Shane Todd: Even now, life is still a laughing matter for The Toddfather
At a time when everyone is worried about their health, Holywood comic Shane Todd tells Gail Bell why he made a show out of his Crohn's disease and how laughter is always a vital medicine in a crisis
LIFE is no laughing matter at the moment but an hour or so in the company of a hilariously silly, self-deprecating Shane Todd may just be the tonic we all need right now.
We meet – pre-Covid-19 restrictions – to chat about his upcoming tour, Somebody Told Me, opening in September and taking in 21 dates across Ireland and England.
In the circumstances, we don’t shake hands and you can almost see the Co Down comic taking a mental note – this aspect of coronovirus, along with stockpiled toilet rolls, panic buying and hand sanitiser, is sure to end up in a show some day.
For the popular Holywood entertainer, nothing is off limits in stand-up, having kick-started his career on a show based around his own health crisis when diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a type of inflammatory bowel disease – more than four years ago.
It is a condition, he says, in a conspiratorial whisper, that he still doesn’t fully understand – “and still can’t spell properly” – but being able to always see the “funny side” helped pull him through.
“I still don’t really know what Crohn’s is,” says the personable 31-year-old, “but I do look after myself diet and lifestyle-wise, although I’m not one of those people who Googles every symptom.
“I was told it was a condition for life but luckily I’m a very happy-go-lucky kind of person. Pretty much the week I got diagnosed, I thought, ‘This is going to dominate my life for the next while, so I can either sit and be sad, or start making a note of the funny things that happen. So, it just started with a couple of little things and then grew into an entire show.”
Medical professionals still aren’t sure what causes Crohn’s disease but it is believed to be linked to a flaw with the immune system, causing it to attack the sufferer’s digestive tract and resulting in symptoms of varying severity, among them diarrhoea, cramps, fatigue and weight loss.
“The weight loss was the only thing that really affected me,” Todd reveals. “I’m naturally pretty skinny, so when I lost three and-a-half stone over a number of weeks, it was difficult because I am pretty vain. I mean, every car I pass, I do have to have a wee look in the window…”
At the start, though, there wasn’t much to laugh about when he started having excruciating cramps that would “come and go” and felt like “a tight knot” in his stomach. A keen amateur sportsman, he had been playing football for his team in Holywood when, one evening, the pain became overwhelming and he took himself off to A&E.
“They thought it was my appendix, so they took it out and sent me home,” he recalls. “I did a lot of sport – football and street fighting – so thought I would recover quickly, but I didn’t. Then, at a family wedding about a week later, I was talking to my cousin, a consultant in gastroenterology, and he thought I didn’t look too good. I got admitted to the City Hospital and was there for a couple of weeks while they tried to figure out what was wrong with me.
“It was a shock when I was eventually diagnosed, especially as I had just given up a job in a call centre to work full-time in comedy, but I was also glad because I think it’s better to know what you are dealing with – some people have something bothering them for years and don’t know what it is.”
Today, he is still adapting his diet and being as proactive as possible.
“I very rarely drink now, I exercise every day and I try to get enough sleep. At the moment, I am getting an infusion with a new drug at the Royal Victoria Hospital called Infliximab and they are happy with my progress. I felt great before going on it and I still feel great, so it’s definitely not doing me any harm. Crohn’s is an unpredictable condition, but diet is the number one thing I’ve worked on.”
Currently living in Ballynahinch with his wife, Stacey, the comic still plays football – for Dundrum FC – hosts a show on BBC Radio Ulster, has a role in BBC One’s Soft Border Patrol, his own ‘Toddcast’ and is now looking forward to what will be his fifth themed tour, with Somebody Told Me – based on urban myths.
It follows on from the Crohn’s show and others including The Toddfather, which played to sell-out audiences last year, coming about after the comedian lost a bet to friend and fellow comedian, Dave Elliot.
“We did a show on Radio Ulster in which we featured a general-knowledge quiz and the loser had to have a tattoo chosen by the winner,” Todd explains. “I lost the quiz, somehow; I still think it was fixed because I’m very, very intelligent and Dave isn’t – I’d like you to print that – and I had to have this ‘Toddfather’ tattooed on my leg. My wife hates it, but it gave me an idea for another show.”
Comedy, for this master of “silly”, observational humour, delivered with such deadpan precision that you never quite know when he is being serious, is a "dream" career for Todd, who spent his formative years as the "class clown", mercilessly mimicking teachers and fellow students.
“I never take myself too seriously,” he affirms, “and I think there’s humour in the sub-elements of most subjects, even the most unlikely ones.
"Northern Ireland people especially have a trait of being able to laugh in the face of tragedies and that is how we survive – if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry, sort of thing.
”My sense of humour was definitely influenced by my gran who I spent a lot of time with at her White City home in Holywood. It was this kind of environment where everybody took the hand out of everyone else – in a loving way. I grew up with that, where you always had to defend yourself and be prepared for a light-hearted roasting.”
Career-wise, Todd never had a ‘Plan B’ and, luckily, doesn’t need to, having been making people laugh at themselves, at him and at life in general, for 13 years now (five years full-time), in auditoriums across Northern Ireland, as well as in the US, Canada, France, Holland and Britain.
“It’s my dream job, but it comes without a safety net,” he admits. “Sometimes, people say they have no fall-back, but you know they secretly have some kind of medical degree. I don’t delve too much into the psychology of it, but I think when people come to see a comedy show, they’re there to get away from whatever is going on that day in their head.
"People who have been having a bad time of it have paid good money to come and see the show, so the game is to make those people just forget about whatever’s happening and try to have a laugh. It's all we can do.”
:: Details and tickets at shine.net/comedy