Black looks: Dylan Moran ’s bleakly comic worldview
For his role in ‘Calvary’, Dylan Moran, best known as a brilliantly grumpy stand-up, gets into the mind – and suit – of a dodgy property developer
Dylan Moran: ‘Comedy is born a lot of the time from boredom and frustration. What are we supposed to do? Milk cows?’ Photograph: Andy Hollingworth
Slick customer: Moran as property developer Michael Fitzgerald in ‘Calvary’
Unholy alliance: Moran, with Brendan Gleeson, in ‘Calvary’
‘I don’t care to speculate about myself,” says Dylan Moran, as he reaches for a biscuit. “It doesn’t help you produce anything.”
Hmm. He may be holding all the biscuits but I’m not so sure. Isn’t rumination part and parcel of observational comedy? Doesn’t the man Le Monde calls “the greatest comedian, living or dead” perform his endearingly ramshackle sets before a slideshow of his own rough-hewn doodles? That’s what we hear.
“Well. Yes. The drawing does help me figure out what I’m thinking. I’ll draw something and think: ‘What is this?’ It’s like getting a note under the door, from your sub-conscious. Addressed to you.”
Relatively smartly dressed, happily ensconced in the cellar bar of Dublin’s Merrion Hotel to discuss his role in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary , Moran rarely replies to a question with anything like a standardised answer. Instead he ponders. He rambles. He resists both sound bites and analysis.
Growing up in Meath, during the pre-Tiger era, he and his family were part of that small Irish minority who didn’t attend church. Did that help turn him into an outsider or hone his observational skills?
Oops. That question invites, it seems, far too much self-reflection.
“We were part of maybe four or five percent, I think, according to Roy Foster’s book,” he says. “The church had an extraordinary reach. All the hubris. The grandeur. The self-love. The revelling. Other religions are about states and zones. They’re abstractions. Catholicism is about disappearances and reappearances. It’s a very camp religion. I’m sure that’s all true. But these are questions from outside and above. I’m used to thinking from the inside and below. I don’t walk around with an area map of myself. And who cares anyway? I had no qualifications and I needed to make a living. I couldn’t play guitar. But in comedy you don’t need a guitar.”
A literary-minded chap who cites Don DeLillo, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and SJ Perelman among his influences, Moran was educated at St Patrick’s Classical School, alongside fellow comics Tommy Tiernan and Hector Ó hEochagáin. He left aged 16 and embarked on four years of drinking, writing bad poetry and cartooning. “I was hoping to make a living from cartooning,” he recalls. “But it turned out I was not as good as I first thought.”
Inspired by an Ardal O’Hanlon appearance at Dublin’s Comedy Cellar, Moran instead found his niche: words, words, words.
“Comedy is born a lot of the time from boredom and frustration,” says Moran. “And living in Ireland in the middle of a recession helps. What are you going to do? You don’t need to think about it for that long. We were desperate. We weren’t just asking the question: ‘Is this it?’ We were also following it up with: ‘You’ve got to be fucking joking.’ We were young and questioning and energetic and looking around in the rain. What are we supposed to do? Milk cows? But I do wonder if things could happen again in that way. I don’t think so.”