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Father Dougal does good

Trudie Robinson meets Father Ted’s Ardal O’Hanlon

Published on September 21st 2007.

Father Dougal does good

After chatting with Irish comedian Ardal O’Hanlon for a few minutes this Manchester Confidential reporter realised that she hadn’t checked the dictaphone was recording properly so a brief hiatus was necessary. Good job comics are nice and don’t mind shambling interviewers creating interruptions. “Well, we’ve got so little to do,” chuckles O’Hanlon. Surely not. At the moment he’s on tour, which, granted, usually leaves plenty of spare daylight hours in which to travel and ruminate, but in the past, he’s been an integral part of many projects.
His first post-University endeavour was to begin a comedy scene in Dublin. Having decided to take up comedy, O’Hanlon and some mates set about creating work for themselves as the comedy scene at the time was lacking.

“Ireland at the time was incredibly grim and there were absolutely no prospects when I left university, whenever it was, in 1987 or something there was really nothing to do. Your option was to emigrate or become a poet and there were legions of poets tramping around Dublin and performing on the streets.” So they set up a comedy club in the International Bar in the city, the now famous Comedy Cellar.”

“At the time it was an underground thing and it wasn’t about career or money or anything. Certainly not from where I was standing in Dublin on a tiny little stage, on a beer crate basically, there were no obvious prospects and no career path to follow. We did it once a month and got a great kick out of it and we convinced ourselves we were doing something incredibly important but there was no obvious place to go with it.”

Despite being apparently directionless, O’Hanlon, after gigging across the UK and Ireland, gained sufficient exposure to be spotted by Graham Linehan for a role in Father Ted as the endearingly naive Father Dougal. The series was a success and O’Hanlon wasn’t short of acting work playing George Sunday in five series of My Hero and Eamon in Big Bad World.

O’Hanlon’s such a big name these days that he’s one of the many that has been asked to do a cameo appearance on Dr Who. An offer he had no choice but to accept. “I was a fan, and my children were massive fans of this current incarnation of Dr Who so I obviously had no choice but to jump at it.”

He played Brannigan, “a cat creature stuck in an eternal traffic jam” in the Russell T Davies penned Gridlock.

“People were saying, oh God it must be great fun knocking about with Daleks and Cybermen comparing galactic domination plans but it’s not quite like that. I’m claustrophobic and allergic to cats so it was quite tough to be holed up in a little car in the corner of a hot studio for 14 hours a day, five days a week with real kittens beside me,” he laughs, adding, “but it was great in many ways.”

Just at the moment however, O’Hanlon is largely focusing on his return to stand up. He’s touring a new show, his second in two years. As to what to expect from him, well O’Hanlon’s material has moved on in parallel to his life.

“My concerns are the concerns of a forty-something man, that’s the reality.” Where his past shows were brimming with surreal jokes and impressions of inanimate objects now - “I think over time more and more true stories have crept into it. I’m doing quite a lot about bringing up children. Not in a twee way more in the context of the sort of world we live in and contemporary society, a lot of fears and irritations.”

One more thing, a final very important question. Which Dr Who is your favourite? “Would have to be Jon Pertwee,” he states without hesitation. “I guess he’s the one that I remember best.”

Ardal O’Hanlon is at St Helens Theatre Royal (Corporation Street, St Helens, 01744 756000, from £15.50) on Sunday 23 September; The Lowry (Pier 8, Salford Quays. 08707 875780, from £15.50) on Sunday 30 September; Buxton Opera House (Water Street, Buxton 0845 127 2190, from £14.50) on Wednesday 10 October; Burnley Mechanics (Manchester Road, Burnley 01282 664400, from £15.50) on Thursday 18 October and The Royal Court (Roe Street, Liverpool, 0870 787 1866 from £15.50) on Sunday 21 October.

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