We Talk To Ardal O’Hanlon
The comedian and actor on showing off, his tour, and, of course, his favourite Father Ted moment
Where I come from, showing off is a terrible thing,” says Ardal O’Hanlon on how he rebelled from his traditional Irish background to become one of our best-loved comic actors.
“But it was irresistible – there is something so magical about making people laugh.” Ardal has been on tour with his appropriately named one-man show, The Showing Off Must Go On, and he comes to Richmond and Wimbledon theatres this month. It is proving a big hit, and the tour has now been extended into 2020 with venues including G Live in February.
His show will cover “the profound to the ridiculous,” he says, touching on everything from acting your age and conducting yourself with some modicum of dignity, £15 gin and tonics, and the current turmoil we are living through. “It covers topics such as wearing skinny jeans – but wearing them under your trousers – and onto the anxious times we are in. There’s a mix of material I’ve collected as well as whatever is bugging me that day,” says Ardal.
Initially a shy kid, Ardal says he was the least likely person in his family to do stand-up comedy. “My family were quite baffled. But I had this wild impulse and I realised that I could make people laugh.”
He adds that when growing up in a border area of Ireland, you notice that people are wary and keep their heads down: “You don’t speak unless it’s absolutely essential, and you don’t give anything away… so showing off was a really terrible thing to do – it’s up there with armed robbery.”
So who inspired him to go down this path? Ardal says that his heroes were initially Laurel and Hardy. “They were my first exposure to comedy. In the 70s and 80s, my inspiration was Richard Pryor and Robin Williams, and then Eddie Izzard was a big influence.”
It is Ardal who is now influencing others. But the feeling that you should not show off has been ingrained, and Ardal is clearly modest. He has no major ambition that he has marked out for himself. “My life lesson is if you don’t expect too much you won’t be disappointed.”
Ardal initially shot to fame in Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted, with the nation charmed by the dim but loveable young priest, Father Dougal McGuire, who lived alongside Father Ted Crilly, Father Jack Hackett and their devoted housekeeper, Mrs Doyle, on the remote Craggy Island.
The show was a massive hit in the UK and beyond in the 90s and left an enduring legacy.
Ardal admits that Dougal is probably his most favourite character he has played. “There’s so much affection for him. He is just so innocent and loveable. I wish I had more Dougal in me.”
The character is fondly remembered by many, do people think he is a real-life Dougal? “It has been hard to escape it. In fact, someone stopped my wife in the street and asked if I was as stupid in real life! In some ways, it is a compliment that the show has had such an impact. It has always been shown on repeat on the TV so a younger generation are seeing it too.” There is even a musical on the cards, although Ardal is not involved.
In true fan mode, I gush about my favourite moments from the series – too many to choose from – Mrs Doyle and the tea machine, the priests loitering around a lingerie department and the caravan holiday with Ted explaining perspective to Dougal with toy cows.
For Ardal, it was the Eurovision episode. Father Ted and Father Dougal donned sparkly turquoise jackets and sang My Lovely Horse.
“I’m so grateful of the show and proud of my part. I sometimes pinch myself that I was in it and that it was so successful. I was in the middle of a burgeoning stand-up career at the time, we’d be rehearsing during the day and I’d be gigging at night. I arrived in London the year before and things were going well for me, and Father Ted was almost like a distraction from that, a brilliant distraction obviously. At the time I didn’t know what that would mean for my career.”
After Father Ted, Ardal’s stand-up career flourished and he toured across the world. He was a big hit at the Edinburgh and Montreal festivals, filmed his own stand-up special for Comedy Central, and appeared on Live At The Apollo. In 1998 he published a novel, The Talk Of
The Town, which was translated into several languages and voted as one of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.
Back on TV, he has played DI Jack Mooney in the long-running BBC show Death In Paradise, although he recently announced he will be standing down. He’s also starred in the BBC’s My Hero as the bumbling superhero Thermoman, appeared in Doctor Who and Skins, and presented several documentaries. He has also been on the big screen in Twice Shy and Handsome Devil.
But his passion is stand-up and touring, and he is looking forward to coming to the area. As a big rugby fan, he loves Twickenham and fondly remembers Richmond Theatre where he performed in his first play, See You Next Tuesday.
He has been busy with the tour, but if he does get a day off, he will spend it with the family. “Oh yes, and some red wine. And tennis. But not red wine and tennis together…”
Ardal O’Hanlon The Showing Off Must Go On:
3 November, Richmond Theatre
5 November, New Wimbledon Theatre
21 Feb – G Live, Guildford