For me, the subject matter, itís not quite irrelevant, but there is a tune to it, like a melody or refrain. The way we look at the world, everybody has their own way of seeing or hearing, so certain things strike you as important. I donít look into it too much, though, because I donít want to know too much. If you endlessly analyse yourself you donít do anything, Iíve found.
The difference in your perception as time goes by Ė you think one way in your 20s, another in your 30s, and so on Ė I recognise thatís a big part of what I talk about. The fun and whatever pleasure is to be had are all in the approach. Monet painted a lot of lily pads and haystacks ... actually, Monetís a bad example because he bores the crap out of me. But itís about what range of sounds or squeaks or jokes or colours or whatever it is you can wring from the subject matter.
Are you worried that by putting out previously released material, albeit re-edited, some might accuse you of cashing in?
Cashing in? I donít know, it wasnít my idea is all I can say. It was about doing a mix-up of the different shows, a compilation of best bits or routines that worked really well. I donít think it was a bad thing to do. Every band in the world does it.
Do you take pride in your distinctiveness, that itís almost impossible for another stand-up to copy your act?
I donít take pride in it. Thereís nothing mediating between me and an audience, because I donít know a whole lot about the comedy scene to be honest. Iím not au fait with a lot of the current generation of comedians, partly because I just donít play clubs anymore. Other comics are constantly gigging to keep themselves in the game. I donít do that, I go underground and build my rocket bath with propellers over a period of months. I donít know what Iím doing for huge stretches of time. But at some point I begin hauling it up, taking it out and going Ďwhat the fuck is this? How do we make it go?í
How much roadtesting of material do you do in previews?
A couple of weeks really help. I did it for the first time a couple of years ago and couldnít believe the difference it made. I used to write the show, would go into these big rooms and if something didnít work it was like I was in a speeding car and Iíd just kick it out the door and move onto something else.
Youíve toured North America as part of The Three Fellas with Ardal OíHanlon and Tommy Tiernan. Were you surprised at the outrage Tommy provoked there with his supposedly anti-Semitic remarks last year?
In some ways thatís not a new thing, with any kind of art form. There was national outrage when a new Manet painting went up. Stravinsky ballets, people lost their wigs over that. It could be anything. Everybodyís entitled to their reaction.
Thereís a right of reply, or complaint box now though. People demand it because they want a line to be drawn. Thatís one of the functions of comedy, it often lands in hot water because the satirical voice is the one saying Ďyah booí to this or that pose, or boundary, questioning the structure of everything. So itís the voice thatís accused of being obscene, overstepping the mark. Thatís part of its role.
You started performing stand-up after seeing gigs in Dublinís Comedy Cellar. A small room with no microphone, was it formative for your style?
It was much more like a performance space than a London comedy club. Not a lot of people, but a lot of people in proportion to the room, huddled together with pints of Guinness and woolly jumpers. The room was yours, nobody knew what to expect, there was a sense that anything could happen. When I moved to London, which I had to do to economically survive, I had to learn all sorts of things I hadnít thought about before, like crowd management. Getting yours in before they could get you. We didnít have any of that culture of aggression which is so much a part of British comedy in general.
Do you miss the club circuit?
No. But it was a very, very good assault course. The British lead the field in satire, at all levels, from fairly crude tabloid jiggery-pokery to really quite sophisticated mockery. It was a great place to learn how to survive, because you had to be fast, you had to be tougher and smarter, all those qualities that it helps if youíre in your 20s. Because when you get a bit older it gets like ping-pong. Thereís not a lot of subtlety or rounded sense, thereís not a lot of compassion. City workers in Battersea, Friday night, everybody drunk super-quick because theyíre tired of London and life. You kept your eyes on the lunar cycle because if there was a full moon you knew it was going to be a rough night.
Le Monde have called you Ďthe greatest comedian living or deadí. Are you an artist?
I donít really give a damn one way or the other. Although itís how I make my living, I donít think of it as a job. I write all the time, but not all of my time is writing, I could just start writing on this pocket. Thatís what I do, every day. I donít sit down and try to write jokes, I donít know what Iím going to do with these thoughts. So is it art? I wouldnít like to say, there are other people to do that. Academics and critics seem to derive tremendous pleasure from thinking that they have some sort of handle on the nomenclature and classification of whatever theyíre dealing with.
But after several film and television roles, do you consider yourself an actor?
No. Itís something I would like to get better at. You canít just turn up. You do something with the character and all that, how they would say or do something instead of how you would do it. That seems pretty elementary. But I donít spend a lot of time thinking about it to be honest. If Iím offered a part, think I can do it and I like the script I say yes. I donít worry too much about back-story or all that sort of stuff.
Were you disappointed that A Film With Me In It never got a UK release?
Yeah, I thought it was a very smart little movie. I literally canít answer that question. Mark [Doherty] who wrote it and I played opposite, heís such a terrific, terrific talent. It got released in Ireland, did quite well in Australia, there were screenings in America... It was like an old-fashioned noir kind of caper but very tight. It was a bit like a play I suppose, because a lot of it was just the two of us opposite one another. It was a small movie, obviously, we shot it for bugger all in film terms, a million euro or something and over a month. Itís a good piece of work and Iím proud of it.
Youíve described Black Booksí antihero Bernard Black as Ďa sociopath ... one of those people who are bitter about not creating somethingí. Could you have become Bernard if youíd not found stand-up?
I think it happens to a lot of people actually and if affected me very badly. Comedy allowed me to not only perform and to try and make people laugh, but also to write and paint. Iím pretty much unqualified for anything else and could probably just about stack supermarket shelves. Comedy was a combination of necessity and good luck for me.
Looking back, do you think Black Books finished at the right time after three series
Yeah. I donít need the distance either. A lot of people have asked if weíll do it again, why there were no more. Thereís nothing wrong with the American model, where if somethingís successful they keep going. But only if standards are maintained. Itís easier for them because they have teams of writers and thereís a burnout rate. I was lazy, kind of leisurely really in the way we turned it out, there were big gaps between the series. I donít know how the Peep Show guys keep going. Iíve only seen it a couple of times but the writingís very tight, the characters are very good and it made me laugh out loud which is as much as you can ask.
But thereís a distinction in Peep Show between the writers and performers ...
Yeah, well thatís the thing. I was doing both ends and that was knackering. The character was a more extreme version of my stand-up voice and I couldnít be too subtle and focused on my comedy because I was so busy with the show, just making sure the jokes were getting hit.
Is it true youíre writing a novel?
Yes, thereís a novel. Thereís a play, thereís a film, thereís a whole bunch of half-finished somethings up on bricks. Itís slightly embarrassing really. Iíve been working on a kind of novel that seems to be turning into a self-help book, except the end result is it makes you want to do away with yourself.
- Aim Low: The Very Best of Dylan Moran is out now. Click here to buy from Amazon. He tours the UK next year.