Entertainment

Tim McGarry: Paddy Jenkins will miss the Oscars to be onstage with us in Strabane

David Roy quizzes Hole in the Wall Gang leader Tim McGarry, aka Da, about the Belfast comedy troupe's latest Give My Head Peace Live tour, the success of The Blame Game and when we can expect to see Da and co back on the small screen...

Tim McGarry. Picture by John Harrison
Tim McGarry. Picture by John Harrison Tim McGarry. Picture by John Harrison
Give My Head Peace Live is back (l-r): Alexandra Ford (Dympna), Damon Quinn (Cal), Olivia Nash (Ma), Tim McGarry (Da), Ciaran Nolan (Sandy), Michael McDowell (Billy) and Paddy Jenkins (Pastor Begbie)
Give My Head Peace Live is back (l-r): Alexandra Ford (Dympna), Damon Quinn (Cal), Olivia Nash (Ma), Tim McGarry (Da), Ciaran Nolan (Sandy), Michael McDowell (Billy) and Paddy Jenkins (Pastor Begbie) Give My Head Peace Live is back (l-r): Alexandra Ford (Dympna), Damon Quinn (Cal), Olivia Nash (Ma), Tim McGarry (Da), Ciaran Nolan (Sandy), Michael McDowell (Billy) and Paddy Jenkins (Pastor Begbie)

HI TIM, are you nearly ready for the live tour – even if there's an unexpected development in the news that might affect this year's storyline?

We're always prepared for the unexpected in Northern Ireland politics. So, even if there's a deal on the Protocol, I think we're alright.

Do you still enjoy doing Give My Head Peace Live as much as when you first started doing the annual tours?

We love it, that's why we go out every year. The hardest part is actually writing the show. After that, the only worry is getting it started and getting the audiences laughing. But once it's up and running and we're out and about touring all the venues in Northern Ireland, it's just great craic.

We go up to Derry for three nights and we stay over, so it's like a holiday for us. Once we get a few shows under our belts it's all basically like a wee holiday.

You had an enforced year off in 2021 due to Covid, did that make last year's tour feel more special?

The break was quite hard. But once we were back at it last year, we definitely had a show we were really, really happy with.

What's in store for audiences this year?

This year, we're touching upon stuff like the king's coronation: Da gets an invite to it, for various reasons that we'll go into, and he's trying to tap up various women to go with him instead of Ma [Olivia Nash], including Mary Lou McDonald and Pamela Ballantine.

King Charles will actually be appearing via phone call, and you'll find out why Prince George and Da get along very well.

We're going to be as political as we can be: we are covering the Protocol in all shapes and forms, as Pastor Begbie [Paddy Jenkins] and his friends aren't very happy about it. And, I don't know if you saw that photograph that did the rounds back in January, but there was a photograph of a lot of Cardinals at the Pope's funeral – and there was a guy in a wee beanie hat and a moustache who looked exactly like Pastor Begbie, so we're going to explain why he was there.

It couldn't be... could it?!
It couldn't be... could it?! It couldn't be... could it?!

This year must be extra-special since you will have an Oscar-nominated cast member on stage with you?

Yes, Paddy Jenkins is actually in An Irish Goodbye, which has just won a Bafta and is in the running for Best Live Action Short Film at the Oscars. God love him, we gave him the day off from rehearsals to go to the Baftas, but sadly he won't be on the red carpet at the Oscars – because he's going to be on stage with us in Strabane and Downpatrick.

But I think we're going to go back to his house after the show to watch [the Oscars] live and raise a glass to him. It's a brilliant wee film, so hopefully – touch wood – it will win. We'll all be delighted for Paddy.

You've also got a recent addition to the live show cast  in the form of Ciaran Nolan, aka Sandy the barman. How has he fitted in?

We're really delighted to have Ciaran in the show. You know, he replaced the late great BJ Hogg [Big Mervyn] and we're delighted to have him. He slotted in like a glove last year, which was his first time with us live. He was brilliant, so we've given Sandy plenty to do this year.

Sandy becomes a psychic, predicting all sorts of things, including helping Pastor Begbie find some money that he lost in the old days. So we can contact the dead. He ends up contacting Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness from beyond the grave and all sorts – the usual kind of silly nonsense, basically.

Tim McGarry. Picture by John Harrison
Tim McGarry. Picture by John Harrison Tim McGarry. Picture by John Harrison

Are you going to be doing your usual stand-up set in the middle of the show?

Yes, we do like to give the audience a wee break from the madness of Pastor Begbie and co. I actually just did a couple of stand-up gigs in east Belfast and the Moy to try out stuff for the stage show and they went down very well, so I'm pretty confident I've got a nice wee stand-up section together.

That will change as we go along over the course of 26 shows: I'll switch it up and change it around depending on where we are and what's happening in the news.

The Blame Game was back on our radios and TVs last year,  are you still enjoying being the host – and do you ever wish you could swap places with panelists Neil Delamere, Colin Murphy and Diona Doherty?

I love The Blame Game, it's one of the nicest gigs. I just love it. The only thing is that I can't watch the news like a normal person any more, I have to watch it every day with a notebook and a pen.

But it's just a joy to do, we still get really good audiences and huge reactions everywhere we go. We'd a good run of seven or eight shows right up to Christmas and I think it was a really strong series, so hopefully we'll be back later in the year.

I've the nicest job in the world. Neil and Colin are superb and Diona has fitted in like a glove. And this isn't false modesty whatsoever, but I couldn't do what they do. They are as sharp as tacks, they really are. And they are consistently funny. My links have to be consistently funny, so there is a wee bit of pressure on me – but those guys are under a whole different kind of pressure.

People always say, 'ah, sure it's all scripted'. But it really isn't. I mean, my bits are mostly scripted, because I have to do the links, and obviously it's TV, so there has to be some preparation. But nobody knows what anybody else is going to say – they don't see my script, I don't know what they're gonna say and they don't know what each other is going to say. So when Neil and Colin and Diona go off on a riff, it could go anywhere.

It's just really great craic, especially as we record about an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half, which they gets edited down to 30 minutes once the lawyers get a look over it.

Tim McGarry also hosts The Blame Game. Picture by Trevor Lucy Photography
Tim McGarry also hosts The Blame Game. Picture by Trevor Lucy Photography Tim McGarry also hosts The Blame Game. Picture by Trevor Lucy Photography

Finally, will Give My Head Peace be back on our screens later in the year?

Absolutely, we have four more episodes commissioned for December through January, which is great. We're absolutely delighted and the BBC have been very good to us. I think we consistently deliver large audiences, even though TV is changing at the moment.

A lot fewer people are watching it live on a Friday night, but it all goes onto the iPlayer in one go now. What tends to happen is that people binge watch them all in one go. You meet people who tell you, 'aye I watched three or four last night'.

So, it's a changing world, but we're still consistently getting very high audiences – and that's something that we're very proud of.

Give My Head Peace
Give My Head Peace Give My Head Peace

GIVE MY HEAD PEACE LIVE 2023

  • March 2 – Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen.
  • March 3/4 – Market Place Theatre, Armagh
  • March 5 – Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey
  • March 8 to 10 – Millennium Forum, Derry
  • March 11 – Alley Theatre, Strabane
  • March 12 – Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick
  • March 15/16 – Riverside Theatre, Coleraine
  • March 17 – Island Hall, Lisburn
  • March 18 – Strule Arts Centre, Omagh
  • March 20 – The Braid, Ballymena
  • March 23 – Burnavon Theatre, Cookstown
  • March 24 – The Old Courthouse, Antrim
  • March 25 – Garage Theatre, Monaghan
  • March 27 to April 1 – Grand Opera House, Belfast

:: Contact individual venues for tickets