Life

Jake O'Kane: Bats, boke and big laughs – that's life on tour

Last Saturday saw me finish my stand-up tour, having played 19 shows at 12 venues from Enniskillen in the west to Coleraine in the north and Larne in the east, finishing in Downpatrick in the south. Without doubt, it's been the most enjoyable tour to date.

Jake's latest stand-up tour was his best ever. Picture by Ann McManus.
Jake O'Kane

I’VE been doing my review show for five years now and am lucky to have gathered a tight crew around me, with the talented Terry McHugh as opener and my brilliant technical team, Brian, Sean and his wife Maria Boyle from Festival Productions.

There were many highlights, beginning with the first show in Enniskillen. Since our last outing, my wingman Terry unfortunately had two minor strokes; luckily they’d left no permanent damage and so, as we do, I renamed him ‘Two Stroke Terry’. I joked with audiences that things had worked out in my favour as I now got a grant for him.

Joking aside, I was naturally a bit nervous and always listened to his performance in my dressing room, so when I heard him scream on-stage on our first night in Enniskillen, I feared the worst.

It was a false alarm – he’d screamed after a bat flew from the rafters onto the stage and dive-bombed him. Hard as it to believe, the Ardhowen Theatre boasts a resident bat who makes an appearance from time to time.

The next morning, as I stopped for a coffee, a big guy sidled over to me with the words, "Is it yourself then?". When anyone introduces themselves in this way I’m always tempted to reply "no" and walk away, but as this particular gent was of the large variety I decided on discretion, agreeing I was indeed "myself".

Having the fear of mistaken identity averted, my new friend immediately launched into how he’d been at the show the night before and how much he’d enjoyed both myself and Terry.

I mentioned the bat incident saying, "Who’d believe that?". My friend nodded his head in agreement asking, "Tell me this Jake, do you use the same bat every night?".

For a second I thought he was joking, but realising he wasn’t, I mumbled something incoherent and left.

Without diminishing in any way other venues we played – which were all great – the Grand Opera House in Belfast for four nights was something special. There was a time I found playing venues such as the Grand Opera House or the Lyric Theatre daunting. An incident after my first show in the Lyric a few years back helped settle my nerves and remind me an audience is an audience, no matter the venue.

After the show, I was coming back onto the Lyric stage to collect some stuff when an usher stopped me and asked if I’d wait for a minute as there had been what he described as "an incident". I was bemused; this was the Lyric, what could have happened? Did someone’s pearl necklace break, or worse – did some professional lose their Rolex?

No, what happened was some aul' doll, full of red wine, had laughed so hard she boked over the woman sitting in front of her. And what made the story perfect for me was the fact the woman in front had been wearing a white fur coat.

Without doubt, the most atmospheric venue I’ve ever played over the years is Crumlin Road Gaol. When appearing there, I always started my show informing audiences that, whilst I was the third in my family of O’Kane’s to appear within those walls, I was the first to do so voluntarily.

The owners of the Gaol invited me to do their tour. I turned up with the family and noticed one particular guy in my group: he sported a skinhead, was about six-foot-tall and had what I can only describe as a Gerry Kelly stare. It transpired he was an ex-loyalist prisoner, and while everyone else avoided him, we hit it off, with him telling me things the guide could never know.

We ended our tour outside in the courtyard. The official tour guide pointed to a roof, describing how loyalist prisoners had rioted and broken onto the roof where they’d remained for two days. I looked at my friend who nodded, indicating he’d been one of the rioters.

As the riot had happened in November, I suggested to him it must have been hell. I could see his eyes fill up and with real emotion; he turned and replied, "Best years of my life, son, best years of my life".

As always, special thanks to the thousands of you who came out to see both myself and Terry over the last couple of months. Hopefully see you all again next year.

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