My Cultural Life: Colin Murphy

‘Hell is other people’ for this acerbic comedian

Colin Murphy has been playing the Blame Game on BBC NI, taking the mick out of Stormont politicians, the behavioural tics of various newsreaders, some PSNI officer’s decision to play ice-cream van music to rioters, and many other Ulster absurdities. Here the County Down comedian shares his pessimistic view of humanity and lists his not unsubstantial list of pet hates.

What are your most vivid memories of childhood?

I seemed to spend a lot of time hiding in bushes. They were gorse bushes just up the road from our house in Downpatrick. I was a bit of an odd child really. I was very quiet. I walked around the fields on my own a lot. I remember catching bees and general boy things like that.

What were you like at school and what subjects did you excel at?

I was a real wee swot at school and a model student. Art was the subject I was always good at, drawing and painting. I went to art college in the end. I was bad at maths - but isn’t everybody?

Were your school days the happiest of your life or is that just a rubbish cliche?

It’s a totally rubbish cliche. My school days certainly weren’t my happiest. I was happier when I wasn’t in school and after I left it. There is no way I would go back and be a teenager again. I was full of angst, definitely, and got up to all of that usual teenage stuff, sneaking around drinking alcohol and so on. I was in graveyards listening to The Smiths - I sometimes still do that.

What was your speciality at art college?

I was an illustrator, so I was doing odd things with paint and paper and photocopies. I drew horoscopes and wine labels, and that was what I ended up doing when I left college. I got by for a few years working as an illustrator and I did actually enjoy that.

When was it clear to you that you wanted to go into comedy?

I was forced into doing it by someone else. I started doing a bit of theatre, a bit of acting and improv and then stand-up. I once played a dog at the Edinburgh festival. I also played a nun and a prostitute in another production and 11 different parts in another one.

A comedy club opened in the Empire and my friends - most of them on the dole and doing bits and pieces of theatre at the time - forced me into getting up on stage and doing some stand-up. It was a punk rock ethic of just going for it and giving it a go. I was absolutely terrified the first time. Then when I did it and pulled it off I was bitten by the bug and wanted to do it again.

Would you say being a comedian is the best job in the world? It looks like it has to be one of the most enjoyable ways to earn a crust...

It is. It’s brilliant. I certainly can’t complain. I get to travel all over the place, I don’t have to talk to other people too often and every day is different.

What sort of things inspire your comedy?

Banal things. Really dull, ordinary things. Everyday stuff is usually the material for comedy. Humour for me is just about observing the strangeness and weirdness of people: the way families interact or what it’s like to grow a pot belly. You know, the truth is that I hate people and at the same time I’m fascinated by them. People are perfect fodder for comedy.

Would you like to live on a desert island in total isolation?

Sometimes I think I would like to do that but then I realise that I couldn’t cope because I wouldn’t have anyone to complain about or back stab. You need that kind of frustration and provocation to keep you going.

Which comedians do you admire?

So many. Loads and loads and loads and loads. Dara O Briain is a friend of mine and he’s just brilliant. He’s annoying too because he can take something that’s quite complicated and make it very acceptable and understandable and funny without dumbing it down too much.

I also love Dylan Moran, Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey, Richard Pryor, Monty Python. There isn’t a man alive who doesn’t like Monty Python and if they don’t then there’s something wrong with them. I like comedians who allow you to get inside their head and understand how they view the world. I prefer that style to your old-fashioned, dickie-bow wearing comedian who tells one-liners, but doesn’t really allow you to see how they think about things.

Any comedians you absolutely can’t stand?

A lot of circuit comedians can be very offensive and just use cheap shock tactics to get laughs. I really don’t like that at all. They just do whatever to get a quick reaction. It’s not clever. Comedians should only be shocking if they have a legitimate point to make. I don’t like Jim Davidson. To even call him a comedian is wrong. He’s horrendous. And I detest Chubby Brown.

You’ve done a lot of TV comedy shows, stand-up and some film appearances. What has been the highlight?

I’ve enjoyed most of the things I’ve done. TV is great because it’s less lonely than stand-up and if it all goes wrong you’re not solely responsible. I appeared in the film Divorcing Jack in 1998, playing a comedian, which wasn’t much of a stretch. It was a great experience. You only had to learn a few pages of dialogue at a time and it was a pleasure working with David Thewlis [the actor], who it turns out is a frustrated stand-up.

What books do you enjoy reading?

At the moment I’m reading a book about the history of punk rock. I’ve always been a punk fan. I don’t really read that much though because I’m a slow reader. It takes me quite a long time to get from cover to cover. My son would read Harry Potter in a weekend, whereas it would take me weeks. Maybe I’m trying to take things in too thoroughly.

What sort of music are you into?

Well I’m into this band I’m in called The One, Two, Three, Fours. I play the guitar. We chose that name because all the songs we play are one-two-three-four rhythms. We mostly do covers - punk and new wave stuff - and bits and pieces at comedy festivals. We’re doing a gig up in Londonderry in July. I love The Clash, The Ramones, The Undertones and bands like that.

Are you interested in film?

The only films I get round to watching at the moment are children’s films and they’re mostly in 3D. I could probably give you the name of every children’s film that’s been released in the past eight years. Up is a very, very good film and anyone who doesn’t cry at the beginning of that is just not human.

Any pet hates?

Oh no don’t start me! My life in comedy is spent documenting my pet hates. Today for example I can’t stand people with 4x4s, just in general, and even more if they can’t drive them properly; women who wear sunglasses on their head; women with large handbags; bling and bling in general; people who use the singular when it should be the plural; Facebook and anyone who uses it.

Also anyone who blogs - I don’t care what you think! Just go and write on a toilet wall! It bugs me that there are no telephone boxes anymore and that when you go into a shop people automatically give you a plastic bag even when you’ve only bought one thing. Then bin men who won’t lift bins because there’s too much rubbish in it are massively annoying and people who call me mate in a professional situation drive me nuts. And people, just people!

Are there any professions that get your goat?

News journalists, because they are full of their own importance - some of them think that what they’re doing is the most important thing in the world, when they’re really just writing down facts or gossip. Estate agents are annoying - but everyone knows that.

Who would you bring to an ideal dinner party if you could bring anyone at all?

I would bring Hitler to find out what the hell he was actually thinking and why on earth he did what he did. Then Johnny Rotten - you wouldn’t say anything to him you would just watch how he would react to everyone else. Homer Simpson would have to come and Kylie Minogue. And Mo Mowlam. She liked to drink and seemed like a good, argumentative woman, which is obviously just what you want, isn’t it? Morrissey could come, I love him and his work, even though he does seem a bit moody.

How would you sum up your life philosophy in a nutshell?

Well in a Homer Simpson kind of way, sitting down on the sofa to explain things to my kids, I’d say that life, it isn’t as complicated as it looks and that you don’t have a right to be happy all the time.

Catch Colin Murphy on the radio version of The Blame Game on BBC Radio Ulster on Saturdays (June 19, 26 and July 4) at 12pm.

Joanne Savage