As his monthly stand-up comedy night at the Harbour Bar continues to grow and grow – with five hand-picked comedians over two hours and free admission, how could it not? – local funny man Adam Burke recently brought his years of experience to bear on the inaugral Bray Comedy Mini-Fest.
Having run over five days – from Wednesday February 18th to Sunday 22nd in 2015 – at both The Harbour Bar and The Martello, and organised largely with fellow Bray comedy champion Frank Gordon, this comedy gathering featured such comic luminaries as Ardal O’Hanlon, Simon O’Keeffe, Andrew Stanley and Paul Woodfull (aka Irish balladeer and rebel rouser Ding Dong O’Reilly). And it was, by all accounts, a rip-roaring success.
Read all about it below. Oh, and get yourself along to the monthly Hardy Har Comedy Club too. It’ll do your heart good. And your funny bone too.
PAUL BYRNE: So, whose bright idea was it to have a Comedy Mini-Fest in Bray? ADAM BURKE: You know, it was more like a collection of ideas and conversations rather than one idea alone. The town has never had a comedy festival and that alone is scandalous. We have two vibrant, well supported comedy clubs backed by two top venues and a great community, so it just makes sense that we acknowledge that. So we all got together, threw out some ideas and said ‘let’s give this a shot’. Hopefully it proves worthwhile, and people enjoy and appreciate the effort we have put in.
Putting together six shows with over 25 acts – lots of fun and laughter or a long day’s journey into night…? It was an absolute pleasure. It was hard work, but when you love comedy and when you believe that what you are doing is worthwhile, then it is no work at all. The relationships and the connections are all there. We know and love the acts that we are bringing out to our stage so it was just a matter of seeing everyone’s diary and seeing how we could piece things together. The biggest challenge was putting together a festival with a difference but we have done that. There was something for everyone, with stage time for every type of act too, so the audience really were be treated to a different show, every show.
You somehow manage to find four unwitting comedians to venture out to The Harbour Bar every month – did it take a lot to lure a busload that includes the likes of Simon O’Keeffe, Paul Woodfull, Andrew Stanley and Father Dougal himself, Ardal O’Hanlon to the festival? Do you have Polaroids of these people? Ha ha. No, the problem with bribery is that I know that all of the other comedians have far more dirt on me than I do on them, so that’s not going to work. We have built a lovely little night down at the Harbour Bar every month, and from gigging regularly on the circuit myself, I’m lucky to know a lot of these guys. And comedians are generally sound people, so they are only too happy to support a venture that supports growth and diversity in Irish comedy. Then Frank has obviously been promoting comedy in the town for quite some time too, so he has the contacts to bring in big names as well – and that’s how the whole thing has gelled nicely. The support from Conor [Duggan] and the whole team at The Harbour Bar has been immense. They put a lot of time, effort and trust in the people that they work with and they want to see this become a success. That makes everything even easier again.
Stand-up is plainly a labour of love – most comedians are happy to drive 50 miles to do 10 minutes in a 4-seater pub in the middle of the week. Everyone involved seems to accept the craziness of such a profession… I love making people laugh. I don’t want to change people’s religious or political beliefs. I don’t want to take people on a journey into their soul. I don’t want people to read into the philosophy of my body of work. I want them to laugh. So it’s not really about the size of the audience as long as they’re laughing. Size doesn’t matter. In all contexts. Laughing is not cool during sex though!
Comedy has come a long way over the last two decades, with one man and his microphone now capable of selling out massive arenas (Lee Evans playing to over 10,000 in 2005, Newman & Baddiel over 12,000 in 1993). And yet, an attic room with wacky Pope portraits situated above a throbbing pub still seems like its natural home. I’m sure comedians love playing The Hardy Har Comedy Club… Well, what more could you want than a cosy room, full of nice people, a great atmosphere and everyone just letting go and having fun. That’s what comedy is, in its very essence. It is escapism. I’m sure for a lot of comedians the dream is of big arenas and sell out tours. But I’m happy enough where I am. Hardy Har is my home from home. When I’m with my own family I am no different to how I am on stage. I joke, I mess about, I slag people off, I have fun and I connect with people. That’s what life is all about. Enjoying it while you can.
What drew you to standing on a stage and raging against the cigarette machine? Was stand-up comedy always part of your master plan? Nope! I was a professional wrestler, believe it or not. That was my hobby. I loved it. I grew up watching wrestling and then I had the opportunity to train and ultimately perform as a wrestler, so I jumped at it. It was the best craic ever, but it is a sport full of recklessness, risks and danger. My master plan was always to settle down, get married, own my own place and have a family. So, to achieve that, I had to give up wrestling. But I missed performing and one of my wrestling mates, Ross Browne, directed me towards the stand- up game, and I’ve never looked back. Ross has become my closest friend and I write and perform all the time with him. And I get hit with a lot less steel chairs doing stand- up than I ever did in Lycra!
Were there early influences? Did you have Richard Pryor: Live In Concert on repeat? Bill Hicks? Billy Connolly? Louis CK? Billy Connolly was definitely somebody I watched when I was younger but the likes of Pryor, Carlin, Hicks and so on were not really on my radar until I became a comedian myself. In my house we watched Bottom, Not The Nine O’ Clock News, The Young Ones, Fawlty Towers, The Two Ronnies, Alas Smith and Jones, Mr. Bean, Jasper Carrott… not the really cool comedians to cite as your early influences, but every one of those shows made me laugh and still do. Imagine Rowan Atkinson cited as one of your all-time greats. Not many people do cite him as one of their influences but for me that man was a genius. He didn’t even have to talk to make you laugh. That alone is one hell of an accomplishment.
Do you feel the need to check out any new kids on the block, either here or on the world stage? I love seeing what’s out there and I really try to bring as many fresh faces to our own stage. Even in the festival we have a comedy competition with ten brand new faces to the Hardy Har stage and that is one of the nights that I’m looking forward to most. A lot of the new acts really carry that raw passion and enthusiasm that can dwindle over time, so it is always interesting to watch their energy.
Where do you get your comedy kicks off-stage? Movies? Sitcoms? Your kids? Everywhere. I’m always looking to laugh. I laugh in work all of the time. My kids make me laugh every single day. My family, the programmes I watch, the movies that I go to see… I’m always looking for something that is going to make me laugh. I never get tired of it. I’d love to be able to say that I’m on a deeper journey in life but I’m really not. I’m only waiting until the next time somebody falls off a treadmill in the gym. My life is a waiting game for hilarity.
As we both know, stand-up comedy is perhaps the finest art-form known to man or beast – just a stage and a microphone against an increasingly ridiculous world. Having said that, you have to possess at least a tint of madness to do it, right? Ah yeah, you have to be lacking something alright. It takes a certain type of person to be comfortable enough to get up in front of a room full of people and leave themselves open to being judged. A lot of comedians aren’t even comfortable with that idea but they plough on regardless. It’s a strange one but there is just something inside you that spurs you on. It is a bit like an itch that won’t go away unless you perform on stage. I’ve probably had it since I was in school. I remember always feeling like my school day wasn’t complete unless I got a laugh out of someone. And it was all the better if I could get a laugh out of the whole class at the same time. With that being said I was never the class clown either. There are guys I would have picked out as the ideal person to become a comedian. But as it turned out, I’m the guy who ended up on the stage. Maybe I just never grew up!
Dylan Moran’s Perrier win in 1996 spearheaded a wave of hugely successful Irish comedians to the UK, just as comedy was being hailed as the new rock’n’roll. Is it now MOR, or do you feel, thanks to the likes of Frankie Boyle, comedy still has the power to kick against the priests? Comedy is in the exact same predicament as music, and as literature, and as the arts in general. It is in a place and time where a random person can upload a video onto YouTube and reach a greater audience than a ten part television series with a full-on production, huge budget, paid performers and so forth. Everyone now has the power to generate a public profile, their own fifteen minutes of fame, a platform for expression. Is that a good thing? Well, there is a huge argument to be had for both sides of the coin there. But that online generation, for me, that is the new rock‘n’roll. Comedy still has the power to kick people in the balls. But these people that post directly online can kick harder because they don’t have to worry about the politics and back-scratching and red-tape shenanigans that come with production companies, broadcasters, agents and all that nonsense. What you can’t replicate online is the feeling of being there in the moment and that collective giddiness of a room full of people experiencing a live act. Even if a gig is posted online later or you watch a DVD of a famous act’s latest tour, it is never the same as being there. I love Dylan Moran, not for the awards or his place in comedy, but because he makes me laugh. I have never laughed at the guy more than when I saw him live. Hardy Har is all about supporting live comedy and being a part of it as it happens, seeing acts respond and interact with their audience, putting a heckler straight, ad-libbing when something goes wrong, finding the funny in what is right in front of your face… that’s what makes stand-up unique in my opinion. The comedy club will always be our platform. That’s where we have the freedom to express ourselves and perform the best. That’s where we kick hardest, I think.
You’ve been hosting your monthly Hardy-Har Comedy Club in The Harbour Bar now for, what, 63 years. Always a thrill, or does it ever feel like just another day at the office? I love it. The day I stop loving that club is the day I will step away from it. I love the support it gets. Our audience is definitely one of the best out there. I have no obligation to say that. When we started out, I never said that the Hardy Har audience was the one of the best. It was the furthest thing from it. It was a stage and a lot of random people stumbling across our comedy nights per chance but we evolved. New room, new owners, new set up, new vibe, new audience (a comedy savvy audience, a regular return customer base who appreciate what we are doing), new acts, new themes, new ideas, new challenges, new ventures, new opportunities… how could it ever feel like another day at the office? I love it. The only thing that hasn’t changed is my ugly mush hosting every show. And my Da. Sitting on his favourite stool, sipping a pint and supporting every show. Because he’s a legend.
So, December 11th, and a particularly special Hardy Har Comedy Night – you decided to get a Father Ted tattoo done live during the Christmas Special, settling on ‘Small.. Far Away’. Any regrets…? Yes. That was the whole idea. Get a tattoo I’ll regret forever! It is a ridiculous thing to have etched on your body for the rest of your life. But feck it. It couldn’t be more representative of me if I tried to think of something myself. It is stupid, it has no deep meaning or purpose, it is a shameless piece of self- promotion, my wife is embarrassed by it, my kids think it is silly and nobody thinks it looks attractive. It is 100% me. And it was a bit of a laugh.
Finally, what’s your favourite one-liner? Currently, mine is, ‘Did you hear about the one-armed butler? He could take it, but he couldn’t dish it out’… Comedians get asked this question a lot. When it comes to one- liners, Tim Vine is king. If that is your style of humour, the good old one-liner, the joke you can easily remember and easily repeat in the pub, then you need to get out there and see Tim Vine. Book tickets to his next tour date. Go to Edinburgh where he not only still performs but regularly wins the gong for best joke of the festival. He won it last year with this one- “I decided to get rid of my hoover… well, it was just collecting dust!” I’m not really a one-liner guy but that made me laugh. And that’s all that matters I suppose!
The Hardy Har Comedy Club runs once a month upstairs in The Harbour Bar. Hit the logo below to visit their Facebook page. You can also check out our video chat with Adam in November, 2015 here, and in November 2016 here.