Belfast comic and clown Paul Currie bounces into the Black Box

Jenny Lee chats to Belfast performer Paul Currie about the healing power of comedy, mindfulness, Northern Ireland slang and why we should all make our own bread

Paul Currie performs Turbo Hallion at Belfast's Black Box this weekend as part of the Bounce festival
Paul Currie performs Turbo Hallion at Belfast's Black Box this weekend as part of the Bounce festival Paul Currie performs Turbo Hallion at Belfast's Black Box this weekend as part of the Bounce festival

IT'S a case of anything goes when Belfast immersive stand-up comedian Paul Currie takes to the stage. A performer who is as likely to eat a bowl of cornflakes on stage as to engage the audience in some impromptu singing or to do some juggling or puppetry, he counts getting 600 audience members milking an ironing board as a career highlight.

But neither is he afraid to tackle serious subjects, with his latest show at last month's Edinburgh Fringe, Trufficle Musk, confronting audience conceptions of gender equality, female bullying, social brainwashing and even discussing his own struggle with anxiety and abuse.

This weekend Currie brings his high-energy audience-centric clown comedy to Belfast's Bounce Arts Festival, the annual arts festival produced by University of Atypical that showcases outstanding new work by deaf and disabled artists, writers, producers, actors, dancers, musicians, and directors as well as make events accessible as possible to all.

"This show is a mishmash of everything I do. You could say it's the best of the last six or seven shows. I don't envy the sign language interpreter," laughs Currie.

Having first studied performing arts at Newtownabbey Tech, Currie went on to obtain a degree in visual communication from Ulster University and worked as an art director in advertising in Glasgow.

But his first visit to the Edinburgh Fringe in 1999 resulted in his quitting his well-paid job and training in clowning.

"I hit it off with one of the performers and when he asked when my show was on, I realised I was doing the wrong career," he recalls.

"I returned to Belfast and trained at the Belfast Community Circus School. The late Will Chamberlain, director of the school, was a huge influence. He brought across international clown shooters to train us and the weirder stuff I do in my late night cabaret shows are thanks to the circus school," adds Currie, who still teaches as the school's Itty Bitty Circus for two to seven-year-olds.

Since then the Belfast man has been developing and honing his comedy skills, performing at festivals all over the world, and winning the Comedian's Award at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And despite his adult shows having an 18 and over warning, he's also a regular performer at children's festivals.

As well as his fusion of clowning, puppetry and mime, Currie's shows are renowned for audience participation. And don't feel you are excluded by hiding at the back of the room.

"I like to get everyone involved. That's the whole point of comedy. It's not about just me on a stage, it's about everybody in the whole room and feeling alive in the moment," the 45-year-old adds.

"I'm pro-mindfulness and what I do is about being in the moment. It's about unlocking those cages that adult responsibilities put ourselves in and finding innocence and joy again. We put too much pressure on ourselves and therefore need to meditate, laugh and engage the frontal cortex of our brain."

As well has having delivered art therapy courses in poetry and writing to others through Belfast's Open Arts organisation, whose main aim is to involve disabled people in the creative arts, Currie has witnessed at first hand the cathartic benefits of art and comedy.

"I've suffered from anxiety and depression and performing helps me. So does meditation and breathing and I do try to work those tools into my shows in a fun way," he says. "All art is a way for humans to express their inner thoughts and issues. Comedy is just as an important art form as painting or sculpting or writing or writing music.

"In Trufficle Musk I talked about gender construct as a toxic society that exists. There is a huge global epidemic of anxiety and depression because of our crazy consumer society which has made us lazy as creative creatures. We should be all creating for ourselves, making our own bread, greetings cards and inventing."

While Currie wouldn't turn down an invitation to appear on Live At The Apollo, don't be expecting him to be appearing on comedy panel shows.

"Television stand-up and panel shows are so sterile and tedious. I'd like to try my hand at television – but I want creative freedom and need to find the right producer to take a risk on me."

Next up, however, he will be touring Trufficle Musk in the UK and taking it to the Perth Fringe in Australia next January. And he admits harbouring an ambition to introduce the term 'hallion' to a global audience when he tours his show Turbo Hallion, which he'll be performing at Bounce.

"It's such a great slang word but so colloquial. I want people to look up the definition and understand what we are all about," he laughs.

:: Paul Currie will be performing Turbo Hallion on Sunday September 8 at Belfast's Black Box. Strictly 18+ unless accompanied by a guardian. The Bounce Arts Festival runs from September 5 to 9 and features an eclectic range of dance, comedy, music, art and physical theatre. For tickets and full programme visit Universityofatypical.org/bounce