Ardal O’Hanlon: comedy was a reaction to my father’s political career

There are two distinct periods to O’Hanlon’s childhood – before and after his father’s career as a TD

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 01:00

My dad was all about work, public service and helping people. I reacted against the serious side of life. I had a pretty chaotic childhood. I grew up in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, just on the Border, where my dad was a GP.

Mum was a teacher before I was born, but never worked after she had kids. She was too busy looking after us and making kedgeree.

We didn’t have an awful lot of space. There were six of us born within the space of seven or eight years – I was third. I remember sharing a room with one or other of my brothers – at one point we had three single beds in one room.

There are two distinct periods in my childhood – before and after politics. Dad became a TD when I was a teenager and, suddenly, life was transformed.

Home through a window
Saturday mornings were crazy. In the hall there would be queues of constituents waiting to see him with various petitions, and at the back of the house there would be scores of patients waiting to see him in his surgery. This went on all day, and Dad would be running from the back to the front. It was farcical – we children couldn’t get in the front door of our own house because there were queues out of the hall and down the street. The only way we could get in was through the window.

My father was driven, active and always busy. We didn’t see that much of him, although he never went far away or stayed overnight anywhere. A teetotaller, he never went to the pub either. It was all about work, public service and helping people. He was a conscientious, nice man, and he wanted to please everyone.

Looking back, it was a huge burden for a child to take on. And intimidating as an example. I reacted against the serious side of life – I didn’t have the discipline, the philosophy or the rigour required for a life in politics, but I share his interest in issues.

Finding out I could make people laugh was probably an antidote to some of that seriousness.

Aunt Maura was my first victim. I remember her laughing heartily at my stories when I was quite small. She was really the first person to encourage me. It was thrilling to be rewarded for having an imagination and sharing it.

Mum was an amazing, extraordinarily calm woman, and very different from Dad – much more arty.

She loved books and reading, and I’ve inherited that. I remember her being very modest, and I think she probably had dreams, in terms of writing and acting, which she sacrificed for her family, like so many women of her generation.

Echoes of my dad
I was always a watcher. So growing up with my brothers and sister I was just looking on, observing life – that’s true now, and I think there are echoes of my father in what I do.

As a comic, you are trying to please people in some way – to make them laugh. I love the bit in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories when he asks aliens how to make the world a better place. Their answer? “Tell funnier jokes.”

My wife and I are family-oriented [their children are 16, 14 and 12]. She chose to be a dedicated mother and looks after us all – it’s amazing to come home to. I’m a worrier by nature, and constantly trying to work out how to make life better for them. For everyone. My father would always be asking himself if he was doing the right thing in life. I guess I am too.
Guardian service

Ardal O’Hanlon appears in The Weir, Wyndham’s Theatre, London, from January 16th

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