Interview: Carl Donnelly
I was first introduced to Carl Donnelly whilst watching Russell Howard’s Good News and knew straight away that this a comic for the future. Now after a stint on Mock the Week and a successful Fringe run Donnelly looks closer than ever to reaching the top spot. I recently had the opportunity to exchange e-mails with Carl Donnelly, and found out he has quite an eye for great comedy.
LM: So Carl, how long have you been doing stand-up for now?
CD: Technically I’ve been doing stand up for six years but I spent my first eighteen months without a clue as to how it was meant to be done. Most people in their first couple of years do hundreds of open spots whereas I only managed a handful as didn’t realise you were meant to do more than one gig a month! In 2006 I worked out where I was going wrong so started gigging all over the country every night of the week and by the summer of 2007 I was a full time comedian.
LM: What made you first want to get into comedy? Is there any comics you look up to as inspiration?
CD: I became interested in stand-up quite late really. I’d seen the hugely famous comedians on television but never really thought of it as anything special. Then when I was about 20 I went to the Banana Cabaret comedy club in South London and the experience of live stand-up blew me away. I remember watching Addy Van Der Borgh (who is still one of my favourite comedians) and I couldn’t believe how much fun he looked like he was having. It was that buzz of the live experience that made me want to do it. The most inspirational comic for me was Mitch Hedberg. I listened to his first album when I was still very new and it completely changed me. It taught me I was allowed to just be me rather than trying to be what the audience expects!
LM: Can you remember your first show? How did that go and what was the first joke you told?
CD: My first show is a bit of a blur. It was in Covent Garden and I remember doing some jokes about ‘Bullseye’ and the Soham murder trial but can’t remember exactly what I said. It went surprisingly well but looking back, the material was dross!
LM: Do you have any suggestions to people aspiring to get into comedy?
CD: Comedy is a long game, it is very rare people become successful overnight so my only advice is to start writing and gigging and keep working at getting better. People see comedians on TV and because it’s the first time they’ve seen them they assume they are new but the truth in most cases is that those comedians have put years of hard work to get to that point!
LM: You do a podcast with Chris Martin. What topics are discussed on the show and how often do you get the chance to do that?
CD: It is an improvised and unedited podcast so we discuss whatever comes up. We normally use our Facebook group and Twitter followers for inspiration. They often ask us to address certain subjects so we just start talking and see what happens. We try and do one a month but just had a three month break due to the Edinburgh fringe and holidays etc. Recording it is something I look forward to each month as it is basically two mates making each other laugh for 45 minutes!
LM: How was your experience of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?
CD: I’ve been going to the Edinburgh Fringe every year since 2006 so this was my fifth year in a row. Each year gets better as you progress as a comic. My first year was a free fringe show with two other comics where we had to give out flyers in the pouring rain each day to get audience members in. This year I was doing my second solo show in a 120 seater venue where my only job was showing up each day and doing my show. That is basically what the Fringe is about for me. I use it as a yearly benchmark of how I am improving and my career is progressing!
LM: You’re certainly getting yourself on television now, with appearances on Russell Howard’s Good News and Mock The Week. What has appearing on television done for you? Have things changed much?
CD: I have been recognized a few times in the street since Mock The Week went out which is a bit strange. I got followed by two girls in a shoe shop in Wimbledon while they talked loudly about me on their mobiles. That one was probably the strangest. The best moment was after a gig in Leeds when me and a couple of friends went to a bar and the manager recognized me so gave us free drinks for most of the night (until I felt guilty and forced him to take money!)
LM: So what was Mock The Week like? There are some comedy heavyweights on that show. Did you feel intimidated at all, and do you think you held your own?
CD: I was very intimidated. That show has been on television since I started comedy so has always been there as something I watched the biggest acts in the country on. To suddenly find yourself sitting behind the desk is a very surreal experience. Luckily everyone that appeared and works on the show was lovely so they made me feel welcome. I was too scared to watch the show for a few days after it aired but then finally bit the bullet and was happy with how I came across. I think for a first timer I held my own.
LM: Is the ‘Lines You Wouldn’t Like To Hear’ round as improv as they say on television?
CD: We were told the subjects before filming just so we could have some idea but there was still a lot of improvisation throughout the shoot. The shoot lasts up to three hours (non-stop) so there is constant banter etc. It is good fun. I don’t envy the people that have to edit it down to half an hour!
LM: You talk about how you like to drink in your routines, but do you drink a lot before shows as a lot of comedians cut drink out totally?
CD: I sometimes drink before shows. It depends on how I’m feeling really. If it is a big weekend club where the audience are drinking I often drink as it feels right. I don’t want to be onstage and feel jealous the audience are having all the fun. I would never drink to the point of ruining a gig though. I have done late shows in Edinburgh before where I have gone onstage at 3am having been drinking for hours and can safely say it is not an easy thing to do!
LM: You’re a regular on the London comedy circuit, but can any of your fans in the North East expect to see you up here anytime soon?
CD: I fully expect I’ll be in the North East in the New Year. I normally do a little jaunt up that way in the run up to Edinburgh (this year I did three nights in Newcastle and then a night in Darlington in July) but will hopefully be up there sooner this time around. My website carldonnelly.co.uk is usually relatively up to date with my future gigs.
LM: Finally what does the future hold for Carl Donnelly? What TV work, tours do you have lined up?
CD: I’m just about to record an episode of Dave’s ‘One Night Stand’ which is going out in a few weeks. As well as that I am gigging overseas quite a bit in the coming months which I am looking forward to. I’m also writing new material as want to start previewing a new solo show in the new year for the festivals and possible a tour etc. Good times!