NUI Galway’s ‘Tent Boy’ on making it to Hollywood

From army officer to comedian in LA, Francis Cronin has had a ‘mad life’

‘Entertaining the public captured my attention more than jumping out of helicopters, selling chicken wings in Mexico, or almost escorting war criminals.’

‘Entertaining the public captured my attention more than jumping out of helicopters, selling chicken wings in Mexico, or almost escorting war criminals.’

 

Ex-army officer Francis Cronin first attracted public attention while living in a tent on the NUI Galway campus, studying for his finals in 2013. His YouTube documentary about the experience, and a subsequent one-man show ‘Tent Boy’, helped to build the actor and comedian’s online reputation, which has since taken him all the way to Hollywood. He took time out of a recent road trip from a shoot in Las Vegas back to LA to tell Irish Times Abroad about his journey.

Where did you grow up?

I’ve had a bit of a mad life. In acting and comedy the more varied your life experiences have been, the more you have in your quiver to incorporate into your writing and performances. I grew up in a small, crowded but very loving stable home in Dublin. As a teenager I was a committed cross country runner, a brutally lonely sport that takes a lot of mental and physical endurance. I’ve always been gregarious but the tranquilising effects of running hard laps in my local park was a reprieve for an interminably active adolescent mind. What I didn’t know then was that acting and stand-up comedy require vast amounts of alone time, imagination, work, and endurance to perfect a performance, and that just like long distance running, the stand-up comedy and acting worlds are brutal.

What did you do after you finished school?

Fit as a fiddle from all the running and straight after finishing school I enlisted in the Irish military. I had done some theatre and was always writing but the allure of the military was too much for me to ignore. As well as the Air Corps Crash Rescue Service I had the chance to serve with the UN Quick Reaction Force in Liberia, West Africa. Two highlights stand out: surveying the jungle roads of Liberia for the extraction of dictator Charles Taylor to face trial in the Hague for war crimes, and escorting Irish criminal John Gilligan to a court hearing.

The “scuttlebutt” in the army was that it was virtually impossible for a private soldier to become an officer, but with a lot of hard work and a little luck it became my reality and I retired from the armed forces with the rank of lieutenant in 2007. I left with some great stories and a new sense of what was possible. These experiences have played into all aspects of my life, and I talk about them on stage now in my comedy routine. I’ve since played a soldier in the movie Frenchman’s Flat, which just premiered at the Regal Cinemas at LA Live in downtown LA.

What brought you to Mexico?

While in the military I had also run a rehearsal space for artists, actors and musicians. It had given me some passive income and an insight in to the arts but with the downturn in the Irish economy after I left the military, it became nonviable.

All that sneaking around neck deep in icy rivers in the middle of the night and overcoming obstacles that I once thought insurmountable gave me confidence to believe I could do anything once I put my mind to it. So I took what money I had saved from my UN trip and opened a restaurant with my friend David Walsh in Guadalajara, Mexico. He had married a Mexican girl and wanted a job that didn’t pay a pittance so we sunk our combined savings into a chicken wings franchise. It went well, and we decided to open an Irish pub with a gourmet restaurant in the same city. We called it Temple Bar for fun. By the time we left, between us we had three bars, a hair salon, a youth hostel and a pain in the ass from the creeping corruption.

How did you end up sleeping in a tent in NUI Galway?

Just to get it done and dusted and to keep my mammy happy I returned to NUI Galway to complete the last year of my degree which I had abandoned for Guadalajara. With all my cash tied up in the Mexican ventures I was asset rich but very cash poor. I had cultivated a following online for my Central American adventures, which led to some commercial pieces for brands like RedBull and GoPro in Ireland, and I had just enough money to finish college but not enough money to pay rent in Galway. So I decided to make a mini-documentary on YouTube about living my entire final year of university in a tent. I later made a one-man play about my experience, which was showcased at the Muscailt Arts Festival in Galway.

Francis Cronin spent his final year in NUIG sleeping in a tent in a hidden location on campus.
Francis Cronin spent his final year in NUIG sleeping in a tent in a hidden location on campus.

The novel idea that a student could graduate from university while living under canvas hidden in a remote corner of the NUIG campus for seven and a half months paid off. Des Bishop and Owen Colgan from the Hardy Bucks dropped by my tent, and my exploits were covered by the main evening news on RTÉ. Entertaining the public captured my attention more than jumping out of helicopters, selling chicken wings in Mexico, or almost escorting war criminals.

Comedian Des Bishop (right) was one of his tent guests.
Comedian Des Bishop (right) was one of his tent guests.

So did you decide then to pursue a career in acting/comedy full time?

Yes, but I had always had it in the back of my mind that it was what I wanted to do. I think my interactions with the media and press made it finally seem possible, and I was making money from working with leading brands. Once I knew I could make a living from the arts I never looked back.

When did you move to the US?

As soon as I finished university we sold our business interests in Mexico and I was finally financially fluid. I enrolled in the Stella Adler academy of acting on Hollywood Boulevard and my efforts there led to a full scholarship at the school. During the day I refined my acting skills and at night I worked on honing my stand-up comedy routine.

How has your career progressed since?

I was adopted in to a sketch group led by American comedian and producer Ray William Johnson, which gave me an outlet to showcase my acting and comedy chops. I must have caught the attentions of somebody at the Hollywood Reporter, because before I knew it, I was interviewing celebrities for their online platform. The global reach of both of these entities helped to increase my value in the industry here in Hollywood.

What was your big break?

After I performed on a stand-up comedy show where I met French superstar Kev Adams, Kev took me outside introduced me to his people and said “This is the guy”. I didn’t know who Kev was at the time, but I received a call from a casting director soon afterwards offering me a part in Kev’s American breakthrough TV series Superhigh.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m driving from Las Vegas with my friend John where I was shooting the feature length movie Trick, written by the producer Del Weston. It’s directed by Australian film maker Stan Harrington and shot by American actor and creative Bryan Wriggle. It focuses on the dark underbelly of Las Vegas. When I get back to LA I will be putting the final touches on a pilot script that we are hoping to shoot in Belgium later this year. In the meantime I will continue to make comedy sketches with Equals Three Studios.

What advice would you give others trying to break Hollywood?

Work hard, be reliable, never give up, be present, enjoy the process and most importantly, begin.

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