O'Hanlon's comic turn in Bangor is a source of reliable laughs but little controversy. Just don't ask about the 'cassock' joke, writes Julie Harvey
There was a full house at the Aspects Irish Literature Festival marquee in Bangor last Thursday for Ardal O’Hanlon, despite the sort of weather which usually keeps people at home. This was a great chance to see a big name on the comedy circuit in an intimate venue. The strong wind at times threatened to blow the marquee away, but this merely added to the atmosphere and sense of occasion.
O’Hanlon’s enthusiasm and energy is infectious. He immediately has the crowd on side with a few Bangor references and a dig at neighbouring Newtownards. He talks quickly, and with a sense of urgency. The jokes are rapid and hardly leave the audience time to catch their breath between laughs. His set is rambling but loosely based on his own recent experiences – the economy and Ireland segue into pregnancy, babies and the troubles of raising a family.
Happily he does not dine out on his Father Ted reputation, which would easily have set him up with a nice little career, given the sit-com’s continuing popularity. Rather, you get the impression
that O’Hanlon tries hard at times not to ‘do’ his natural range of confused and befuddled facial expressions, such is their association with Father Dougal. His one reference to Father Ted is an initially obscure joke in a gag about the Catholic Church – ‘You can’t even admit anymore to being a fictional priest’.
This is typical of his style, starting out with a relatively well known or predictable gag and ending up subverting it with a second, unexpected punch line. He tells of his embarrassment of asking a fat lady when she was ‘due’, and of rescuing himself by continuing on, ‘when are you due another snack?’.
Much of his humour is surreal, linking disparate ideas to create a bizarre image: the home made mug that’s made from wool, or how he still enjoys sitting on his Dad’s shoulders. He has a few heart-felt rants when he appears genuinely annoyed, comparing travel on Ryanair to the film Extraordinary Rendition stands out as particularly impassioned.
Though littered with post-watershed words and subjects, most of O’Hanlon’s routine could hardly be called controversial. The one exception during a riff about the Church and the Pope is a joke about the word ‘cassock’ being an anagram of ‘ass’ and ‘cock’, to which the Bangor audience aren’t quite sure how to react.
O’Hanlon’s set doesn’t have many bum notes, though if looking to find fault some of his material has been done before and doesn’t match the standard of his best work. Jokes about sleepless nights and babies’ nappies aren’t that original, and feel like they could have been written by anyone.
However this does not spoil what is an engaging and enjoyable performance. O’Hanlon’s persona is immensely likeable. His very physical presence would be enough to make people laugh, never mind the beguilingly simple yet clever material.