Dara O’Briain interview
It’s been three years since Dara O’Briain last hit the road.
After a spell away in the TV studio making Mock the Week, The Apprentice: You’re Fired! and Star Gazing Live, Dara returns to his first love: live comedy.
“The other day, I sat in an empty theatre thinking, ‘I just love these rooms'”, Dara tells us.
“I’m on the board of the Theatres Trust in order to protect these wonderful buildings. It’s not about nimby-ism; it’s because I adore these places. It still gives me such a thrill to walk on stage.”
The sight of him walking on stage gives audiences a similar thrill, because he is clearly one of the best live comedians at work. Dubbed “the king of audience interaction”, he excels at rapid-fire exchanges with his fans and delivers a dazzling mixture of witty, daring, thought-provoking and downright hilarious anecdotes.
Dara, who grew up in Dublin, says that he couldn’t resist returning to touring because live comedy is addictive. “When you arrive at an empty theatre, the potential is immense. You think, ‘This is going to be magical’,” he says. “Then, when the show starts and you hear those waves of laughter in the auditorium, it’s just so enjoyable. It’s a huge rush.”
The other element of stand-up that Dara relishes is its sheer spontaneity. “I love the fact that you can shape the entire evening by thinking on your feet. If Plan A doesn’t work, you have to come up with Plan B immediately.”
The Mock The Week host, who is married with two young children, adds that his improvised riffing with the audience creates “a tremendous frisson. It’s like walking a tightrope. The audience love it because they can see you’ve got nothing up your sleeve and that things could very easily go wrong. They realise that this could go anywhere. You’re not given any easy ride.
“When I’m questioning the audience, my stance is not, ‘How can I mock this person?’ It’s, ‘I am an eight-year-old meeting this person for the first time. What aspects of them do I want to talk and enthuse about?’”
“Everyone has something to give me.”
“The other day this guy in the audience told me he had a very dull-sounding job in HR. He said he was the comptroller – no one ever knows what that means. But it then emerged that in fact he worked in HR for a chocolate company.
“So I came up with the idea that he would put a large bowl of chocolate down on the desk in front of a potential employee, and then turn away. When he turned back, if the potential employee hadn’t got chocolate all over his face, then he’d get the job. If you can survive in an arena of grab-able chocolate without taking any, then you’re the man for the job.”
“I then thought that his friend might work for a toothpaste company. How great that they could put aside their differences, despite working in jobs that nullify each other. It would be like a tobacconist being friends with a lung transplant surgeon. As long as they don’t talk about work, they’ll be OK.”
So what’s the new tour about? “I’ll be talking about the awkward conversations we will have about grandchildren about all the resources we’ve used up and all the wonderful advances we’ve casually wasted, like Concorde and the space shuttle.”
The comedian will also be tackling the subject of “an angel therapist who is leading a campaign to remove fluoride from the water in Ireland because she thinks it’s poisoning the nation. For sheer energy, you have to admire her campaign.”
Dara, who in 2012 presented the BAFTA TV Awards on BBC1 and was a nominee, says that he “always enjoys demolishing idiotic arguments. It suits comedy. If you take it to its logical conclusion, it’s madness. It’s a reductio ad absurdum.”
But despite his intricate routines, the comedian underscores that the show is first and foremost about jokes.
“It’s great to tackle subjects that are more thought-provoking, but I have this dread that people will go, ‘Oh Dara’s show – there’ll be some bit where he bores us with some science thing’.”
“I hope they’re unable to talk because I have beaten them over the head with so much humour and punched them repeatedly in the face with jokes – that’s my aim!” he laughs.
“I want them spent. I want them silently driving back home absorbing it all, while I’m left in the empty theatre quietly wiping the make-up off my face in a mirror surrounded by light bulbs.”
“I make points here and there, but that’s secondary. Above all, I hope that it’s a great night’s entertainment. I hope people walk out and say, ‘Dara’s still got it. I hope he doesn’t leave it another three years!’ If they do that, then I will be delighted.”
Dara O’Briain: Crowd Tickler is currently touring the UK, with upcoming dates at Middlesbrough Town Hall (14 and 15 April), Newcastle City Hall (16, 17 and 18 April), and more. For full details, see daraobriain.com.