Jake O'Kane: Comedy was a godsend – becoming a priest or a politician would have been disastrous

David Roy catches up with Belfast comedian Jake O'Kane to discuss The Inappropriate Tour, his aptly titled new stand-up show which finds him refocussing his comedy from the political to the personal...

Comedian and Irish News columnist Jake O Kane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Comedian and Irish News columnist Jake O Kane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

"I GOT a diagnosis this year and it just explains so much about me, it really does," says Jake O'Kane when the Irish News calls to talk about his latest annual stand-up outing, The Inappropriate Tour.

"I'm not going to tell you what it is – people can come to the show to find out – but it's very interesting stuff."

No doubt amateur doctors will be queuing up to speculate about which ailment the north Belfast-based funnyman has added to his already worrying accumulation of medical maladies which include a recent cancer scare (more about which in a moment), coeliac disease, a previously broken back and rapidly failing eyesight – but, as Jake explains, there is a clue in the title of his latest tour, which kicks off next month.

Jake O'Kane's Inappropriate Tour will kick off next month
Jake O'Kane's Inappropriate Tour will kick off next month

"I've always been 'inappropriate' – but now at least I know why. I don't seem to have the filter that other people have where they think, 'Wait, that's inappropriate' before they say something," offers the comedian, who's also a regular Irish News columnist and YouTube satirist in addition to performing stand-up and running an off licence.

"I found out I had glaucoma earlier this year. I was speaking to my surgeon about my op and he said, 'Have you any questions?', so I said, 'Yeah – when did you last get *your* eyes tested'. Which is apparently not something you're supposed to say to an eye surgeon."

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Comedian and Irish News columnist Jake O'Kane
Comedian and Irish News columnist Jake O'Kane

Another hint regarding the recent diagnosis would be that Jake could also have called the new show 'The Oversharing Tour'.

"My wife always says to me 'you overshare'," says the comedian, who has been known to request the that the odd quote be stricken from the record between conversation and publication when doing publicity for his annual comedy tour.

"It's the reason I won't do podcasts," he continues.

"People always think it's because I'm ignorant, but really it's because I just don't trust myself.

"My mother always described me as 'odd': 'James is a wee bit odd'. So it all fits in. And comedy has been a godsend for me, because it's camouflage. If I'd been a priest or a politician, dear God almighty, it would have been disastrous.

"Imagine me baptising children: I'd be going, 'This is an ugly wee ******* – where'd you get this from?'. It would just not be a good idea."

Jake O'Kane in 'political' mode. PICTURE: ANN MCMANUS
Jake O'Kane in 'political' mode. PICTURE: ANN MCMANUS

However, a willingness/compulsion to talk about whatever is on his mind at any given moment has been a boon for Jake's comedy over the past few years, which have seen what was formerly a satirical news and politics-orientated round-up of the preceding 12 months (often utilising slide-projected stories from The Irish News as visual aids) evolving into a more personal affair delving into the comedian's home and family life, and his increasingly fraught medical history.

Of course, as Jake explains, this refocussing has also been borne partly out of necessity, given the ongoing political vacuum at Stormont in the absence of a willing Assembly.

"There's nothing happening, that's the problem," he says.

"The politics has always been a big part of the show for me, but if you think about it, you can't be a political satirist when there's no politics."

Stand-up comedian and Irish News columnist Jake O'Kane. Picture by Ann McManus
Stand-up comedian and Irish News columnist Jake O'Kane. Picture by Ann McManus

It's all a far cry from tours past, when there was almost too much political content to pack in to one show.

"I remember one year, I did a show that lasted two-hours-twenty minutes," cringes Jake.

"What those poor people did to deserve that, I do not know. And I was so anally retentive that I insisted on going right through the whole year: 'January, February, March...' God love them, whoever those people were they were so kind to stay.

"So, now it's just stand-up. There's a bit of politics, but there isn't much. It's mainly all UK stuff and we don't give a s*** about what's happening in the UK, or America or anywhere in 'arr wee pravince'. There's no interest."

'And another thing'... Jake O'Kane is getting back on stage
'And another thing'... Jake O'Kane is getting back on stage

Luckily, as we've already touched upon, there's been plenty happening in Jake's own life to talk about instead – even if some of it has been fairly sobering stuff, as he explains.

"This year, I've had so much," he tells me.

"I had a cancer scare, and got a wee funny lump removed from my leg. The punchline to that, of course, was that I'm an ambassador for Cancer Focus NI.

"About four days after I got the lump removed, I was out on a charity walk thinking 'God's got a sense of humour'. That was definitely taking my ambassadorship too far.

"So that's all there. Comedy is just like a filter. We've all got different filters and mine is comedy. So all the diagnosis, all the health stuff, I just try to find the humour in it."

As mentioned, Jake has become a keen creator of comedy content on YouTube since the pandemic shut down the live comedy scene, offering several short bursts of satirical comment on whatever's in the news throughout each week.

A veteran of the BBC's topical panel show The Blame Game, Jake is well positioned to comment on the differences between what flies on traditional broadcast media and the new online environment.

"This is the reality of comedy now: it's all going online," he explains.

"There are so many ways to offend people, people are getting 'cancelled' left right and centre. Comedy is like the canary in the mine, and comedy on TV has become very bland almost out of necessity.

"So a lot of people are going online, where people have to search you out and they know what they are getting. Unless you are an idiot and you libel somebody, which I hope I'll never do, you basically have free reign."

He adds: "With comedy, there's no interest for me unless you can fly a bit close to the wind – that's always been the interest for me. In the world we're in, there's a fair degree of nonsense that needs a bit of a puncturing now and again."

Jake O'Kane: The Inappropriate tour begins on December 27 at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry and visits the Ulster Hall, Belfast, on February 2 and 3. Support at all dates comes from Terry McHugh, see davidhullpromotions.com for full tour details. Subscribe to Jake's YouTube channel at youtube.com/@JakeOKaneComic