you that their need to tell jokes to an audience is the very essence of their being.

"Wouldn't [a lottery win] remove your motivation though?" persists Delamere.

"With stand-up, you don't just do The Millennium Forum and The Ulster Hall: before you get to those lovely big tour venues, you have to get together material – and that means going out on a Monday night to a tiny little club and trying stuff out.

"I saw Ardal O'Hanlon last night and there were maybe 60 people crammed into this tiny little place to see him start the process of getting his new show together.

"I think that if I had Euromillions in the bank I might just go 'I dunno, I might just stay in and watch seven more episodes of Ray Donovan!'"

After a beat, he adds: "But I really do love stand-up and I love The Blame Game too, which in many ways is very similar to stand-up.

"It's very immediate because there's an audience there and you're having the craic with three or four people who you know. It's a fairly nice form of TV to do compared to something like long-form documentaries which are much more labour intensive, y'know?"

As mentioned, the comedian will be part of the second series of Soft Border Patrol, which will return to BBC One Northern Ireland next year just as its Irish border-centric storyline will reach peak relevancy.


"I'd never done anything like that before," says the stand-up of his first sitcom experience. "It was a really fun new thing to try because it's kind of halfway house between improvised comedy and proper scripted acting. I'm going to do a short film in January now [the Dave Thomas-written Aretha], which really will be proper acting.

"I don't know if I would have done that without having experimented with Soft Border Patrol."

In fact, with the show already filmed, it seems the programme-makers are considering some last-minute adjustments to the material to ensure their gentle post-Brexit set satire remains on-point.

"I'm told it's probably going air around the actual Brexit date," explains Delamere. "I think we're going to have a few more rewriting 'pick-up' days just before that in January/February to ensure it stays bang-on relevant – just in case Theresa May suddenly pulls off a deal and everything's grand.

"On the other hand, if there's a united Ireland in March we're also going to look fairly silly! It's fairly unlikely, I'd say, unless that was her plan all along.

"But maybe she'll pull off her mask to reveal the ghost of Pádraig Pearse!"

:: Neil Delamere plays The Ulster Hall Belfast on January 26 & March 1, Vicar St in Dublin on February 8 and 9 and Derry's Millennium Forum on February 23. For full tour dates and ticket information see Neildelamere.com

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