Ardal O'Hanlon on 'showing off' his new stand-up, Death In Paradise and Father Ted's legacy
David Roy chats to Irish comedy legend Ardal O'Hanlon about his first stand-up tour for six years, TV hit Death in Paradise and the enduring legacy of Father Ted
MUCH loved comic Ardal O'Hanlon will be embarking on his first major stand-up tour for six years in 2019, bringing The Showing Off Must Go On to venues across England, Scotland and his homeland.
That's if he ever gets the material for it written.
"I've just been worrying it to death over the past few months," admits former Father Ted star O'Hanlon (53), who currently plays DI Jack Mooney in long-running BBC show Death In Paradise.
"But to be honest with you, I love the process every bit as much as the performing. It's time you spend on your own: you go down that mine and you dig and you chip away and, eventually, you come up with something – and you hone it and you polish it and you try it out.
"By the time you get on the road, everything should be in pretty good nick. In theory, anyway."
As mentioned, it's been a while since the Carrickmacross-born comedian – son of the late Fianna Fail politician Roy O'Hanlon – did an extended run of live dates.
However, it seems that Rathmines-based O'Hanlon manages to make time for the odd stand-up set in between filming Death In Paradise – for which he's currently on the National Television Awards' long-list for Best Dramatic Performance – in Guadeloupe and other TV work, like his recent RTÉ travel series Around Ireland and upcoming BBC NI documentary Showbands and Me.
"I would still do a number of gigs whenever I can," he explains. "I would always pop into clubs, do the odd one-off show, and perform at comedy festivals and charity events whenever I'm available.
"So I'd always be doing it, and I'd always be sitting at home trying to come up with the goods. That's been the nature of my life and work for the last 30 years: you get up, sit down and think 'what the f*** am I going to do today?'"
The upcoming show takes its title from the paradox between O'Hanlon's successful comedy career and growing up in a border town where keeping a low profile was the norm – even if you happened to have a 'famous' father.
"Although my father was involved in politics, he was actually a really shy, reserved person," O'Hanlon reveals. "He had to push himself out there because he believed in what he was doing and he believed he could make a difference. I kind of watched that while I was growing up, but I wasn't really aware of what exactly he was going through.
"But in hindsight, I look at him now and think he must have been terrified making public appearances and going on TV, because that wasn't really him: he was a very quiet, head-down sort of a person – but he was good at his job and he had a successful career."
He adds: "At the beginning of the show I'll be talking about the conflict between doing something like stand-up and this culture I grew up in of keeping your head down and not expressing an opinion too loudly.
"Like, if you grew up in the border region, you never drew attention to yourself. That was a big thing, you just didn't do it, it was anathema – up there with armed robbery or something. It would bring shame on the family.
"If you had a talent, you hid it. Even on the football field you were reluctant to show off or you'd get a clattering. If your mother cooked you spaghetti Bolognese, you wouldn't tell anyone because the neighbours would think 'Oh, the O'Hanlon's have gone all Italian'."
The blurb for the new live show also indicates that O'Hanlon will be touching on how we're living "in an age of populism, #MeToo, identity politics, the end of truth, the collapsing 'middle ground', peak avocado and £15 gin and tonics" and that he's "terrified of being on the wrong side of history while desperate to prove that gender, race, age and class don't necessarily define him".
There will also be jokes, as the comic explains: "Over the five years since I toured last, an awful lot has happened," he says. "But I've always been concious that while it's important that you try to be politically engaged and up to date with contemporary culture, the zeitgeist and just attitudes generally, ultimately your obligation as a comedian is just to be funny.
"Ultimately, you go where the jokes take you, in a way. You always want to surprise people, to surprise yourself – you want to say something startling that's never been said before. Some little observation that you hit upon that people are able to relate to. That's one of the joys of stand-up.
"Like, the title of the show is also related to the fact that stand-up is clearly a compulsion: it's a lifestyle, it's a vocation. It's something that you can't just walk away from, even though you might be conflicted and have reservations about the whole nature of it."
As mentioned, away from stand-up O'Hanlon is now the leading man in Death In Paradise, which is filmed on the beautiful French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. While viewers might think the comic has landed himself one of the cushiest jobs on telly playing mild-mannered detective Jack Mooney in the BBC's long-running gentle cop comedy/drama, apparently it's not all 'fun in the sun'.
"I know it's very hard to convey to the public that there's any hardship at all involved," says O'Hanlon of the role he took on last year. "But it's extremely gruelling: it's 12 hours a day, six months of the year and you're working in tremendous heat and humidity and the occasional hurricane.
"You don't really have time to be knocking back the cocktails, to be honest with ya. But it was an easy enough decision, particularly as my family [wife Melanie and their three children] are quite grown up now and were already fans of the show – and they join me there whenever they can as well.
"It's been running for years and it kind of slips under the radar a little bit, but the public love it. And I grew up on detective shows like Columbo, Cannon and Starsky & Hutch which kind of had their tongue in their cheek."
While he's also known for playing bumbling suburbanised superhero Thermoman in the popular BBC sitcom My Hero, undoubtedly O'Hanlon's most iconic TV work remains his stellar turn as Fr Dougal Maguire in Father Ted alongside late greats Dermot Morgan and Frank Kelly, and Pauline McLynn.
Even 20 years on from the final episode of the Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews-created Channel 4 sitcom, O'Hanlon is still constantly being reminded of his three years on Craggy Island.
"I would say not a day goes by when it wouldn't come up in some way," he tells me of the show's enduring legacy. "You'll meet someone who will mention it or like, even on the news, any protest march that's going on will always have the 'Down With This Sort of Thing' and 'Careful Now' posters.
"But it doesn't bother me in the slightest and it never really did as it's generally really friendly and lovely. I always consider myself really lucky to have been part of that – it was a great time in my life and it opened doors for me that I could never have imagined."
:: Ardal O'Hanlon, October 30 2019, Cork Opera House / November 7, Market Place Theatre, Armagh / November 8, Millennium Forum, Derry / November 9, Vicar Street, Dublin / November 29, UCH Limerick / November 30, Waterfront Hall, Belfast. Tickets via Mickerrin.com/acts/ardal-ohanlon