Seven 2 Ten Comedy Podcast

Christian Talbot searches for insight by interviewing comedians from north and south of the border

It’s a dishevelled Christian Talbot who sits opposite me in the bar of the Premiere Inn in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, and with good reason. Not only does he perfectly match the décor, he’s also just returned from a successful month-long run of his show, Funeral Addict, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Talbot is a man who takes his comedy seriously – he puts in the hours. When he’s not performing, he spends his time cross-examining the work of other practitioners of the dark art. To this end he and comedy partner Jake Bourke have, since May 2012, broadcast their podcast Seven 2 Ten, a series of interviews with Irish comedians, great and small. I start by inquiring about the title.

'Everybody asks this,' Talbot harumphs, eyes rolling like dropped babybels. 'And I thought everybody would get it, or at least all the comedians would. When you’re doing a short spot,' he explains, 'it’s normally seven-to-ten minutes.'

I mention that I’ve heard of comedians being given three minute spots and Talbot looks aghast. 'That’s brutal,' he says. 'What can you do in three minutes? A few one liners at most. And it totally dictates the sort of comedian that you have to be. For example, I’ve seen Dylan Moran do three minutes on Letterman and it just did not suit him at all. I’m not saying he’s bad – I think he’s amazing – but that format was just not right for him.'

Seven 2 Ten is now 53 interviews old, and features comedians, writers and producers from both the North and South of Ireland, such as Ardal O'Hanlon, Ed Byrne and Bec Hill, though recently, thanks to the Edinburgh jaunt, it has expanded its remit to include legendary comedy producer John Lloyd (Blackadder, Q.I.). It’s Talbot and Bourke's enduring fascination with what we find funny that fuels the endeavour.

'The show is made just to try and find out what makes comedians tick,' Talbot comments. 'What makes them do what they do. How they go about writing, how they go about performing, what they like about it and what they hate about it.

'I’m fascinated to talk to anybody who does comedy, even if it’s just for a hobby. Our mandate at the start was to interview not only people who were successful but also those who are just starting out, because I think that it’s equally important to hear what they have to say about their motives and experiences.'

Talbot is originally from Dublin, but is now based in Belfast. He sees a marked difference between comedy styles north and south of the border, though he’s understandably keen to point out that he often speaks in generalities so sweeping they could dance on your roof-top singing 'Chim Chim Che-ree'.

'I think in the north people are much more experimental. A lot of people down in Dublin, their main focus is to get on RTE, and in order to get on RTE they do very bland stuff. In the north there are a number of people doing much more interesting, experimental stuff, pushing boundaries. Ronan Lynskey would be at the forefront of that, and also Alan Irwin, Lorcan McGrane, Marcus Keeley and George Quinn.'

Large-scale comedy festivals like Derry~Londonderry's Big Tickle Comedy Festival and Belfast's Belly Laughs Comedy Festival – which is currently in full swing and runs until October 10 – are great platforms for emerging artists. Nevertheless, Talbot feels that Northern Irish comedy scene still has some way to go before it can claim to have a definitive identity of its own.

'I would say that the Northern Ireland scene is in its teenage years,' expounds Talbot. 'The Dublin scene has gone through the boom years, its comedy 20s, and it’s now heading into mid-life crisis, and I think the recession has an awful lot to do with that.

'There are people who were doing very, very well during the Celtic Tiger years, but now the gigs and the money just aren’t there. Comedy is going through the same thing as the pubs are. People used to go out, see live entertainment, go to the pub, but people now, particularly in the south, are staying in. People go to the off-licence and they’ll get in some tins of beer and they’ll watch Dave. It's comedy on tap.'

Talbot is understandably cagey about revealing future ideas for the Seven 2 Ten podcast, not wishing to jinx potential interviews, though a Cheshire cat grin fleetingly splits his face as he admits that the fact that he gets interviews with the likes of John Lloyd, Ed Byrne or Ardal O’Hanlon does lend him a certain leverage.

There is a credibility to Seven 2 Ten that should set Talbot and Bourke in good stead, and provide those interested in learning more about the art form with top-class perspectives from which to learn.

With more shady comedy shenanigans planned, Talbot downs his coffee and gives himself a shake. Before he goes, I ask what he has gleaned from his interaction with those 53 funny people? In his opinion, what, if anything, binds this disparate band of renegade rib-ticklers? His answer is a parting shot across comedy’s bows.

'All comedians are very, very needy, even though a lot of them won’t admit it. The main reason that comedians get up to do what they do is not for money, it’s because they have something lacking in their lives. They need praise and approval. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar!'

Visit the Seven 2 Ten website for more information. The Belly Laughs Comedy Festival runs in venues across Belfast until October 10.