Emma Doran was funny in school. But not so funny that she could be a stand-up comic, she says. And she never once ate Tippex for a laugh, so she was only a little bit bold.
As a teenager, she wanted to be an actor. She joined a Saturday drama school in Ranelagh in fifth year of secondary school, having found it in the Yellow Pages. Her father dropped her off and waited for her to finish each week, supportive of his daughter’s dream.
But that summer she found out she was pregnant with her daughter, Ella, now 20, and “that was the end of that”.
“I wasn’t really going to say, you know, I’m pregnant, but don’t worry I’m going to go to Gaiety School of Acting,” says Doran, laughing. “But to be honest, whether I’d gotten pregnant or not, I don’t think I would have had the courage to say ‘I’m going to be an actor’.”
She gave birth to Ella just 13 days before her Leaving Certificate began, and still sat the exams and went to college that September to study business and arts management.
“[Comedy was] never really something that I thought I could do,” she says. “I would have been a bit scarlet because I kind of knew I was funny, but to go on stage is a bit over the top – like ‘No, I really think I’m funny’.”
She has since taken to the Vicar Street stage as a headliner three times, with two more shows planned for May. The main fear she has about it now is getting kicked out of the residents’ WhatsApp group, which she slagged off in a sketch in her last show.
“I have this bit [in the show] about a residents’ WhatsApp group. The minute it happened I was like, ‘That’s going on stage’, but I know at some point there is going to be a clip of it from me or somebody else, because it is a really good bit, and I’ll be removed from that WhatsApp group then because I am not active in it at all,” she says.
While working in community radio, she got funding to do a television course. She sent a comedic show reel to someone she “found on LinkedIn”, who told her she should do stand-up. The spark was lit.
She applied for her first open-mic night while on maternity leave with her second child aged 29, 10 years ago.
“My daughter was 10 and I was like, Right, this last 10 years has gone pretty fast, and I haven’t really done much in terms of pursuing something that I’m really interested in. There comes a point when you cop, ‘Oh, I’m going to put myself out there, I’m going to have to actually tell people this is what I want to do’, rather than hoping someone is going to discover you in the corner. I was probably embarrassed by that.”
She went to the open-mic night and won a prize for best act. From then on she did them every week, “like non-stop, addicted”, she says.
She gradually built up her sets and started gigging at other clubs, until she started getting paid “20 quid or 30 quid” for longer sets.
It would not have been possible for her when was younger, financially or logistically. “I couldn’t have gotten a babysitter to go do a job that I wasn’t getting paid for,” she says.
The second I have a microphone in my face, you get comments from young men giving out
Social media was always useful to Doran. Around the same time, she started recording mock make-up tutorials on her phone in her kitchen, with “one take, no edits”, before posting them on Facebook. They did well, especially considering she had “no understanding of good times to post or anything like that”.
Then the pandemic hit, and everybody went on their phones, and more and more people started to watch Doran’s videos filmed on her Samsung.
“I do really enjoy making the videos. I still haven’t developed my editing skills at all, but at least I have an editing app on my phone. I’m still Samsung, I’ve never gotten an iPhone but I am teaching myself as much as ... ” Doran trails off, trying to convince herself as much as me.
“You know what? That’s a lie, but I do genuinely enjoy it.”
Doran left her copywriting job in 2021 and went into comedy full time, after she got booked on to Deirdre O’Kane’s Sky stand-up show and came into some “English telly money”.
She and her partner had just received the keys to their house, having saved for 10 years to buy, so the timing was right. “I was definitely scared to leave but I was like, I have to give it a go.”
Posting videos on social media is a scarier feat than stand-up for some comics, says Doran, as a bad gig is “easier to bin” than a video. But they can also complement each other sometimes.
“I’ve had videos that I’ve ended up working into stage bits and vice versa. They don’t always cross over, but they can,” says Doran.
Because of her large platform and relatable content, she believes her predominately female audience feel they know her personally.
“It’s nice when people feel comfortable just start chatting to you,” she says, adding that she was stopped by a woman for a chat on her way to this interview.
But her profile on social media means she occasionally receives abusive comments online. The majority of the abuse she has received recently has been on TikTok, but even then, it is minimal, “mostly trolls, it’s faceless people with no followers” who seem to comment more on clips of her on stage or on a podcast, rather than the sketches she does direct to camera.
“The second I have a microphone in my face, you get comments from young men giving out,” she says. “I find it fascinating. I’m just like, I have a 20-year-old, I have a child older than you, you’re not my demographic. What’s the problem?”
Coming up to the Late Late Toy Show last week, Doran reshared one of her more divisive sketches on social media – the video giving out about people taking photographs in matching pyjamas at Christmas.
In the video, wearing pyjamas herself, Doran says, “I do judge the people that put up the pictures with the whole family in matching pyjamas at Christmas ... You’re thinking, what is your fella after doing?”
I’m going to say I don’t think my children are embarrassed about me, but you could ask me tomorrow and I’d be like, ‘No, they are’
“I went off, but at the time I thought people would know that it’s just comedy, but some of the comments I got from people, they were very upset. It was a bit like ‘You don’t know my story’,” she says.
She thinks women get more abuse than men, “just in general, don’t they? And it’s probably one of those awful things that you just kind of accept.”
Although Doran and her daughter Ella have a podcast together, You’re Grounded, she says her daughter is not into social media “at all”, and is slightly indifferent to her mother’s success.
“I know it probably sounds cheesy, but we grew up together in a way.”
Her two younger sons, aged eight and 10, know no different to Doran’s comedic success, but that may change “when they’re in their teens, and they might cringe.
“I’m going to say I don’t think they’re embarrassed about me, but you could ask me tomorrow and I’d be like, ‘No, they are’,” she adds.
As a comedian, she struggles to switch off sometimes. Even on nights out she makes mental notes of things that happen or are said with friends that would make a good line in a video or on stage.
“Sometimes I do feel, am I ever fully present? But then I’m like, is anyone? Who cares?”
The comedian is also starring in Prime Video’s first original in Ireland, which will launch on its platform in 2024.
The stars will be overseen by Norton as they are brought together in a room to make each other laugh without cracking a smile themselves. The series, which will also include cameos from Irish celebrities, sees the comedian who outlasts their competitors and avoids laughing winning €50,000 for a charity of their choice.
Other comedians taking part in the series, produced for Prime Video by Irish company Kite Entertainement, include Deirdre O’Kane, Catherine Bohart, Martin Angolo, Paul Tylak and Tony Cantwell.
Doran’s new tour, Dilemma, is about her moving into a “different zone”, she says, turning 40 while her daughter turns 21, and feeling like she’s at “a bit of a crossroads, where she has to decide what way the next 10 years will go for her.
“What way am I planning to age? Am I going to just throw money at my face trying to save it before it falls into a river, or am I just going to embrace it?”
But “it’s mostly just jokes about getting stopped by the guards, and WhatsApp groups, so we’ll see.”
Emma Doran’s Dilemma is live at Vicar Street on May 24th and 31st, 2024