Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Monthly General Meeting

Wrote this piece on the MGM in the paper today. With their monthly night out, Níal Conlan and Shane Langan are out to prove there are some smart, talented people left in Ireland. Fed up at being told that the …

Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 13:57


Wrote this piece on the MGM in the paper today.

With their monthly night out, Níal Conlan and Shane Langan are out to prove there are some smart, talented people left in Ireland.

Fed up at being told that the best and the brightest are leaving the country, two young men are on a mission to prove that the opposite is the case. Welcome to the Monthly General Meeting, a free night out in Dublin that combines storytelling, film, music, poetry, comedy and debate.

“You know that Stewart Lee thing? That he feels sorry for people who come see him when he’s not the kind of comedian they expect? You don’t want to shove it down people’s throats.” Níal Conlan and Shane Langan won’t win any awards for over-selling their latest collaboration, but their modesty hasn’t stopped the Monthly General Meeting (MGM) from becoming one of the most intriguing and interesting nights out in the capital.

Conlan plays bass in Dublin band Delorentos, whose critically acclaimed third album, Little Sparks, was released this year. Langan is a member of the five-piece comedy group Diet Of Worms. Having performed sketches together since they were cub scouts, they now write together, pitching TV pilots amongst other projects.

Every month, their salon-type set-up is based around a theme, with a variety of guests of different ages, backgrounds and areas of expertise contributing to the evening. Expect the eclectic. It could be a band such as Ham Sandwich performing, or a short film having its premiere. The venue changes monthly, so the physical space reflects the theme. An MGM that tackled politics was held in the Dublin Conservative Club. The inaugural MGM, themed around secrets, was hosted in the Hacienda pub – you had to buzz to enter. Another MGM entitled “A Brush With The Law” happened in the Legal Eagle on Chancery Place.

The range of guests is as broad as it is interesting. In the Legal Eagle, Senior Counsel Maurice Gaffney spoke alongside Stuart Carolan and Steve Matthews, the producer and writer of Love/Hate. Violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire of The Frames played at an MGM themed around fame in Odessa in Dame Court, peppering a musical performance with tour anecdotes. The MGM idea germinated when Conlan and Langan were batting around the idea of doing a podcast in order to meet “interesting and creative people”. The concept took shape thanks to the discourse around 2011’s general election. “I got sick and tired of hearing a lot of the election coverage and the canvassing TDs saying ‘the best and the brightest are leaving the country’,” says Conlan. “I was thinking, God, it’s not like we’re all shitkicking idiots who are left behind. There’s a really strong creative community in Ireland.”

He cites friends in their 20s who set up their own film company, others who have started independent record labels, and young Dublin authors who are getting international recognition. “We were thinking, why isn’t there a showcase for this? We wanted it to be a free night, not a profit-making thing. A lot of people tend to run nights that they view in the short-term, thinking ‘great, I’ll be a promoter as well and I’ll make money’. But what do you actually want to achieve? Do you want to make money? Or do you want to put something on that’s special?”

One particularly affecting guest performer was the poet Sarah Griffin. “She was electrifying,” Conlan says, “a really cool young poet. She was leaving for San Francisco the week after to emigrate. I didn’t actually realise that until she said it on stage, and afterwards I said to the audience that this was exactly the reason that we set up the MGM – to showcase people like that before they go or while they’re here.”

Talk as a social activity has been fashionable over the past few years: Jim Carroll’s Banter events; the Trailblazery, which was born out of Dublin Contemporary’s Office Of Non-Compliance project; the Science Gallery’s Ignite series; the upcoming TEDxDublin at the Grand Canal Theatre; and Maeve Higgins’ Enlightenment Night. All are adding a cerebral tinge to going out.

Yet despite the quality of guests the MGM attracts, Langan attributes much of the project’s success to those attending it. “The only reason it works is because of the audience and how they get what we’re trying to do. There’s no pressure, they’re open to anything, they’re willing to listen to everyone.” Both Conlan and Langan are refreshingly loose about the future direction of MGM, and admit it’s as much a project for their own pleasure as for others to enjoy. “The more we plough some sort of creative furrow for ourselves in our lives, the more we see that collaboration is hugely important,” Langan says. “We’re trying to write and we want to have as many different perspectives and viewpoints coming into our heads as possible. We wanted everyone to experience that as well. We want it to be a forum where you can meet people. On the last Monday of every month you know there are going to be a lot of interesting and creative people in one place.”

Conlan believes such creativity is bubbling up more than ever. “There’s never been more interesting stuff happening here, and that’s because people have had to become innovators.”

The next MGM, titled ‘The Fourth Estate’, is on Monday, August 27th and will focus on the press and the media. You can find out about the as-yet undisclosed venue and other details by following @MonthlyGM on Twitter.