‘Israel/Palestine is personal for me’ - Cork comic Tadhg Hickey on Belfast charity show and why he’s now dedicated his career to standing up for Gaza

David Roy chats to Cork satirist Tadhg Hickey about why the plight of the people in Gaza has become so important to him, his decision to visit Iran despite its human rights abuses and his imminent appearance at The Devenish in aid of Palestine

Tadhg Hickey is Belfast-bound again
Tadhg Hickey is Belfast-bound again. PICTURE: Cathal Noonan

“NOBODY gets into pro-Palestine activism for the good of their career,” says Cork comic Tadhg Hickey when asked about how his recent, passionate support for the people of Gaza has impacted his burgeoning comedy profile.

Since 2019, Hickey has become well-known for his short, sharp YouTube videos satirising the troubled relationships between various factions and geopolitical entities, usually by transposing them into an awkward cohabitation or social scenarios.

His biggest hits include Loyalism, but in a house share in Cork, Israel/Palestine Conflict Origins (But it’s a house share in Cork) and The British Empire, but it’s a school reunion in Cork.

Their success dovetailed with an acclaimed one man show, In One Eye, Out The Other, and led on to publishing his alcoholism-themed memoir Portrait of The P*** Artist as a Young Man and hitting the road with last year’s stand-up/music show The Marxist Terrorist-Supporting Scumbag Tour.

However, anyone following Hickey’s social media accounts over the past six months will have seen that a good 90 per cent of his output is now fully focused on Israel/Palestine.

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“I’m very OK with the fact that all my eggs are in this basket at the moment, because it feels like that’s my duty,” he tells me of the increased focus on highlighting Gaza’s plight.

“It was easy enough for me to ‘pivot’, because I was doing political sketches anyway, and I had a connection with Palestine because I had some Palestinian friends.

“When you actually get to know people, and they’re living through a genocide, it brings it right to your door: it’s no longer this abstraction, where you philosophically believe in rights of statehood and justice and stuff like that. It becomes somewhat personal.

Tadhg Hickey speaking at a recent rally for Palestine
Tadhg Hickey speaking at a recent rally for Palestine

“And I’d be very interested in Irish history. There’s so many parallels between Ireland and Palestine that it’s actually uncanny. So I was one of those people that really saw Ireland in the Palestinian struggle.

“When the genocide began, it felt like the most significant historical moment we were living through. I felt like I could lend my voice [to the people of Palestine] through satire, which hopefully is good at kind of breaking down nuanced things that are supposed to be difficult to understand.

“I just make them bog basic, like, a bunch of lads in a gaff, which is kind of my shtick at this point – geopolitical house sharing.”

Having recently branched out to non-comedic videos with The Free Palestine Podcast series featuring extended conversations with Palestinians, Hickey says he’s frustrated with the lack of Palestinian representation on mainstream news outlets – an imbalance of opinion he’s keen to skewer.

“I was very eager to give Palestinians a platform because it’s very rare to see a Palestinian on RTÉ television,” explains the Cork man.

Tadhg Hickey
Tadhg Hickey. PICTURE: Cathal Noonan

“I speak to Palestinian friends here and a lot of them have effectively boycotted RTÉ, because they don’t trust them to be even-handed. All their footage from Gaza is Israel Defence Forces [IDF] videos, you know? I understand that Hamas is a proscribed group, but like, if you’re just showing IDF videos you can’t be giving an actual sense of what’s going on.

“I really do believe that people are seeing through the likes of CNN and the BBC at the moment. I think it’s been an eye-opening experience for all of us. I feel like the Western media, the political establishment and big tech have so much blood on their hands.

“I was also eager to just get, like, regular Palestinians on [the podcast], as opposed to the few that you’ll see popping up on Al Jazeera or whatnot.

“I know this lad in Cork, Habib, who works in [Palestinian restaurant] Izz Cafe. I was just chatting to him one night about what it was like to grow up in Gaza: I was in tears, and he wasn’t even talking about the current conflict.

“He was like, ‘You know, we’ve always been in a war zone’. He’s wonderfully articulate and unbelievably resilient, so that was the first podcast I did, with him.

“Obviously, people in the north will get it, but people down south in Ireland, they just wouldn’t get how your life is so restricted, so impinged on, by this apartheid regime. It’s not like this war happened out of nowhere, and they were all living in luxury or whatever before – far from it.”

Having recently skewered pro- Israeli BBC bias with a series of videos in which he portrays a farcically partisan news anchor on ‘BBZ’ (as in ‘Zionist’) News, now Hickey wants to go a stage further with a full-length TV vehicle.

“I’m trying to get some kind of an anti-imperialist news satire show off the ground,” he tells me.

“I’m lucky enough to be talking to Al Jazeera about it and they’re quite interested.”

Next week will find the comic putting his stand-up skills to good use in aid of Palestine as part of a charity show organised by Mothers Against Genocide at The Devenish in Belfast.

The Big Comedy Night for Palestine
The Big Comedy Night for Palestine

“There’s lots of little groups that are supporting Palestine as well as the Irish Palestine Solidarity campaign, and Mothers Against Genocide seems to be one that’s really making things happen – because they’re very fierce and they don’t take no for an answer,” Hickey enthuses.

“I do a little bit of work with them and they’re fearsome women. They’re just so tenacious that I’d do anything they’d ask me to do at this point.

A large crowd protest outside the BBC in Belfast about the ongoing attacks of the people of Palestine. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
A large crowd protest outside the BBC in Belfast about the ongoing attacks of the people of Palestine. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

“And it’s just an excuse for me to go back to Belfast and gig, which is great, because it’s my favourite city.”

Having caught flak for attending the SOBH Media Festival in Tehran last week, Hickey explains that he went with his gut in deciding to visit Iran, a key Palestinian ally, despite the Iranian regime’s appalling human rights record.

“My conscience is clear on Iran,” he tells me of attending the event, where he accepted an award for his pro-Palestinian activism.

“It was absolutely fascinating to meet and talk to ordinary Iranian people. I was there because of my work around Gaza and, for me, we can’t be too squeamish: if you support Palestinian resistance, there is no real resistance without Iran right now.”

Mothers Against Genocide present The Big Comedy Night, Friday June 7, The Devenish, Belfast. Tickets £25 via eventbrite.co.uk