New York’s landmark Irish film and music festival unveils its first ever Craic Comedy Festival at the Irish Arts Center on November 4. With headliners like Irish American standup Morgan Murphy (who writes and appears on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live) and Liam McEneaney (from VH1 and Comedy Central) it’ll be a must-attend event for the Irish community. CAHIR O’DOHERTY talks to festival organizer Terence Mulligan and headliner McEneaney.
Life's a laugh, and no one knows it like the Irish. Between all the bouts of sobbing and singing, that is.
To observers it seems that the comedy gene, just like the tragedy one, is part of the Irish DNA, and nothing makes the Irish laugh like things that just aren’t funny on the face of it.
This month some talented comics are putting that idea to the test again at the first ever Craic Comedy Festival in Manhattan, a new venture by the longstanding Craic Fest film and music promoters. Expect to hear about sex, love, death, taxes and all the great themes in the first minute.
It’s new ground for festival organizer Terence Mulligan, but the timing is right. The one-day Irish comedy festival is planned for November at the Irish Arts Center in New York City.
"We have been doing Irish film and music events successfully for 12 years now in New York City, and the time is right to expand to comedy,” Mulligan told the Irish Voice.
Let’s face it, we can all use a laugh, and at these prices (and with anti-sobriety drinks promotions from Jameson and Pabst Blue Ribbon thrown in) it’s a great night out for a bargain price of $20.
Comedienne Morgan Murphy jumped at the chance to headline the new festival of all things Irish.
Murphy has been described by Variety as one of the top 10 comics to watch in America. She enjoyed a rise to fame since her break out in the mid-2000s.
Now at age 28, her deadpan onstage persona mines a very rich vein of comedy that’s a little more Samuel Beckett than Danny Kaye. Which is to say her stuff is darker and stranger than your average comedian’s, but she’s knows how to rope in an audience too.
Murphy, who grew up all over America because, she says, her parents moved around a lot, is both Jewish and Irish American, a jackpot combination as you’ll discover when she speaks. This is a woman who was appearing on Jimmy Kimmel’s show while still in college.
And although she’s been performing since the age of 18, she truly got her start as a writer on the crank phone call show Crank Yankers, which became a cult hit from its first episode.
Also on the bill at the festival is one of the most celebrated stars of the late ‘90s comedy scene in the city, Liam McEneaney.
Self-described as an oaf, a lay about and a comic writer, McEneaney has actually been to Ireland, and it’s given him scalding insights that other comics miss.
Discussing Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline he took his first flight to Ireland on, he says, “The upholstery and the dresses of Aer Lingus staff are all of one color, green, as if to say, ‘You’ll find no Protestant traitors here. If you want that, go fly Aer Cromwell.’”
He has some colorful opinions on Irish women too.
“Irish women are mean,” McEneaney says. “And I was talking to a guy and I said exactly that to him, and he said, kind of angry, ‘What do you mean by that?’ And I said, ‘Exactly what I said, they're angry and sharp and have no patience and say only the cruelest things they can think of.’ And he said, ‘Oh, you've met my mother.’”
Born and raised in Queens, McEneaney goes back and forth to Ireland to perform.
“I’ve found that some of the audiences there are among the best I’ve ever performed for. Honestly, they listen more than American audiences,” he feels.
“Sometimes in the U.S. you feel like you’re fighting the clock until they lose focus and stop listening. But with Irish audiences they really respond to what you’re saying. They’re very sharp.
“Any group of people who come out of adversity generally have a stronger appreciation for laughter and fun. A lot of the best comedy comes out of deep rooted grief.”
McEneaney’s mother is from a Jewish family in Brooklyn, and his father is Irish Catholic from Los Angeles.
“I like to say it’s where passive meets aggressive. My parents have always had a really strong appreciation for sophisticated and intelligent comedy. So I started watching Monty Python at the age of 10,” he says.
The comedy that comes out of Irish and Jewish cultures.
McEneaney says, helps to underline the premise that in America, real life and satire are overlapping in a way that’s becoming increasingly surreal.
Just think of Delaware U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s recent infamous “I’m not a witch” political broadcast. It unintentionally references Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Murphy says, in a way that almost makes it parody proof. Almost.
“I don’t do too much that’s political in my act because I get tired of hearing about it. But this is a very interesting time within the United States because there are a lot of people panicking,” McEneaney says.
“As a result you’re getting a lot of these crazy fringe candidates coming out of the woodwork. Christine O’Donnell says, ‘I’m not a witch, I’m like you.’ And I say to myself, ‘Well yes, I am also unqualified to sit on the U.S. Senate. The difference I know that and I won’t run for office.’”
Because the economy has gone pear shaped both here and in Ireland, it’s a terrific time to be a comedian McEneaney says.
“People aren’t just looking for answers, they’re looking for reassurance. And one of things that comedy does is it brings people together to sit and laugh for an hour and forget about everything else that’s going on in their lives,” says McEneaney.
“Bad times for the country are good times for a comedian. That’s why George Carlin hit it really big in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. He really spoke to that vibe. Economic and political unrest are amazingly great for me. The whole post peace-and-love era.
“My own personal bad times are also pretty good to explore. One of the first bits I ever did is something that I still do onstage sometimes. It’s about how I reached a low point when I was 17 years old. I applied for a job as a mop boy at a peep show on Queens Boulevard. And the punch line is I didn’t get the job, which is true. Stories like that strike a chord with me, they draw from very intense real experiences.”
The fist ever Craic Comedy Festival will be held at the Irish Arts Center in New York on November 4. The preshow event, which includes drink promotions featuring Jameson and Pabst Blue Ribbon, begins at 6:30 until 8 p.m. For tickets visit www.ticketweb.com or call 646-549-1349.