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26 Jun 2015 18:40
A cup of comedy: Dylan Moran
Bernard Black is to blame, really. Dylan Moran’s performance as the curmudgeonly protagonist in British observational comedy series Black
Books was so effective that it has conjured up an indelible image of the Irish
comedian as an irascible, perpetually hungover misanthrope.
Which, it turns
out, is inaccurate.
Talking to Moran early on a blustery London morning after
he’s just finished the United Kingdom leg of his new tour, Off the Hook, you’d
expect him to be full of bile and misery.
“Journalists tend to ask questions I can’t answer because
they overanalyse and overthink things,” he says. “They come from the outside of
a situation with a fresh perspective and I’m caught up on the messy inside. I
understand why they do it and that they have a job to do but it can become
brain-numbing being asked the same questions incessantly. Did you always know
you were funny? When did you decide to do comedy? Did you ever want to do
anything else? Are you going to do any more episodes of Black Books?”
Still, he seems genuinely excited about visiting South
Africa for the first time when he performs at the National Arts Festival in
Grahamstown. The first part of the interview is spent answering his many
questions about South Africa.
“Are people very angry with Zuma about Nkandla?” (Yes) “Is
he going to pay back the money?” (No) “How are women treated in South Africa?”
(A lot of room for improvement) “What is Grahamstown like?” (Cold and
struggling with a postcolonial hangover but it has a decent Steers) “Are South
Africans hopeful that integration and progress are possible?” (Most of the
“When I was growing up in Ireland, supermarkets were
refusing to sell South African oranges,” he says. “So we were aware of
apartheid to some extent. Then there was the World Cup where we got to
experience a full blast of South African culture. I think people over here are
aware of the country’s incredible expressiveness and joy, but there’s also the
poverty and crime. From my very limited perspective it seems to be a country of
extremes. I’m thrilled that I’ll have the opportunity to come over and meet the
people and form my own opinions.”
Moran was born in London in 1971 and moved to Ireland with
his family when he was two years old. He started flirting with stand-up comedy
when he was in his teens, before truly committing to it in 1992 at the tiny
Dublin Comedy Cellar. Early acclaim saw him performing at international comedy
festivals as well as a string of increasingly well-received one-man shows. He
also got small parts in TV and film (his cameo as Rufus, the thief who sticks
books down his trousers in the 1999 film Notting Hill, stole the scene from
Hugh Grant’s flopsy-haired diffidence). He has since appeared in a number of
films, including Shaun of the Dead, Run Fatboy Run and Calvary.
But it was the sitcom Black Books that really made him
famous. Moran played the acerbic, alcoholic owner of the titular bookstore with
a degree of conviction that smacked of autobiography. Moran contends that
Bernard Black is merely a character, but there are distinct echoes of him in
his stand-up comedy.
Moran’s diatribes on the modern malaise are insouciant,
absurdist and mordant; seemingly improvised and freewheeling but struck through
with poetic flourishes that suggest tight rehearsing. His material takes in
global politics, shifts in language, the accelerating decrepitude of his ageing
body, the futility of sports and the crippling ennui that confronts one when
opening the fridge at 3am on a Tuesday morning. You know: everyday, relatable
His latest show, Off the Hook, deals with modern society’s
addiction to technology and connectivity.
“When I see someone filming the show on a mobile phone, I
gently advise them to put it away,” he says. “It’s for their own sake, so that
they can be in the room and have a better time. I honestly believe that one of
the quickest ways for humanity to become happier would be for everyone to just
put the phone down. It would help to realise that distracting themselves will
not make anything go away.
“If everybody just stopped, closed their eyes and took a
breath for a minute every day, that would do the world a lot of good. People
would be more aware of the consequences of their actions and so on. And
hopefully realise that the essence of life is the same everywhere and that
we’re all going to die quite soon so we should be less shit to each other.”
This borderline optimism seems miles away from the wine-fuelled
nihilism of Bernard Black.
“I’m not Bernard Black,” he says. “I don’t hate people. And
I’m not drunk nearly as much as people think I am. I have learned a few things
over the years. There is no way of writing in a successful manner while drunk.
It does seem like a good idea at the time.”
Dylan Moran’s Off the Hook runs at the National Arts
Festival in Grahamstown from July 3 to 5. The shows are sold out, but extra
tickets are occasionally made available at nationalartsfestival.co.za
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