Conal Gallen

Ballybofey's finest gag man delivers a clean set to 'people with dirty minds'

There is nothing arch or ironic about Conal Gallen. The Donegal comedian is a gag man of the old school – a banter merchant, in it for the craic.

The prolific performer is back in the Waterfront Hall for his annual Belfast gig, and the faithful have turned out in force. A flu-ridden Gallen had to cancel an appearance on Radio Ulster this morning, but when there are 700 paying punters to entertain, the show must go on.

As we’re waiting for Ireland’s self-styled ‘funniest man’ to appear, there’s a backdrop on stage with dozens of Gallen’s jokes on it. ‘I’m good in bed… I can sleep for days!’ ‘I used to jog five miles a day… Then I found a shortcut!’ ‘A day without sunshine is like night.’ You get the gist.

Finally, he makes his entrance, sporting a Hawaiian shirt, skin-tight black jeans and white winkle pickers, singing ‘Horse It Into Ya Cynthia’ (listen below, at your peril).

As with many comedians of his ilk, Gallen delivers mostly abstract schtick about 'Murphy' or 'Casey'. There are no confessional spiels or political rants, or much foul language. ‘I don’t tell dirty jokes,’ he says. ‘I tell clean jokes to people with dirty minds.’

True to his word, Gallen dispenses cheeky but never 'blue' material about his wife (‘I worship the ground that’s coming to her’), the Irish debt crisis (‘You can’t take knickers off a bare arse’) and even laughter itself (‘The government haven’t found out how to tax it yet’).

You can see some of the punchlines coming, like the one about the wasps in the pet shop window, but, as the man himself says, ‘Ya have to laugh.’

Gallen is easily distracted, and much of his set becomes asides within asides within asides. It’s entertaining stuff, and Gallen relishes the opportunity to interact with the crowd. Identifying people’s religion from their name gets a bit tiresome, but there’s a very funny moment when a man trips while leaving to go to the toilet. ‘Claim!’ roars Gallen. ‘You have a thousand witnesses!’ The Waterfront staff look on, nervously.

This writer seems to be the only person in from Belfast. Around me, there are Scots, Canadians and folk from Dublin, Cork, Cavan and every small town in Northern Ireland. ‘Any farmers?’ asks Gallen. A few hundred hands shoot up. He goes clambering about the auditorium, ostensibly to meet a woman with a raucous laugh, but also to sit on people’s knees, pretend he’s just had his bum felt and so on.

In the second half, Gallen re-emerges wearing a new Hawaiian shirt, orange plaid trousers and silver Moon Boots. Every 15 minutes or so, he bursts into song, regaling us with the likes of ‘Anna from Buncrana’, ‘Daniel Put the Kettle On’ and a cover of ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’, retitled ‘Laughin’ All Over the World’ (and it’s apt, Gallen having gigged everywhere from Boston to Botswana).

Many people choose to scoff at traditional comics, but Gallen has a likeable persona with reams of material, and he knows his audience inside out.

As the hall empties, a recording plays over the PA advertising DVDs, CDs and tapes for sale at the merchandise stand. It’s unclear whether the recording is decades old or if Gallen’s fan base is keeping the cassette industry afloat unaided. Either way, Ballybofey’s finest is laughing all the way to the bank.