Expat comedy club: what’s so funny about emigration?
Comedian Jarlath Regan is exploring the Irish experience abroad in a series of podcast ‘talk shows’ – so far Graham Linehan and Ed Byrne have lent their stories
For Irish stand-up comedians, the path to London is well-trodden, but leaving Ireland’s intimate circuit to start as a fresh face at “the centre of the comedy universe” was an inevitability Jarlath Regan has been putting off for quite some time.
Despite several comedy award nominations in the UK over the past decade, and five successful Edinburgh Fringe solo shows, Regan, who has also written two bestselling books and appeared regularly on RTÉ’s The Panel, was relatively unknown in London.
“I remember Dara O Briain saying that when he moved to London, all the comics knew him but nobody else did. I know a lot of comedians working in London from performing at the Edinburgh festival, but I am pretty anonymous otherwise.”
With a wife an 2½-year-old son, Regan was reluctant to relocate to the UK without establishing a name for himself there first, so he spent two years going back and forth from Ireland, sleeping on couches and doing spots in comedy clubs in an effort to build his profile.
On the day he and his family eventually arrived in London, the production team behind Regan’s favourite sports programme, Off the Ball, announced they were leaving Newstalk. He thought their decision to release podcasts (now Second Captains on irish times.com) “would be a step down” from a radio show, but “soon realised the form was actually more powerful”.
Inspired by their success, and the popularity of their “emigrant shout-out” segment, Regan decided to use the podcast format to fulfil his “lifelong dream” of hosting a talk show.
“My idea was to gather a few well-known personalities who have made a go of things abroad, and chat to them about it. The experience of emigrating is the thing that bonds a lot of us, and that is the starting point for the conversation.”
A chance exchange on Twitter with Graham Linehan, whom he has met in person only briefly, prompted Regan to invite the writer behind Father Ted and The IT Crowd to be his first subject. The 52-minute podcast, recorded over Skype, features Linehan speaking about the anonymity of London when he moved there as a young music journalist in the 1980s, his failed attempt to move his family back to Ireland, and how the internet facilitated his relocation to Norwich from London.
The second episode, released last week, features Regan’s fellow comedian Ed Byrne talking Irish accents, student politics, and his advice for young emigrants.
The identities of Regan’s interviewees will remain a mystery until each podcast goes online over the coming weeks and months, but up next is his former UCD classmate and “Hollywood A-lister” Chris O’Dowd, whom he also approached through Twitter.
“Moving abroad is extremely daunting for most people, and everyone who does it has to take the same leaps of faith. My show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe was all about my experience this year of feeling like a fish out of water, an alien in another country,” he says.
“Every chat I have with an Irish person who has emigrated makes me realise that there is no problem that you have faced that they haven’t. The whole concept of being an Irishman abroad is about struggle, and that is something we all face, whether abroad or at home.
“I am hoping the podcasts will speak to people who have made the move by letting them know they are not alone.”
The Irishman Abroad podcasts are available to download free from iTunes. Jarlath Regan performs at Electric Picnic tomorrow