Paddy McDonnell is Having a Laugh

Belfast taxi driver turned comic on Billy Connelly, open mic's and carving a niche

They say that taxi drivers are full of... stories. I guess you have a lot of experiences to draw upon for your stand-up material?

Yeah. In the taxi I see and hear a lot. Belfast is an open asylum; I know every place has characters but we seem to have more than most. And yes, I have used some in my material. I think that the older people can be the funniest, whether they mean to be or not.

How long have you worked as a taxi driver?

I've been working as a driver for over three years now, but I've worked at a lot of other jobs in my time. I'm a joiner by trade, but I've also been a doorman, a credit card salesman, believe it or not... the list goes on.

Bet you've had some jokers in your cab over the years...

I have jokers in my cab everyday. The people of Belfast are generally witty, so its a daily occurance. Oh, and I nearly had Billy Connolly in the cab once, the biggest joker of them all!

When did you decide to make the leap to stand-up comedy?

I didn't decide to leap into it at all, the credit has to go to my wife. Generally, I'm a happy guy, but last year I was feeling very depressed. I had part of my finger bitten off four years ago; I was in court last year and, basically, the guy got off with it. So, to cheer me up, Andrea put my name in for an open mic session, and seven months later I'm doing headline gigs up and down the country. What can I say, the comedy is like therapy to me.

Was it an effort to carve a niche for yourself on the NI comedy scene?

I haven't carved a niche, I just do what I feel like doing on stage. I talk about everyday situations that the audience can relate to. I just try and show the funny side to what I feel and see in everyday life.

Which local comics have impressed you most?

It's hard to pick one, I suppose – I've been impressed by a lot of local comics. Diarmuid Corr, Micky Bartlett and the one-liner king, Sean Hegarty, are up there. Some of the new guys on the scene, like Ruairi Woods, AJ Johnston and Johnny McCarthy are great. Those guys keep impressing me with every gig they do.

You're playing Féile an Phobail this year. Féile is a big thing in the west side – is this your Madison Square Garden?

I suppose it is. When I started gigging I always said I wanted to play the Féile, and now I am. The Féile is the biggest festival in Ireland and the comedy night is always the highlight. In past years the comedy stage has been graced by the likes of Ardel O'Hanlon and Lenny Henry... and now wee Paddy. The west is where I'm from, so it will be my toughest crowd yet.

You're supporting Irish-American comedian, Des Bishop, who is huge in the south. What do you think of him as a comic?

I think Des Bishop is one of the best in the game. I remember wetting myself watching his immersion heater routine. (You had to be there.) It will be an honour to share the stage with such a massive comic, and to be able to say that I've supported him.

If you could have three cultural figures (alive or dead) round for dinner, who would they be and why?

The first person I would have to dinner would be Oliver Reid, because he would be mad and great craic. Next would be Jamie Oliver, so he could cook while I got blocked with Oliver. And last but not least, Billy Connolly, as he is my hero.

Tell us a joke.

I'll tell you plenty when you come to my show!

Paddy McDonnell will be compere in Aisling Ghéar's The Full Irish at the Grand Opera House, Belfast on May 11.