Neil Delamere: 'Irish people aren't built for wetsuits. I looked like a bullock wrapped in cling-film'
The Blame Game star and Celebrity Mastermind winner Neil Delamere is back on the road with a new stand-up tour, Neil By Mouth. The Co Offaly comic chats to David Roy about comedy, quizzing, and his imminent return to Belfast's SSE Arena...
"IT'S better than you'd think an ice hockey arena might be," explains comedian Neil Delamere of why he loves performing at Belfast's SSE Arena, home of the Belfast Giants and the largest venue on his new stand-up tour, Neil By Mouth.
"Because there's been an explosion in comedy north of the border over the last few years, they are brilliant at putting on stand-up," he continues.
"So many are doing it now, it's set up for comedy 20 times a year. So all the lighting guys, all the sound guys, all the camera guys, all the backstage staff, they really know what they're doing because they've done it so often.
"And although it's massive, you can still do that interaction with the front row, which is kind of rare – there's lots of places where you couldn't do that if the crowd was that big.
"So it's the best of both worlds, really. It's as good as an arena can be and I cannot wait to do it again – it's a real occasion."
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Indeed, this will be The Blame Game man's third show at the SSE following the success of the dates on his Liminal and Delamerium tours, and while the February 16 show in Belfast might be the biggest on the Dublin-based comedian's current itinerary, it does come right in the middle of a run through more traditional stand-up venues which kicks off at Strabane's Alley Theatre next Friday night.
"It's kind of weird," explains Delamere.
"Because I look forward to it almost more than any other gig, I have to remind myself, 'No, you've got more dates than this, Neil, this isn't the end of the tour – this is the middle of the tour'."
As for what's in the show itself, the comedian reveals that he'll be delving into a couple of recent experiences which took him well out of his comfort zone.
"I took Edinburgh off last year, so I had a bit of time during the summer," explains Delamere, who also co-hosts the popular 'weird facts'-based podcast series Why Would You Tell Me That? with Today FM's Dave Moore.
"So, I will be talking about doing a triathlon – because I'm of that age, now, where it's mandatory to do a triathlon. And all the ensuing bizarreness that comes from that. Like, you're standing there in a wetsuit, when very few Irish people are built for wetsuits. I looked like someone wrapped a bullock in cling-film.
"I also filmed something for RTÉ 2 recently with a guy called Martin Warde where we went to Ohio to meet a survivalist who has taught the CIA, FBI and Secret Service how to survive in the woods.
"I mean, if you can't get a few minutes of stand-up comedy out of an encounter with a man who looks like Ronnie Drew has joined the Territorial Army, there's something wrong."
While he might be full of praise for our SSE Arena, Delamere also got his first taste of a rather more iconic venue earlier this year when he made his debut on Live at The Apollo, the BBC's long-running stand-up comedy showcase filmed at London's Apollo Theatre, for an episode to be screened on November 21.
"That was an absolute joy," he enthuses.
"It was as good as I expected it to be, and it was really great fun. I had a 20-minute set but I ended up doing less because the laughs were longer and louder than expected: that's one of the really concrete ways to know you've enjoyed your gig."
Another highlight of Delamere's year was his winning appearance on Celebrity Mastermind. The life-long quiz fan – also a regular contributor to Dictionary Corner on Countdown since his friend Colin Murray became host – beat his competitors in the iconic black chair thanks to an encyclopaedic knowledge of his specialist subject, Viking history.
He's also filmed episodes of hit ITV quizzes The Chase and Beat The Chasers, which have yet to be screened.
"I can't tell you how well I did, or which Chaser I was on with," he says, " but I can tell you I was on with Jamie Borthwick from EastEnders, Jasmine from A Place In The Sun and Helen Lederer from Absolutely Fabulous and Blackadder.
"I was especially thrilled to be on with Helen, as I grew up watching her in Blackadder."
Naturally, all of this starry excitement pales in comparison to the prestige of the comic's regular gigs hosting the annual Irish News Workplace and Employment Awards, which took place in June, and last month's Irish News Ulster Allstars.
"This is true," he chuckles.
"Obviously, I view all of these things as a build-up to my work with The Irish News: walking out from under that iconic sign at Live at The Apollo is nothing compared to watching Noel Doran handing out a bauble to someone who really deserves it."
When we spoke, Delamere was also looking forward to the return of BBC NI's topical quiz The Blame Game, back for its 21st series tonight.
"I still absolutely love it," he tells me of the Tim McGarry-hosted panel show.
"The great thing about the Blame Game is that I have no idea what anyone is gonna say. And the absolute gold of any panel show is where you bounce something around: I start a story, somebody else kind of takes up the thread, and then somebody else finishes it off – that's the absolute holy grail of any sort of a panel show, and it happens on The Blame Game.
"Not every single show, because that doesn't happen on any show, but when it does and the audience goes for it, oh my God, that's the holy grail.
"It's the closest thing to live stand-up that you'll do on television."
Neil Delamere brings Neil By Mouth to Strabane's Alley Theatre on November 17 and Belfast's SSE Arena on February 16. See neildelamere.com for full tour dates and ticketing details. The Blame Game airs every Friday at 10.40pm on BBC One NI.