Dara O'Briain reveals his dark side
Tim Clark18 April 2011
If you don't consider Dara O'Briain an amiable creature, you need your head examined - or lopping off.
The larger-than-life Irishman exudes relaxed charm, which he uses to great effect in his live shows, taking personal information from the audience and building a one-off narrative that culminates in a unique crescendo each time
It seems impossible to imagine the Mock The Week host exhibiting a dark side. But he's only human.
Here, he tells Tommy Holgate how to work a crowd, and why Frankie Boyle makes him look like a saint...
You involve the crowd heavily in your gigs. To what extent do you have pre-prepared jokes to make yourself sound snappy?
There is a lot to be said for having stock responses to a crowd, but you don't want to get to the stage where you have a line for each occupation. I stopped doing the whole 'where are you from?' thing, because it gets too boring.
Generally you just end up telling people old jokes they've already heard... 'You're from Newcastle? I bet you're not wearing a coat'.
There are a minimum number of laughs you want to get from a person, so you have to keep digging. One guy I got was an engineer, which is never easy. I kept asking and it turned out he worked for Rolls Royce.
I said: “Hang on, don't you have a cannon that fires chickens into the engines to test what they would do if a bird got stuck in there?' he said 'yes, yes we do.'
And then you're going 'thank you very much, let's suspend the rest of the show, and talk about this for half an hour'. That's the perfect example.
Are there any jobs that you couldn’t ‘do something’ with?
IT is a killer. What kind of IT? There is never a good kind of IT. If I could have more butchers, bakers and candlestick makers attending my gigs I'd be a very happy man.
I've started getting them to make their jobs up now... it may be my exciting new comedy direction. Bullshit me. Make s**t up and let’s see where we go with that, because frankly asking people about their lives? I've done it now, and you don't want to get to the point where you repeat yourself.
Every job and every life has something interesting about it. There are certain times when you don't realise somebody's full potential and you bail, and that's really irritating.
I hate thinking 'I should have got more out of that'.
It's in the second question, it's in the third question – because the initial question will just be the name of their job. But the second and third question is where you find out that they're not just a farmer, they're the one who herds up the goats and takes them up the hill.
'I'm a surveyor' is dull, but 'are you the guy who stands and looks through the binoculars, or are you the guy who stands forty feet away from him holding the pole?’
That's funny. So you're into that tension between the two workers. 'Can I look through the binoculars this time?'
'No, you hold the pole. You were allowed to touch the binoculars once, but not again. Remember the last time you touched them what happened?’
Does your likability and lack of dark side allow you to take the piss a bit more than other comics would?
I don't know where this thing comes from that I don't have a dark side. Everybody has a dark side.
I make a joke in my show about guilty pleasures, where I say my guilty pleasure is surreptitiously rubbing myself up against ladies on crowded tube trains.
It's only because I've worked next to Frankie Boyle for so long that everybody thinks I'm some sort of angel!
What’s it like to have the power to control a room full of people?
It's weird. It's very gratifying when it works, because there is a buzz off it. You're on stage thinking 'oh my God if I put A plus B together this is going to be great,'
You remember while you're talking to one person that you can loop it back to another person. They love it.
You present these things to your brain and desperately hope it will deliver something. It's the best way to write jokes, when you're panicking onstage and not really thinking about anything.
You're in that white heat moment of 'oh Jesus I'd better come up with something fast'.
When it clicks it's a massive rush.
I recap at the end of a show and try to fit everybody in, backwards. So I go from the last guy back to the start in the hope that I find the correct moment to say 'thank you very much good night!'
But every time you pick a person from the crowd it could go horribly, and be the moment where you break. It's very much risk-reward every time.
You say ‘risk’ – when has the risk backfired?
I did a gig in Torquay where a guy had saved a kids' life from a falling bale of hay. I said 'that's amazing. The first hay-related life-saving story I've heard'.
I asked what he was doing at the time and he was fitting shoes to a horse. A few questions later, things were still going fine.
Then he said ‘I didn't pay money to come here and hear me talk’. And I was thinking 'this is what the show is, this is the joy!’.
Some people were really tense. I had to reign myself in. I thought ‘I'm going to be talking for the next two hours, pal’. I could've refunded him the money for the time he'd spent talking and he might have been able to get a bag of chips.
It was one of the few times where it was like 'hey monkey boy, dance for me.'
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