| 20 questions: Mark Dolan

20 questions: Mark Dolan

Your show, I'm Here To Help, dispatches advice to audience members about their problems. So how are you qualified to help?

I’m a pretty nice person, I like people and get a kick out of trying to make someone feel better. In terms of qualifications, think of me as the emotional equivalent of a GP – I can help with lots of problems, but you’ve only got 10 minutes, and I may have to refer you elsewhere. And don’t be coming to me just for drugs.

Aren’t most people who offer ‘help’ quacks and charlatans?

Yes, a lot of them have huge egos, and gigantic personal issues of their own. I worked with a radio agony aunt years ago, and she was insane, really the worst example of a person to help others. Temperamental, weepy and at times downright nasty. I won’t be like that.

What’s the best bit of advice you ever received?

Never be afraid – an old Irish friend of my dad said it. Sadly he died trying to becalm a leopard in Dublin Zoo.

What’s your Auntie Bernie’s contribution to the show?

My mother and my Auntie Bernie will be taking it in turns to offer their support and thoughts to my guests. It’s that Earth-mother, female perspective on a problem that I can’t offer. And they are very funny.

Are you happier working live or as a presenter?

Live because it’s uncomplicated, direct and a buzz. But it’s also lonely. The teamwork and collaboration in making a TV or radio show is a real joy.

Do you ever feel sorry for the victims in Balls of Steel?

Yes sometimes. The emotional stuff like the Bunny Boiler – a pretty woman who flirts with a bloke in front of his girlfriend is hard to watch because it’s so achingly real. Most of the time though, the ‘victims’ give as good as they get, and our performers regularly get a kicking – metaphorically or literally, like the irate golfer who pursued the Annoying Devil with a 9-iron.

Aren’t the pranks just glorified ‘happy slappings’?

The physical stuff is a surprisingly small part of the show, but I have definitely lost sleep over some of Neg’s antics. However his stuff is consistently voted the best by viewers and his clips have had over a million hits on You Tube, so as with all ‘on the edge’ comedy, the audience will decide whether it’s OK or not. And they love it.

Tell me about the Urban Legends TV show.

Each show features re-enactments of famous urban myths, two of which are fictitious and one of which actually happened – the audience has to decide which that is. Did an old lady explode her dog in the microwave to dry him from the rain? Did a German businessman have his kidney stolen in Rio by an organ-napping gang? Did an American man fly thousands of feet high in his deckchair with the help of a couple of helium balloons? Which one’s kosher? That would be telling…

Which comedians inspired you to go into the business?

Woody Allen, David Letterman.

When and where was your first gig?

The Bear Pit Cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1996. That venue’s gone now, and thank God.

How did it go?

I refer you to my last answer. You got to put your name down on the day, regardless of who you were. I went on at 2am, without really any jokes, after Scott Capurro. Nuff said.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever had?

The very first I’m Here To Help!, because I had prepared for it to be a disaster.

And the worst?

A gig on a barge in Birmingham some years ago, with a bunch of people who all knew each other really well and found each other funny. I was surplus to requirements from the moment I started, and because it was a barge, I had to stay on board with them for two hours afterwards, in a very enclosed space…

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever regretted saying on stage?

I only regret anything which doesn’t get a laugh, regardless of content.

What’s the worst thing a critic has ever said about you?

Gentle criticism is tougher that a frenzied, frothing attack. I think the Telegraph used the word ‘limp’ in regard to my performance once – that’s gonna hurt.

When did you first experience the Fringe, and what did you do?

I was at Edinburgh Uni, and performed for four years in an impro show called the Improverts. It was on at midnight every night at the Bedlam Theatre on Forrest Road, and it was an amazing experience, and got me started.

What’s been the biggest change since then?

Obviously less theatre and more comedy, but you don’t care about that – you’re Chortle! And Edinburgh’s now got London prices.

What’s your view of comedy awards like the if.comedies or So You Think You’re Funny?

They have caused the public and the media to take live comedy more seriously, and both events celebrate both ends of the comedy ladder. I was in the final of So You Think You’re Funny? in 2000 and loved every second. Except that second in which I didn’t win it. Bastards.

Apart from your own, what other show would you recommend?

Tony Law is unmissable, and surprisingly handsome.

  • Mark Dolan: I'm Here To Help is on at the Gilded Balloon at 18:30

Published: 8 Aug 2007

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