Comedian Colin Murphy on his new Watchamacolin tour

Co Down comedian Colin Murphy chats to David Roy about his new stand-up tour Watchamacolin, refusing to watch other comedians 'dying' on stage and why he is enjoying The Blame Game more than ever...

Colin Murphy's Watchamacolin tour begins in February
Colin Murphy's Watchamacolin tour begins in February

HI COLIN, your new Watchamacolin tour kicks off in February – how's the show coming together?

Well, I was at The Empire last night trying out a few bits, and it went way better than I thought it would – and I also came up with a whole new thing, so I'm delighted with myself.

How did that happen?

I was just chatting to somebody in the crowd and then the thing happened, and I was like, 'Oh, that's a couple of minutes right there'.

Does that happen often when you're putting a new show together?

Yeah, that's basically how I write it. I go in with a notion and then it dies on its a***, and then a bit that I make up to cover the fact that it's just died on its a*** ends up being 'the thing'. That happens more often than not. There's loads of uncomfortable winging it and just making stuff up.

That's why I like compèring, because it forces you to do new stuff. And you have people coming back week after week as well, so you can't repeat yourself too often. It's a discipline I got into years ago – even though I probably could get away with repeating more stuff than I do.

Nobody cares about the compère. I still get people coming up to me afterwards saying, 'You should give that stand-up a go yourself', you know? They don't consider you an actual comedian, so you're likely to be forgiven a lot.

Do you watch the other acts when you compère, just in case they might give you ideas – even about what not to do?

No, I used to watch all the acts but I stopped a few years ago. Because things seep into your head, then you come up with something yourself and think, 'Oh wait, did I hear someone else say that?'. There's only so many topics in the world, so you're gonna overlap [with other comics] somewhere. I'd rather not know what someone else is doing if it is the same type of material. So I don't watch the acts any more.

Although, I did watch someone last night, because it was a friend of mine who I haven't seen in years, a guy called John Colleary. I haven't laughed so much in years, it was just amazing. He's absolutely brilliant. Everyone's gotta go and see him, he's doing support for Tommy Tiernan at the moment.

It can also be quite painful to watch comedians die on stage when their material isn't working – or do you enjoy that kind of cringe-inducing thing?

No, I cannot be in the room. I don't understand those people [who enjoy it], there's something wrong with them. I have to leave the room and just not hear it, even though I have to go back on and pick it up again. It's just awful.

But it is really amazing when you watch a comedian really 'own' their own death. I've seen that in Edinburgh at the Festival, there's a club called Late and Live which used to start at like 11 or 12 in the evening and go on until 2.30am. It was horrifically rough and rowdy and sometimes violent.

It didn't matter how amazing you were – everybody struggled. So it was one of those rites of passage kind of things and everyone had to do it. I've seen people own deaths brilliantly, acts who were just fantastic who just didn't try and convince the audience, they just went with the death and kept going while laughing along with it. That was just brilliant.

Colin Murphy. Picture by Carrie Davenport
Colin Murphy. Picture by Carrie Davenport

Is there a particularly tough comedy spot in Ireland? The Empire used to have a reputation for requiring comedians to 'come prepared'...

It did have a mad reputation, but all of that stuff has gone now – really everywhere. That kind of 'confrontational' thing with the audience has kind of disappeared. I think people have realised, 'Oh, you know what, it's actually better fun when we just let people do what they're supposed to be doing, instead of interrupting because we think we're funnier when we're not'. So people have kind of just stopped being b*****s, which is great.

Maybe Twitter has given them a better outlet now. They can be a b*****s on there to their heart's content and then leave us alone. It's great.

So you won't be expecting too many hecklers on the upcoming Watchamacolin tour?

No, I'm doing very nice theatres and a lot of lovely people have paid not a lot of money to come and see me. It's only 20 quid, which is a bargain. Times are tight so I decided to keep the ticket prices manageable. Because I won't pay over £30 for a ticket.

I won't go to big arena gigs either, I don't like them. There's an optimum size for comedy gigs, which I think is around 1,000 to 1,500 people. The Opera House or the Ulster Hall is a great size of a room, the Millennium in Derry is a brilliant size too. Anything bigger than that and you're not really feeling it.

What kind of stuff are you going to be dealing with in the new set?

This one is not about anything in particular, it's just a load of craic. And, like the stuff that I've come up with, I've got more of it earlier on than I have done any other year. I don't know whether that's because of Covid or because I've just been gigging more anyway in general since lockdown ended.

So I'm at a better stage than I normally am at this stage and it's been going down really really well with audiences. It's slightly different than previous years too – there's more jokey things and silliness in it this time, I'd say. It's definitely more 'gag heavy'.

Colin Murphy still enjoys doing The Blame Game
Colin Murphy still enjoys doing The Blame Game

What about the current series of The Blame Game, are you still enjoying it?

Oh God, yes. And it's just such a relief to be back in front of a live audience again. The Zoom shows [during lockdown] were just so difficult, like unbelievably hard. I never did any Zoom stand-up gigs – I think Neil [Delamere, Blame Game comrade] did a couple but I had no urge to do any of those because it was hard enough having a Zoom audience.

I mean the Zoom audiences were really great, but it just wasn't the same as actually having them in the room where you can smell them. And some of ours really smell. But my favourite thing is the amount of messing around that goes on in that brilliant studio, which the audience always loves – even though most of it doesn't make it onto the screens for legal reasons.

Who's been your favourite guest this series?

It was great seeing Joel Dommett again, who was on the first episode. We hadn't seen him in ages but he just comes in and he's just such a really smiley, lovely, positive guy. And he doesn't need to do our show – but he said yes straight away just because he enjoyed himself on it so much years ago. He just came for the craic and anyone who does that is immediately high up in my estimation.

:: Colin Murphy's Whatchamacolin tour begins at Larne's McNeill Theatre on February 3, then continues to the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn on February 10 and Omagh's Strule Arts Centre on February 11. He plays three nights at the Grand Opera House Belfast from June 29 to July 1. See Shine.net for full tour dates and ticket details