An undemanding night of amusement from the Irish TV star
In PJ Gallagher’s RTE television show Naked Camera, the Irish comedian unleashes his gallery of stereotypical grotesques on the unsuspecting public. This has made him a sizeable star. But in Northern Ireland, whether you know him or not is dependent on whether or not you get RTE. It seems plenty of people in Belfast are familiar with the broadcast, as his sold out one-night-stand gig in the Baby Grand shows.
It’s more than just familiarity. Gallagher’s comedy schtick is an Irish stand-up staple, shamelessly and greedily consumed. His routine is part the ongoing question of what passes for humour in Ireland; for every stab at nuanced sophistication from the likes of Dylan Moran, you’ll get a dozen ‘lads’ whose depths of enquiry run to 'have you noticed the way your girlfriend does this?' or 'do you remember when your ma used to do that?'
The key to comic success is an undemanding audience who enjoy sharing a good old observation with said stand-up. It’s reassuring, isn’t it, that the crazy guy on stage had parents like yours and has girlfriend problems just like you. You can think, hey, that’s happened to me too. Isn’t it mad?
But it isn’t mad. It’s just somebody stating banalities and peddling boil-in-the-bag nostalgia, that an audience from the same corner of the world will obviously ‘get’.
I once went to a ‘Byrne’s Night’ extravaganza featuring the lamentable Ed and Jason. I staggered out of the venue in a stupor of incredulity. It wasn’t the tired, predictable acts, but more the roomful of baying hyenas who couldn’t get over how there were so many outrageous differences between guys and gals.
Between the sneering ‘observation’ of Ed and the zany ‘observation’ of Jason, the only gender contrast that was left ‘unobserved’ may have been the hilarious difference between the penis and the vagina. But my memory being what it is, I can’t be absolutely certain that it didn’t come up. Regardless, this brand of comedy is extremely saleable. Trite ledger-balancing masquerading as analysis (with an Irish accent) is a marketer’s dream.
Gallagher has slightly more to him than the ‘compère/contrast’ formula. He’s so energetic that he demands your attention in a way you can't entirely control. He’s a consummate communicator; eighty percent of the act is conducted through running dialogues and interaction with the audience. At times he literally bounces off them, and again, it draws people in and creates a cosy communal experience. Whether trying on an ill-fitting coat from a ‘posh’ woman in the front row or chasing a poor unfortunate trying to sneak off to the toilet, the act is engaging.
He’s also pretty fearless, which is great. Anybody who has seen Naked Camera will be aware of some of the toe-curling secret-camera japes he throws himself into.
Gallagher is slightly set apart from his peers through his energy and invention. He’s sharp, and you get the impression that he’s constantly looking for a way to exploit the next random moment, pounce upon it and throw it back in our faces. The opening ten minutes consist of an unplanned mini-rant about the state of the stage, two empty seats and a disconcertingly small microphone stand. It's actually funny. Fair play to the Baby Grand for allowing booze into the auditorium – it always washes this style of humour down.
His act is also flattered by the strangely timid support, Gearoid Farrelly, who at more than one point all but apologises for being on stage. It may be a cunning plan to ratchet up expectation for the headliner - or just an unhappy coincidence - but either way the ensuing night of simultaneously engaging and forgettable comedy becomes all the more welcome.
Ultimately though, Gallagher comes off as a more naturally talented version of the previously mentioned, incredibly successful stand-up hacks. Anything he actually said (other than repeating the phrase ‘sneaky poo’) or his impersonation of a black American man (turns out they’re more laid back than the Irish), is more or less forgotten. You know you were laughing but you can’t exactly remember why.
A delayed, cerebral numbness is the main effect, much the same as watching an episode of Top Gear. That doesn’t, however, make a jot of difference to Gallagher's popularity. He will continue to sell out venues and go on to conquer the world, as long as there’s a slavering demand for the undemanding.
PJ Gallagher performs in Strabane and Armagh in November and December. Click here for full details.