Dara O’Briain comes to Edinburgh to film new DVD

Dara O'Briain
Dara O'Briain
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YOU’RE Fired! Two words Dara O’Briain is unlikely to be hearing any time soon. The 6ft 4in giant of an Irishman has never been in greater demand.

Whether it’s presenting Mock the Week, School of Hard Sums or The Apprentice: You’re Fired, it seems there’s no escaping the jovial 40-year-old.

However, at the Edinburgh Playhouse next week, O’Briain returns to his stand-up roots with a four- night run of his latest show Craic Dealer, all of which will be filmed for DVD release later in the year.

Surprisingly, O’Briain reveals that it was the intimacy of the 3039-seat venue that caused him to choose it for filming. Although he is taken aback to discover just how large a capacity the Greenside Place theatre boasts.

“My Lord!” he exclaims, “Is that the exact figure? Jesus.

“We did four shows there last year, but over the course of the year and it was just such a joy to play.

“It is one of the biggest rooms on the tour but is surprisingly intimate, and the more intimate the room the better it is for comedy, which isn’t meant as some veiled snipe at the comics who do giant arena-style gigs, but that’s not really my style.”

O’Briain’s style finds him enjoying the craic with his audiences, an important part of his act.

“I do audience chat and build in points of the show where I am looking for an unexpected event to occur. Something that will be unique to that night.

“That doesn’t work when you are hearing your own jokes bouncing back at you off the back wall.

“Genuinely, I have told a joke at the likes of the NEC in Birmingham and heard it returning to me a fraction a second later.

“So intimate is great. Intimate and large numbers... that’s even better again. In many ways the Playhouse is perfect.”

If O’Briain has a fondness for the Playhouse, it is nothing compared to the high regard with which he holds the Capital, and more specifically the Fringe - where, like many a comedian, he learned his trade.

The County Wicklow-man recalls, “I was doing fine in Ireland and came to the Fringe in 1998. I’d only being doing stand-up a few years, so basically the Fringe built me. Mainly because it took me out of Ireland and made me dump the local, parochial stuff that I had been doing. It made me find something more general that would work for an international audience.

“The Fringe is school for us. These days they say ‘Driving School’ because it costs so much, but when I was there nearly 15 years ago, it wasn’t like that.

“I don’t remember losing any money on it, probably because there were only 200 comedy shows back then as opposed to 600 now, but it was vital to your development.”

O’Briain reckons he can trace just about every job he has had since back to those days at the Festival.

“From people seeing me doing the Fringe I got The Live Floorshow, that begat Have I Got News For You, and that begat Mock The Week and Mock The Week begat everything else. So I can draw a very direct line from the Fringe to where I am now, including my corporate work.

“The very first corporate job I got was because someone came along and saw me hosting a Best Of Irish night at The Stand. They got me to host an awards ceremony in Scotland, which got me another awards ceremony in Newcastle, which got me another in London... it all comes back to the Edinburgh Festival.”

Although now a British citizen (“This is where I pay my taxes,” he laughs), O’Briain’s Irishness remains very important to him.

“It’s still a big part of my identity and I find it weird that on British television I can’t say things like ‘our football team’, because my football team play in green.” O’Briain discovered his love of performing while at university, at which point any thoughts he may have had about becoming a scientist faded from his mind.

“I suppose I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, just that I wanted to learn more about science. That was why I went to university and it was there that I realised, through being in the Debating Society, that I got a huge rush from being in front of a crowd.

“I have to admit, it was something I never expected, but the minute I was in front of a crowd it was like something profound happened inside me. I thought, ‘Jeez, I really enjoyed that. I really want to be in front of a crowd more. I want to perform’.”

That buzz, which he still experiences, comes from more than just controlling a room, he believes.

“It’s partly the control but more about creating something. You begin to look at an audience, not as a group of individuals, but as a single organism. Then you see what you can do with that group, what reaction you can get.

“It’s a myth that comics are the funny guy in the class. Writing stuff that will make an audience laugh is a different skill to writing stuff that will make your friends laugh in the pub. You can’t presume any level of familiarity and the timing and structure of delivery is different.

“Watching a group of complete strangers become this single organism is one of the joys of stand-up for me, which is why I love an intimate room, where it is much easier for an audience to do that.

“And that’s one of the reasons we are filming the DVD at the Playhouse, because the reactions are so communal.”

Dara O’Briain: Craic Dealer, Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, Wednesday-Saturday, 8pm, £22, www.atgtickets.com/edinburgh