‘Since my stroke, I’ve joined the gym’ - comedian Gene Fitzpatrick

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Banbridge comic, Gene Fitzpatrick

Gene Fitzpatrick keeps the jokes coming thick and fast. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Gene Fitzpatrick keeps the jokes coming thick and fast (Mal McCann)
1. Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

I wake up every morning around 6.30am and while I’m waiting on the kettle to boil, I do all my loosening up exercises. I then come into my wee room, enjoy my tea, do 20 minutes of meditation, have another cup of tea and then I’ll do 20 minutes of yoga. I go to my local gym four to five times a week and do 45 minutes’ exercise – walking machine, cycling and weights. When the weather gets warmer, I’ll definitely go outdoors and do more walking.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? Porridge or Weetabix with nuts, berries and a drop of honey. The Chinese are firm believers that you should start every day with some nuts.

Lunch? Bread and cheese.

Evening meal? I love curries, shepherd’s pie or Spaghetti Bolognese

3. Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

Yes, very much so. I eat a lot of fruit every day for natural vitamins.

4. Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

No, I’ve never had to; I’m a thoroughbred, ha-ha.

5. Weekend treat?

Maureen and I like to go out for a nice Indian meal at the weekend. A new Indian restaurant recently opened in Banbridge and I usually order jalfrezi with crispy garlic naan bread. I brought my friend Billy McFarland and his wife Nan to this restaurant and when I ordered naan bread, Nan McFarland thought I was taking the hand out of her as she never heard of it before.

Comedian Gene Fitzpatrick is returning to the stage after a debilitating stroke. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Comedian Gene Fitzpatrick is returning to the stage after a debilitating stroke (Mal McCann)
6. How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

I exercise at home and at the gym and I attend a ‘chair yoga’ class on a Monday morning with other stroke victims. Our stroke club in Newry is great for my mental health, as we inspire each other and my daily meditation routine is good for mental health, as well. I also think about old jokes, which certainly help to lift my spirits.

7. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving… Don’t sit on your ass. Even if you’re relaxing, watching TV, go for a quick two-minute walk around your living room during the ad breaks.

8. Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I loved PE at school – St Colman’s in Newry. It was my favourite subject and I enjoyed playing every sport, from football to handball and athletics. Unfortunately, corporal punishment was still prevalent in schools in my day and those are memories I like to forget, but PE was always a joy.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

I’ve been a teetotal for over 40 years and I’ve been off the cigarettes for over 40 years, too.

10. Stairs or lift?

Always the stairs - even when I’m in a shopping centre. You have to make the effort.

11. What book are you currently reading?

I’m reading Nothing is Impossible: The Real-Life Adventures of a Street Magician – the autobiography of Dynamo [aka Steven Frayne]. Autobiographies are my favourite type of book and Dynamo’s journey is so inspirational. From being a young lad practicing magic tricks with a present his grandad bought him to being - in my opinion - the best magician in the world and overcoming mental anguish and suicide attempts, this book is certainly a great read.

12. Best Netflix/streaming TV?

I don’t have Netflix, but I do watch movies on Sky. My favourite film is The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather trilogy is spectacular, too.

Gene Fitzpatrick
13. Any new skills or hobbies?

Since I took my recent stroke, I’ve joined Banbridge Leisure Centre’s gym, so this is a brand new skill for me. Andrea Nash looks after the stroke victims and she is so helpful. I actually went to school with her father – it really is a small world.

14. How do you relax?

If I sit on the settee after being ‘on the go’ all day, I have a wee doze. I love looking at all the birds in my garden too; it’s really relaxing and I feed them bread and seeds every day. It amazes me how there are so many different birds, so many different colours. I find myself relaxing, just looking and marvelling at them.

15. What would you tell your younger self?

Everything passes; don’t sweat the small stuff. The only permanent thing in life is change, so don’t worry about anything.

Gene Fitzpatrick has been making us laugh for more than 40 years. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Gene Fitzpatrick has been making us laugh for more than 40 years (Mal McCann)
16. What are your goals going forward?

I’m 79 and I really want to get fit again so I can travel. I’d love to be heading off to Tenerife when I’m back to perfect health. And I can’t wait to get back playing golf again in the summer. I’m really looking forward to getting on stage with my old friends Jimmy Cricket, Adrian Walsh and Roy Walker again. The tour is going to be hilarious with all us old lads. I also want to continue doing my bit for charity. My mummy always said: “Whatever you give with your heart, you get back 10 times over.”

I’ve always had good faith and I’m a firm believer in having a personal God. God is in your head, heart and soul and I pray several times a day

—  Gene Fitzpatrick
17. What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

I go to bed around 10pm and sleep until 4am, then doze until I waken at 6.30am.

18. Biggest gripe or regret?

Potholes - they are difficult to avoid.

19. Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Since my stroke, my priorities have definitely changed. My attitude now is: slow down, let life happen and don’t try to force anything.

20. Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event - changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I’ve always had good faith and I’m a firm believer in having a personal God. God is in your head, heart and soul and I pray several times a day.

Gene Fitzpatrick will feature in The Comedians show alongside fellow comedians Jimmy Cricket, Roy Walker and Adrian Walsh, with Clubsound providing musical accompaniment. They will perform in the McNeill Theatre, Larne, on Thursday; the Grand Opera House, Belfast, on Friday; and the Riverside Theatre, Coleraine, on Saturday