This is Part Two of my interviews with The Fellas, Tommy Tiernan and Dylan Moran, who are at the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre tonight and tomorrow (read part one here). Moran is a somewhat unknown quantity in America as a stand-up comedian, although like Tiernan and Ardal O’Hanlon (who will be on the other dates as The Fellas tours the country), he is immensely popular in the U.K.
American audiences would know him best from roles in Shaun of the Dead and Run, Fatboy, Run, and while he is good on the big screen, those roles don’t hint at the depth and ferocity of Moran’s wit. When we spoke last week, he was driving in Geneva, Switzerland, and looking forward to his first shows in Boston.
How often have you played the States outside of New York?
I’ve played New York twice and I did a run in L.A. for six weeks. So this is my first time going further afield than that. Where are you calling from?
Yeah, that’ll be my first time in Boston. We’re going to Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia. So my first time out of New York and out of L.A.
I take it your doing a full tour of the United States?
I don’t know that I’d call it a full tour, Nick. It’s kind of a look-see at the moment. It’s six cities, I think, in ten days.
Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to about the tour?
Well, yeah. I’m talking to you now from Geneva at the moment, I’m on the road here in Europe. I’m going to Sweden in a couple of days and as I’m sure you’re aware, the whole world has its eyes on America, pretty much most of the time, and never more so than at the moment with everything that’s happening right now, and everything’s that’s gone on in America before the election and since then. So it’s a massive influence in the European’s life. And there’s this permanent fascination. And of course Boston, Ireland, the whole thing is full of [inaudible]. And places like New York, Baltimore, and Chicago, as well. I know a bit about Philadelphia. These places are references in everybody’s mind, especially if you’re an Irish person.
Everyone followed the election very closely here. We’re all talking about it and all watching to see what the administration is going to do, about the biggest bit everybody’s talking about, about Israel and Iran. And that constant flood about all the economic stuff going on, it’s kind of white noise at this stage.
Are you looking forward to talking to people here about that?
Yeah! Very much so. I’m very much looking forward to getting hold of the American take on things. And you want to come in with some local knowledge, as well, about what effects people in each individual city. So comic have to do their scramble around and do some research just like any, just like people like yourself, really.
Past finding out what suburb is considered the local shithole and –
Yeah, that’s all standard issue stuff. I mean, you do that, but it depends on how far you really want to go. The thing is, you’ve got to be careful because there’s a line you’ve got to tread between – you’ve got very limited time to canvass opinions and taxi drivers and whoever else you bump into during the day about what the state of the city is, you know? I certainly do try to get a collage of opinions while I’m there and find out what’s on people’s minds.
By and large, the purpose of that is not so much to tailor it for that place, again and again I find confirmed what’s on people’s minds is pretty similar wherever you go. People are worried about the core issues of having a job and security for their family and all the rest of it. The regional variations you get, that’s the interesting stuff. Those references – like you say, finding out what the tough part of town is or whatever – that all matters because you’ve got to, it’s a mark of respect, I think, when you’re talking to people to know a little bit about what effects them.
If a big part of the job is trying to tap into some sort of universal experience, I would think that’s sort of an education.
You’re right, the experience is universal, it’s just that the names change or the big manufacturing center’s name changes or whatever it is. But the dynamics are the same wherever you go.
Are you looking forward to hearing more American stupid people?
Well, you know, America has stupid people like the rest of the world. But what makes American stupidity different to other national stupidities, it is a geographical quirk in a way, because if you live in Europe you can be bright or stupid or whatever it is, but you’ve probably come into contact, you’ve probably moved around a little bit and been other places.
In America, because America is just such a huge crucible or world culture, everybody goes there. You can kind of travel without leaving the country, insofar as you can talk to somebody from anywhere in the world. But Europeans do remark on American incuriosity about actually getting their asses out of the country. You know? We’re all a bit, sometimes are scared when they hear statistics like only seven percent of Americans have passports or whatever, you know.
I think that there’s also a lot of misinformation out there, as far as what we’re told about other countries. You read the guides – we visited Ireland a few years ago and we were told never to talk politics at all.
Well, that’s nonsense, you know. That’s absolute nonsense.
That ended pretty quickly in the first bar we visited that people actually talked to us.
Exactly, yeah. [laughs] Even getting to American on a work visa is no walk in the park at the moment. Whoever you are, America is an incredible phenomenon culturally in the world. You’re inside it so you’re take on it is different, but as an outsider, you’re very much reminded when you approach America that it is the only remaining empire in the world. And it’s quite formidable. You are humbled before the eagle. That’s part of the process of getting there. You know, there’s an awful lot that you’re asked to buy into to any degree, whether you want to live there, or… I’m working there for ten days. And it’s an empire and it conducts itself as an empire, as they have done historically. You can feel quite small when you’re knocking at the door, and all you want to do is talk to people. It’s not anything more than that.
Do you think there are inherent topics for comedy in there or do you have to work for an angle?
The thing is it only really works for comedic purposes if people understand what you’re talking about. But if you haven’t been outside the city walls of the empire, you don’t know what it’s like to try and get back in, you know? There’s a lot of American citizens… E Pluribus Unum saying holds good insofar as there’s a lot of respect and loyalty. You sign up for a lot when you say, “I’m an American.” It seems to me, as an outsider.
Yeah, there’s some conflict as well if you hear people from another country taking issue with what you’re country is doing. IF you have the same issue, it’s hard to navigate that and not circle the wagons and not get defensive.
Yeah, I think it does. I think that’s no mean feat for an American to avoid coming across as defensive. I can absolutely understand that. I tell you one thing I noticed once Obama got in, is how much friendlier everybody is to Americans.
Yeah, we saw celebrations all around the world on our local news.
There’s a huge warmth that has always been there for Americans that was kind of put in the fridge for a while. That’s been defrosted and offered up again since he got in.
There are a number of people here who don’t believe that.
Well, from the European perspective, I think that is absolutely the case.
One of the arguments here on the liberal side is that the world respects us more now. Of course, that puts the conservatives on the defensive, saying that’s all nonsense.
Well, the Republican party, they’re tits up in a ditch at the moment, aren’t they? They don’t know what to do. And they know they’re in for eight years, barring a disaster, and I can’t think of any disasters that would surpass the Bush administration disasters. It would have to be a really bad response to an invasion from Mars to displace this guy. The world is in love with him. He is the modern politician, par excellence. He’s got no peers. He is out on his own in terms of performance, intelligence, command.
The other night I watched the Washington Correspondents Dinner, the national press dinner, and he was at least as good as the comics they put on. It was kind of a roast situation, isn’t it. To see him crack gags like the Cheney gag, which would have been widely reported, it’s something else.
I also watched one that was done for Bush a couple of years ago, and you see his rictus on his face, where he’s not sure if he should laugh in certain places. He looks like he’s got a harpoon in his back, for most of us.
I’m wondering if people here will be surprised that you know as much as you do about the inner workings of our politics. That was one thing that was driven home to us when we were visiting Ireland, that everybody sort of pays attention to us. Even in that bar, we told them we were from Massachusetts and the male half of the party we were talking to immediately went to, “Oh, gay people can get married there.”
Yeah, well, like I say, you guys at the stern of the world’s ship. So everybody onboard is looking to see where we’re going. Make no mistake about it. As America tilts one degree this way or that, there’s a huge wake that we’re all in. It’s serious power. There is no more serious kind of power on the planet. We’re informed because it effects us directly. You know, it’s not just kind of a spectator sport or for our own edification so we can sit around in cafe bars and finesse our arguments with one another, it’s because we’re directly effected.
How do you introduce yourself to an American audience that may not be familiar with you as a stand-up comedian?
I don’t know. I’m working on that. I’ll tell you, it’s a weird thing. I’m Switzerland now, I’m going to Sweden tomorrow, I came back from Australia last week. I played to sixty-eight and a half thousand people in Australia, so people know me in those parts. Every performer talks about breaking America. And that’s a piece of work, I’ll tell you. You’ve got to be prepared to put in the time. And you’re not going to do it in one sortie. You’re not going to do it in one raid. It just takes a lot of time. You’re such a big country, you accommodate so many different kinds of people. The diversity is total, every spectrum of humanity is represented. It’s work. I don’t know how it’s going to go, all we can do is try.
How often have you and Tommy Tiernan played together – was the British Comedy Invasion in New York the first time?
I don’t think crossed paths in New York. We were on at different times. Tommy and I know each other from way back when, went to the same school and so on. We’ve known each other a long time but we’ve very rarely gigged together. I guess we’ve done it once or twice.
What was the incentive for creating The Fellas?
That all came from a one-off gig we did in Liverpool, which has a lot of Irish associations. Ardal, who I don’t think is going to make Boston, is coming along, so there’s three of us. It was just kind of fun, to be honest, to be on the same bill together. There’s lots of people with Irish American connections, obviously, in Boston and Chicago and all these other places I’ve mentioned.
How important was Ardal O’Hanlon to your becoming a comedian?
The first time I went ot a comedy club, Ardal was on. He was in this trio. I went along, I wasn’t expecting very much, I thought it was some kind of student revue and I thought it would be quite rubbish. And everybody was incredibly polished and together and very smart and very funny, and I went on the next week and did five minutes and that was it for me. I haven’t done anything else since.
I read a review of [your stand-up show] Monster where they talked about questions from the audience being a big part of the show. Is that something you do frequently?
I don’t know what night they saw. It’s not particularly interactive. I think the show that I’m doing now, I only ask one or two questions of the audience. Sometimes I don’t do it at all. But I talk to people. Sometimes in the American school of doing comedy, in the very little that I’ve seen live, it’s very much something that’s glazed and sealed and ready to go at any time. I try and be there and talk to people. It’s not a set. It’s not the same every night.
Do you think the fact that you were in some films that were fairly popular in America will help you once you get here?
I don’t know, Nick. E’s hoping. That’s all I can say, really. Anything that gets people in is all right with me. That’s the thing, if you can get people in, half the work is done already. I’m really keen for people to come along. Apart from anything else, Tommy and Ardal are really, really good comics. It’s good stuff. People should come.