Winner of the 2014 Chortle Student Comedy Award at Queen's brings his Party Hard show to the Black Box
Ronan Lynskey is a man whose name I have repeatedly misspelled in the past, more out of spite than ignorance, but no little of either. He's introduced tonight at the Black Box in Belfast with the words, 'Here's Ronan Lynskey. He did his hour long show in January and it just finished yesterday.'
Lynskey lopes on to the stage with a haversack and whips out a paperback. 'I'd like to read a short story, if I may?' He is unfailingly polite, and proceeds to do so, in silence, only stopping when his own agitation at not being able to pretend to read a book authentically annoys him. 'I'm sure Daniel Day Lewis would have read that better,' he complains.
This is Lynskey all over: the silly punctured by the cerebral, his need to over-work an idea the key to his pedantic humour. The rest of the set is devoted almost completely to the comic potential of ice: the optimum heat for ice, how various other comedians would put ice down your back, various non-iced-based jobs he has done, all culminating in him pouring some ice down his own back.
'I must have done that 100 times. Never gets a laugh,' he says. That does get the laugh. This is comedy that dances around the idea of what comedy, what jokes, actually are, and whether they are the point of the journey. Lynskey takes you there but he does it via the scenic route.
Alan Irwin's Party Hard is his second hour-long set and listed, conspicuously, as a preview for the Edinburgh Festival. This is usually comedian short-hand for 'I've cobbled together about half an hour's worth of material and will busk the rest'. Happily, this doesn't seem to be the case here.
Irwin bounds onto the stage, exhibiting real energy and presence, his voice ringing around the room. The change is palpable from the last time that I saw him. There is a newfound confidence, perhaps a reflection of the newer set or perhaps because he knows more what he wants to do with his comedy.
Irwin opens with a conversational anecdote about meeting Van Morrison on the Ormeau Road and inviting him to a house party, where nobody recognises the musical malcontent. So far so Call My Bluff, but in his next breath he reveals this to be a lie, 'but I have done lots of other things'.
It's a measure of how far Irwin has come as a performer that we go along with him and that we're not upset by the revelation – we're waiting for the next lie.
The truth behind Irwin's set is that he's trying hard to convince you that he's not a fun guy at all, and he is an exemplary young fogey. His cultural references – to Blur's Parklife, N.W.A.'s Straight out of Compton and 'the D.J. Fatboy Slim' – are heroically archaic. Irwin is 24-years old. "Straight out of Compton" came out a year before he was born.
He convinces too with his none-more-square interest in Hitler's strategic disappointments in the Second World War. It's here, in fact, that he really shines: this narky, pooterish pedantry is his comic voice, and if elsewhere his obvious affection for Louis CK shines through – 'I'm a white Protestant in Northern Ireland. It doesn't get much better than that' – it's the moments like his 'one pen solution to the Middle East peace process' that showcase his gifts as a writer and performer.
Against all the evidence, and even his own testimony, it turns out that Irwin is a fun guy after all. Several days later he will win the 2014 Chortle Student Comedy Award at Queen's Comedy Club – a major player in the making.
Visit the Black Box website for information on forthcoming events.