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Comic Kevin McAleer on new live show Why Am I Here? and going head-to-head with Liam Neeson on Derry Girls

David Roy chats to Co Tyrone comedian Kevin McAleer about his new stand-up show Why Am I Here?, going head-to-head with Liam Neeson on Derry Girls and why he's now more like himself than ever before on stage...

David Roy

 

Kevin McAleer is back with new live stand-up show Why Am I Here?


CURRENTLY enjoying a higher than ever profile thanks to his scene/series-stealing role as terminally dull conversationalist Uncle Colm in TV hit Derry Girls, veteran Co Tyrone comedian Kevin McAleer is about to become a busy man.

"I never do much in the summer, because not much is happening," explains the permanently laid-back McAleer, who first found fame with his wilfully slow and surreal comedic meanderings on RTE's Nighthawks slot in the late 1980s.

"It all goes a bit quiet apart from a few festivals. In the long evenings people want to do other things, I suppose. But from September onwards I've probably got a dozen shows lined up. I'm really, really looking forward to getting back more than ever.

"The first Belfast show sold out and they've had to put on an extra date, so I'm delighted with that. And I'm looking forward to the Millennium Forum, going to the source of the whole Derry Girls thing."

Indeed, the last time the Omagh funnyman toured was back in 2019 with his show Guru, which found him posing as a self-styled master of mindfulness, a show inspired by his own experiments with self-care and the plethora of 'personalities' on YouTube etc attempting to promote their particular spin on the whole thing for personal gain.

Fresh from his appearances in the first two series of Derry Girls which exposed a whole new worldwide audience to McAleer's unique comic style via Uncle Colm's paralysingly prosaic storytelling, it seemed that the stand-up was poised to reap the benefits of his refreshed public profile – and then Covid hit.

Thus, three years later, the comic is just now starting to get back into performing live again with a new show, Why Am I Here?. But, while the pandemic-induced pause must have been frustrating – and summer lull in work non-withstanding – father-of-three McAleer says he is enjoying being back at it more than ever, especially as he's now performing for audiences who have been starved of live comedy for so long.

 

Kevin McAleer

 

"I recently did a comedy festival in Dublin in the Iveagh Gardens for three nights and that was really good fun," he tells me.

"The audiences were smiling on the way into the gigs – they were just thrilled to be out, so they were just right there from the very first line. So that was a really nice way to come back.

"And I did a few theatre shows back in April which went really well and also coincided with Derry Girls series three coming out, which did no harm at all for my ticket sales. I got a very timely boost from Liam Neeson and co."

Indeed, Derry Girls returned for its third and final series with an opening episode which featured one of the funniest and most memorable scenes of its entire run: a Line of Duty-inspired 'interrogation' scene in which guest star Liam Neeson's tough RUC copper met his match in the Derry Girls' secret weapon: Uncle Colm.

"Just him being there added an extra spice to the whole thing," enthuses McAleer of his hilarious head-to-head with the Ballymena-born movie star.

"He played that scene just so perfectly, you know – the expression of suffering on his face – I've never enjoyed looking at someone suffering so much. I was finding it hard to keep a straight face."

 

Uncle Colm with the Derry Girls in the now classic interrogation scene featuring Liam Neeson

 

I suggest that, given their obvious onscreen chemistry, perhaps Neeson will keep him in mind for a cameo in the next of his regular post-Taken 'geriactioner' vehicles.

"Oh, I'm sure being in that scene with me will do wonders for his career," deadpans McAleer.

"It could be his big break."

However, it seems that the lack of a decent wide shot in the Derry Girls scene has lead to some viewers becoming sceptical that the two men were ever actually in the same room together. For the purposes of the tape, let's set the record straight once and for all.

"A lot of people were asking me afterwards, 'Was he actually there?'," admits McAleer, who has also acted on the stage with Conleth Hill and Conor Grimes in the 2019 comedy Spud!.

"I think audiences are getting too smart for their own good. So I had to reassure them that he was very much there and he had a good old chat with everybody afterwards. It was a very enjoyable occasion for everybody."

With some Derry Girls fans calling for an Uncle Colm spin-off series, I wondered if the Co Tyrone comic would be up for reprising the character in stand-alone form.

"'Be careful what you ask for' is what I'd say," chuckles McAleer at the suggestion.

"Colm's occasional appearances in Derry Girls are probably just about the right length of scene for him. I also have to reassure people that he's not going to be there at my live shows, you know.

"I think people are obviously very interested in Colm and Derry Girls and it has brought me new fans – especially younger people who maybe didn't know that being a stand-up comedian has been my bread and butter all these years.

"They might be coming along and thinking they're going to get an hour-and-a-half of Uncle Colm. So I have to reassure everybody that he's at home, tied to the radiator.

"My latest show is very much my own voice and my own material. And I certainly wouldn't dream of using any of Lisa's lines, you know? That's another slight misconception – some people think that somehow that I was involved in the writing [of Derry Girls]. But it was 100 per cent her script."

 

Kevin McAleer

 

However, much like Fr Austin Purcell in Father Ted – "the most boring priest in the world" – the life-sapping conversational style of Uncle Colm was surely inspired by McAleer's distinctive knack for delivering extended point-avoiding comedic yarns in a time-stopping, twinkly-eyed manner.

"He's certainly related to the old Nighthawks character," concedes the comedian.

"He could be my own uncle. There's a thought: can you be your own uncle? That's probably getting a bit too philosophical. I'd have to ask Uncle Colm, he'd explain whether it's possible or not."

McAleer tells me his latest stand-up show Why Am I Here? is his most authentic to date. It finds him moving away from comedy 'personas' like the aforementioned 'Guru McAleer' in favour of being more 'himself'.

"I'm not a guru anymore, but I am someone who has dabbled in mindfulness in lockdown," he reveals.

"So I just turned it around and made it more personal. All my shows, they're all personas, including the old Nighthawks fella, but – at the risk of admitting that I'm stark raving mad – they're very close to my own personality.

"But I think the show I'm doing now is even closer to my own voice. I'm enjoying being someone closer to myself on stage, which makes it all very interesting for me, you know. It makes me more engaged with the audience, I think. I feel I'm a bit more present as myself, and that's a nice new emphasis for me.

"Apart from the sheer buzz of just being able to be back up there, it's given it a new energy – so hopefully that translates."

One thing is for sure – audiences shouldn't come expecting any answers to the show's titular Big Question.

"No, people will end up more confused about why I'm there than when I started," chuckles McAleer.

"And they might even ask themselves, you know, 'Why am I here?'. But hopefully, they'll be laughing and smiling on their way out the door."

Kevin McAleer, September 15, Millennium Forum, Derry / September 16, Marketplace Theatre, Armagh / September 29, Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen / October 15, 16, QUBSU Mandela Hall, Belfast.

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