What's wrong with Northern Irish comedy

James McLaughlin despairs of the live scene

Northern Ireland has recently developed itself a bona fide burgeoning comedy scene, based in Belfast. After many barren years of Paddy Kielty being the face of Northern Irish comedy, a fresh new crop has appeared, eagerly chomping at the bit.

It's great, if the press coverage is anything to go by: A truly vibrant scene with comedy clubs and comedians aplenty, playing in local clubs and appearing in local sitcoms.

Every interview and every article speaks of how fantastic this is. That there is a new breed of Northern Irish comic breaking through, no longer dealing with the topics of old, but new topics that ring true with 'the kids'.

The more I read this, the more scared I become. If this is what the future generation of comedy lovers want, then I'd rather go back to the dark ages and cry myself through one of Paddy Kielty's many routines about the Troubles.

The current crop of new comics is made up of two camps. The first camp is spurred on by the internet sensation (well at least in Ireland) Barry The Blender, whose YouTube videos have notched up over two million hits and created a scene dealing in the smuttier end of the comedy spectrum.

Don't get me wrong, it can be sublime to watch an expert comic describe some of the filthiest things known to man or woman. Go and watch Scott Capurro. He's a master of the art form. But what has developed here isn't a cleverly written piece of smut or even a well-practised ed comic treading on dodgy ground, it's 20 minutes of unfunny, badly written and boring comedy. It’s sometimes hard to tell where one act ends and the other begins.

The second camp is one that is filled with people who have been actively called 'open mics' for a tad to long. They’re often seen fumbling with notes, trying to figure out a set they’ve been doing for years or carrying around the same old props.

In their heads, and I suppose on paper, they are no longer open mics. They're now gigging comics. They regularly receive payment for standing on stage for 20 or 30 minutes. Gone are the days when the only outlet for these wannabes was five minutes in front of the famously tough crowd at the Belfast Empire. Now at the end of every street corner there is a comedy club for them to play at.

There is an element of these venues cashing in on the new comedy craze. Everywhere you look there is a new gig sprouting up, but this isn’t creating a healthy scene.

Instead it’s creating a new breed of delusional open mics, who have honed their act in front of other open mics and empty seats. As harsh as this may sound, it leaves them with a false sense of security that when they do play venues with actual punters, they’re given a nasty reality shock.

However the Northern Irish open mics seem to have some sort of comedy aspergers, seemingly not noticing the boos or the 50 pence pieces flying past there heads.

I know this probably rings true for local comedy scenes up and down the country, but the genuinely worrying fact is that there are very few acts showing any signs of real quality.

Maybe I’m being overly harsh or the bar has been set too high by those who have gone before (mainly just Colin Murphy) but there are very few signs of life.

Hopefully the bubble that currently surrounds the comedy industry will soon pop and bring everyone down to the ground with a bump. Then maybe we'll separate the wheat from the chaff.

Published: 13 Jan 2012

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