Irish comedy has been a major international draw for decades, but it’s always been a one-shot thing.
Over the last decade headliners like Tommy Tiernan, Des Bishop and Ardal O’Hanlon have all made fleeting trips to these shores, but they haven’t always received the most imaginative billing.
That’s a crying shame, considering Irish comedy’s potential global reach. When you think about it, witty Irishmen (and women) have been cauterizing the public for centuries.
But they so rarely ever get the platform they deserve. Just ask longtime Irish comedy producer Dara Kiernan.
“I went to New York about a year ago and I went to one of the comedy clubs,” Kiernan tells the Irish Voice. “I had a horrible experience there. There was this two drink minimum thing, you needed to take out a mortgage to buy dinner, and you process in the door and process back out the door so they could start the next show.
“We felt like battery hens. It wasn’t very customer friendly.”
Kiernan decided on the spot he could do a better job. In fact he decided he would bring the biggest names in Irish comedy over to the U.S. and make a bit of noise in the process.
“I realized that if the big guys in Ireland can come to the states that audiences will come and they enjoy the experience. I wanted to make sure they have a different kind of experience watching our guys. That’s where the idea came from.”
Kiernan has been the Irish comedy business for 12 years now, and because of that he knows that traditionally Irish comedians have gone east to the U.K., Europe, Africa, East Asia and even as far as Australia. But they’ve only ever come to the U.S. independently.
The Irish comics have most often performed at long established and frankly unimaginative circuit venues like Caroline’s, the Broadway Comedy Club or the Gotham Comedy Club, where they merged in with the US comedy scene. They walked in but they didn’t stand out, Kiernan says.
Most Irish fans in the city would not be regulars at these clubs, meaning that they weren’t reaching their most enthusiastic audiences, and Kiernan wants to reverse that math.
“Once the Irish go to a comedy event they bring their American mates. Irish people know these guys and they’re the best people to expand these performers’ profiles in the states,” says Kiernan.
Kiernan’s plan is ambitious. He’s looking to create a yearly Irish comedy festival.
“This year it’s going to be based around one venue in particular, which is the Irish stronghold of Rory Dolan’s on McLean Avenue in Yonkers. And the target dates will be the 20-23 of September,” says Kiernan.
“Rory’s will probably host three nights during that period.”
Other venues across New York are also being considered.
With premiere Irish comedy talents like Andrew Maxwell, Ardal O’Hanlon, Barry Murphy, Colin Murphy, Deirdre O’Kane, Carol Spain, Neil Delamare and PJ Gallagher in the mix, it’s sure to be a big hit.
“Three comedians will be working at three different venues per night,” says Kiernan. “They’ll rotate the nights on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday.
“The exciting thing about it is introducing long established and famous Irish talents to U.S. audiences. American audiences might only know a little about them but they’ll find out and be delighted. We’ll sneak in, in that Irish way, and make a bit of noise while we’re there to ensure everyone comes to see us.”
O’Hanlon is already a huge cult star for two decades in the U.S. thanks to his unforgettable turn as the moronic Father Dougal in the hit Irish comedy show Father Ted, so he will be a massive draw.
“Ardal’s a massive star in the US, so is Peter Gallagher, thanks to YouTube. Conan O’Brien saw his new program Meet the Neighbors on the net and went nuts for it,” says Kiernan.
“He said he laughed so hard he forgot to meet his wife for lunch. That’s exactly the level of talent we’re talking about here.”
Currently the new festival is in discussion with several potential corporate sponsors in the U.S. for the transport bill for the shows.
“We’re hoping that people in the corporate world will see something they’d like to get involved in. Once we do New York we’re planning to include Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and anywhere there’s a major hub of Irish fans. We estimate we could reach up to 10 million people with the scale of the show,” Kiernan said.