Kevin McAleer: When I got the Derry Girls script I knew it was going to make a big impression
Irish comedy legend Kevin McAleer is back on tour with his latest show, Guru, which finds Tyrone's finest funnyman posing as a master of mindfulness. David Roy quizzed the Derry Girls star about living la vida lama as Guru McAleer
HI KEVIN, what can you tell us about your current live show, Guru? Is it a sequel of sorts to your meditation and mindfulness themed tour Saying Yes To Yes, which also featured Guru McAleer?
Yeah, it's the further adventures of the Guru. It's a very rich seam of material. Mindfulness is a very broad subject, really, there's so many variations on it that I'm still writing. You can sneak in everything from contemporary politics to the environment under the mindfulness umbrella.
I like wordplay as well, so there's a lot of language manipulation involved. There's a lot of scope for talking rubbish but making it sound so intelligent that the average person can't understand it.
Mindfulness has very much become part of the zeitgeist in recent years, is that what inspired you to create Guru McAleer?
I think so, yeah. I'm always looking for a new idea and there seemed to be a lot of it around. There's books on yoga and new age philosophy and mindfulness on my own bookshelf, though I'm mostly going to blame my wife for them being there.
A lot of people get a lot of genuine benefit from mindfulness and awareness in terms of their own mental and physical wellbeing and I'm certainly not trying to undermine that end of it.
What I'm interested in is the more charlatan end of it – people who see it as a marketing opportunity. If you go on YouTube, you could be watching videos all day and night – and sometimes I do – on the dodgy end of it and the hard sell.
There's just something very amusing about people trying to sell you spirituality.
So, how 'dodgy' is Guru McAleer?
Ach, I mean he starts off sounding like he's very wise and very aware and that he's worked on developing his awareness for his whole life and that he's a very enlightened person with a lot to offer spiritually.
But it becomes apparent pretty quickly – maybe after 10 words or so – that he's talking nonsense and is completely full of himself. He isn't interested in anything else apart from talking about himself and how much money he might make along the way.
Guru McAleer's Advanced Awareness Seminars promise "total self-discovery on the night, or your money back". Have you had to issue any refunds yet?
There was one woman who told me afterwards that she'd thought she was coming to an actual talk on mindfulness. She didn't ask for her money back, though – in fact she was very amused by it. I don't know how many more of those there are out there.
A lot of people who come up to me afterwards who have been the most amused by it are people who are steeped in mindfulness themselves: they're either teachers or in the middle of doing a course and it seems to strike a chord with them. It's a nice compliment when people say "Oh, that is just so on the money".
You're famous for your now legendary slideshow-based stand-up set. Is there also a visual element to Guru?
Well, not really. The slideshow is now internalised – it's creative visualisation. I invite people to close their eyes and imagine they have them open, or they can keep them open and imagine they have them closed.
As well as the current comedy tour, you've also enjoyed rave reviews for acting of late. Did you enjoy doing your famine-themed stage comedy Spud! with Conor Grimes at the Lyric last month?
I was delighted. The whole run sold out which was the first pleasant surprise – the second pleasant surprise was that I managed to survive as an actor.
I'd never appeared on the stage with anyone else before, or done any stage acting. I've done tiny bits for TV, which is so different because you can do it again and again until you get it right. So it was a huge leap in the dark for me, but thankfully Conor is hugely experienced – so it was good to know that at least 50 per cent of the cast knew what they were doing.
I was at home with the comic elements, but even then you have to time it differently. I hate wasting half a laugh, but in a drama you can't just stand there admiring your own work – you have to move it on or a little hole appears. And having to move and talk at the same time, people would have no idea what a challenge that was for me. Like, taking off my coat and putting it on the back of a chair while saying a line didn't get the spontaneous round of applause that I thought it deserved.
There were a couple of my stand-up gigs we had to work Spud! around and they were like nights off. I was relieved to get back to it, it seemed blindingly simple to stand there in one spot and not have to wonder where your coat was or where the next line was coming from.
I think if I do any more stage stuff I'll maybe make it easy on myself and just stick to the writing.
Finally, Derry Girls: what made you want to take on the lethally boring Uncle Colm – and will we be seeing him again in the near future?
I get a lot of scripts thrust in my direction and most of them don't interest me. So, when I first got Derry Girls I thought "I probably won't like this". But then I read it and very quickly I was thinking "this is fantastic".
I knew it was going to make a big impression, because good writing just stands out a mile. Every word of that character was written by Lisa McGee and when I read it I just thought "I wish I'd written that". I couldn't have improved a word of it, it's just so spot on.
It also helps that the character is not that far removed from my own style of delivery. People tell me that I do him very well, which is a compliment of sorts I suppose.
In fact, at the start of my Guru show, I do a few lines clarifying that I'm not Uncle Colm, where I explain in a very droll, tongue-in-cheek way exactly how different we are.
The writing, the casting and everything about Derry Girls is just fantastic and done to such a high standard. We'd normally be filming around now but Lisa is having a baby, so the whole schedule has been put back. I think we'll be filming again next summer, assuming Colm hasn't been killed off – they could have him dying of boredom while writing his autobiography.
:: Kevin McAleer: Guru is on tour now including tonight at Portico, Portaferry / October 18 at Strule Arts Centre in Omagh and October 28 at Galway Comedy Carnival. Full dates and ticket info via Kevinmcaleer.com