ONE of Ireland’s most recognised comedians, PJ Gallagher, was on the line with An Focal recently. Here’s what went down.
“Are ya well? What’s the craic?!” The happy-go-lucky Irishman was, as usual, in cracking form. With a surprisingly endearing Dublin accent, and a quick wit to boot, PJ soon has us all in stitches. Formalities out of the way, we asked him how he started off in comedy.
“By accident really! Jason Byrne didn’t wanna do gigs on his own so he asked me if I’d come with him. We used to work in a warehouse together years ago the two of us. I knew him long before either of us ever did a gig ya see, and he just didn’t wanna do it on his own.”
He recalls that his first proper gig was sometime around ’92 or ’93. “Jason made me do it. I was supporting him in Vicar Street which scared the life outta me coz I hadn’t the experience for it, and of course I was terrible… but it kinda worked! It was the older vicar street so there were about 700 people at it. It was some craic though and I got away with it, I think.”
After doing the rounds in the Dublin comedy scene for a few years, Gallagher stated that he wanted something a bit different and enrolled in, and later graduated from, the Gaiety School of Acting. “I kind of intended on doing acting coz comedy scared the life outta me so much… but there was just no work in it. The more comedy you do, the more you start to think ‘ah here, this is alright’. It was a natural progression more than a decision at any stage. I think after ages I just realised I hadn’t gone to auditions for years and I was quite happy about it I think!”
On his career path, he explains, “I knew I was never gonna fit going around with a shirt and tie on, I knew that was never gonna happen. I just sorta banged away and tried me hand at a million different things and comedy sorta found me.”
When asked how he spends his down time, PJ begins an enthusiastic tirade on all things bikes. “It’s all bikes, I just ride bikes all the time. If I’m not racing motorbikes I’m racing BMX bikes and if I’m not racing BMX I’m out for road cycles… and if I’m not road cycling, I’m mountain biking! If I’m too tired for all of that I’m watching bikes on Eurosport or something. It’s all bikes, me whole life revolves around bikes. I only really tell jokes to earn money to buy bikes! I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, I don’t go to restaurants or nothing, I just pass my time by going as fast as I can.”
While not an entirely unusual obsession, An Focal was curious as to how the bike addiction began. “I got into motorbikes just after me dad died. Me dad died and I just got on a motorbike and that was the first time after that I just didn’t care about anything, I was just sorta locked into a moment and enjoying myself again, a big smile on me face and that addiction just kicked in. It’s like a drug ya know, except drugs are probably healthier for ya and cost less!”
While PJ obviously has to say that Jason Byrne is his favourite comedian, he says “he is though, he genuinely is.” Explaining his reasons, PJ goes on to say that he has “never seen anyone do what he can do on stage. I remember going to see Jason three nights in a row in Vicar Street and he did three different shows each night and I just thought ‘that’s fuckin’ unreal’. I mean, Billy Connolly can’t do that, ya know?”
Being curious about hecklers and how comedians deal with them, we heard PJ recount an odd tale. “I did a gig last Monday night and outta nowhere a guy stood up and said “What about the Nigerians?”. It had nothing got to do with what I was talkin’ about… it was just the most unbelievably irrelevant heckle I’ve had in me life. I could have got upset with him but it was just too amazingly irrelevant. That was the weirdest heckle… although a Russian guy did once get me in a headlock and throw me over a dinner table at a corporate gig…” When quizzed on the reason for this, PJ guiltily admits, “I told him I’d kick him in the Bolsheviks”. Amid our snorts of laughter, he’s quick to defend his actions saying, “But he was being really rude before that!”
Being involved in Naked Camera and Strawberry Alarm Clock pranks, PJ’s no stranger to awkward humour. When asked why people from Ireland and the UK find this humour so intoxicating, he states that he doesn’t really know. “It just seems to be the strange sense of humour we have. You can show it to Americans and they’ll go [adopting a nasal-based American twang] ‘there’s nothing funny about that, he doesn’t know what’s happening’, and you’re like, ‘that’s EXACTLY why it’s funny!’ I think it’s just that we love windups and if someone’s in a situation that’s awkward or uncomfortable, there’s a part of us that just goes ‘ahaha… thank GOD that’s not me’. We always see people in these horrible situations and instead of jumping in and helping we’ll go ‘we’ll just wait a minute, we’ll just see what happens’.
PJ Gallagher plays Dolan’s Warehouse on April 26. Miss it at your peril.