As a weanling housewife many years ago, I was told that I never need worry about entertaining Cork people: they only want to talk about themselves. The truth of this advice must be part of the success – which might be called roaring if it were not delivered sotto voce – of Patrick FitzPatrick’s alias as Reggie, a personality shortly to jump the ravine from camera to stage, sotto voce and all.
It might not be too great a leap: in one form or another, FitzPatrick has been performing for several years by now, merging his enlarged – and socially exaggerated – agony column Ask Audrey to a broadcast series on Red FM in which Reggie was a minor character among others in his scripts.
“I know people like Reggie,” FitzPatrick says now. “And I really know Cork city well and its various languages. I know that there’s a right and a wrong side of the Rochestown Road, but my characters are universal, the pretensions are the same everywhere.” After a slight pause, he adds that “the GAA plays a big part in the scripts, really.”
As we meet in the city’s Metropole Hotel, it seems too ironic to be plausible that this very template of the urban legend of the Cork woman rushing into the street crying that “my son the engineer is drowning!” should be in fact an engineer.
Writing gags for Brendan O'Connor's Saturday night TV show was the hardest, and the best, thing I've ever done. That was how I learned to land a joke
It’s an irony that FitzPatrick enjoys; the mill of his comedy is always ready for grist. It’s no great surprise, then, that when his original radio commentaries in studio sessions were upended by Covid, he took his phone and his research to the South Mall, still Cork’s legal and business epicentre, bristling with brass plates. Where else for a man commenting from his exclusive fastness on the Blackrock Road who has little to say for Limerick, a city that allows plumbers to play rugby? Or who acknowledges that one of the passions of his otherwise apparently orderly life is a campaign to keep “the Norries” who live on the north side of the river (itself sometimes called the moat) from trespassing on the southern Marina? Or who will ponder the influence of Roy Keane on the Cork accent and equally query why the people of Passage West always want to announce where they come from: “Guilt, I suppose.”
It wasn’t always thus. An engineer, after all. So reared in Kinsale, educated first at Presentation Brothers’ College (Pres to the Cork cognoscenti), a graduate of UCC and then spending 14 years in Dublin, where the mantle of the Cork mafia fell on FitzPatrick’s shoulders through the encouragement of journalist and broadcaster Brendan O’Connor, who introduced him to the potential of journalism. And to a career in jokes.
“He got me going, although it was a bit of the Celtic Tiger madness to make that change from IT. But writing gags for O’Connor’s Saturday night TV show was the hardest, and the best, thing I’ve ever done. That was how I learned to land a joke, and that has really paid off in terms of Reggie.”
Ah, Reggie. Reggie of the whispered aspersions from his multi-million-euro mansion in superb surburbia will be alive and well on the Everyman stage for three weeks in April. Everyman’s artistic director, Sophie Motley, agrees that it’s a long stint for a one-man show. And isn’t meeting your heroes always a risk? Could the transition from screen to stage deflate the impact of a character so successful on Twitter that it has, as they say, “gone viral”?
“No, I think through working with Pat Kiernan it has been condensed into something larger than life,” says Motley. “After all, he has been a performer for years. I think that people will want to come and see this person who had helped so many of us get through the past two years. There’s something intriguing and exciting about that. And it also shows how by being utterly local you can be national and even international at the same time. People all over the world tune in to Reggie – and now he’s being taken on to another sphere.”
Motley’s robust confidence is bolstered not only by the fact of very good early ticket sales but by the pairing of FitzPatrick and Corcadorca’s Kiernan, thus, she believes, surrounding Reggie with the experience, tools, techniques and magic of incredibly talented people. People such as Irene O’Mara, lecturer and voice coach at the MTU Cork School of Music, who must meet the challenge of tone and pace presented by an auditorium to a performer whose style is a confidential undertone.
As surnames are too common, Reggie doesn’t admit to one; neither can he find “any crack at all” in religion or politics. He’s too pious to talk about sex (although there was that Maureen in Kerry), but somehow it seems to be here, so allusively that it’s almost gone before you laugh, as with the woman who does “this amazing thing with her tongue – very open-minded”. Or with the reminder that trust is so important when you’re cheating on your wife.
Facebook is a bit Turner’s Cross for him and, to be honest, he’d rather lick the street of Cappoquin than allow a Norrie into the Royal Cork Yacht Club. For more social complexity, the northside includes Montenotte and Sunday’s Well but those old merchant elites cannot alleviate Reggie’s disdain.
The narrative fluency of his obscenities has the casual ease of chat with the lads, although he assures me that he only uses the toned-down versions. “I try to avoid any actual nastiness. Anyway, the Norries always win out. It’s not a derogatory term really and basically they just don’t care what anyone says about them. They get the jobs.”
With friends who share his patois, he is secure in the nicknames and the double or quadruple titles, although Seán Mac Seán Mac O’Shea O’Shea surely arises from his parents’ decision to link him forever to a grandfather’s tradition of Patrick FitzPatrick? No, he says, “It’s a Kerry thing, I just repeated it.”
He is what he hears, but that disguises the more reflective personality who has found a Cork peculiarity to hone a viewpoint echoing in asides. a slanted sentence, a lifted eyebrow, a question. He wonders what the internet offers to posterity, there’s no telling how it will age, and the challenge for him is to make something more substantial.
He’s not straining for anyone’s attention either. The Reggie clips are only two minutes long, there’s no commitment – share it, move on. “And there are no consequences, really. A bit like Boris Johnson, that fake sincerity. The really strange thing is that essentially Reggie is talking to himself.”
'It's a very Cork context,' he admits, 'but then Cork people are everywhere'
The impression is often of some delicious gossip culled from a life lived close to Cork’s own self-satisfaction. “It’s a very Cork context,” he admits, “but then Cork people are everywhere.” And everywhere is flesh for his scalpel; that localities have their own hilarity was brought into blistering focus with the pandemic restrictions forbidding movement outside the county bounds.
“Kilmallock,” he muses. “Mentioning a place has a great resonance, especially for Irish people. And it’s true, in a way, I’m also aiming for the kind of thing that Dame Edna does, finding the right punchline. Some words sound funnier than others. Kanturk lands better, somehow.”
That hinterland of country towns is harvested for Ask Audrey in the Irish Examiner, for which FitzPatrick also writes parenting advice and television reviews. There have also been books but of these several staples of his career so far, Reggie has been the most profitable, “relatively speaking”. That career so far has led to getting on the stage. “I wanted to do it live, and the theatre’s PR Jean Kearney put me in touch with Everyman and Sophie and from there to Pat Kiernan, a director with a great pedigree.”
In rehearsal at Ballymaloe’s Grain Store, the performance is shaped to have purpose. There has been quite a lot of re-writing and sharpening: “It’s not just me coming out with a mike, there’s a flow to it. As for where it will lead, I don’t know, except that working with people who know what they’re doing is the way to go now. Wherever that may be.’ As always, the conversation ends in a question, reminding me of Reggie’s invitation to his friends to select a Kerry town they might like to see moved to Cork: “But you’d be wasting your time now offering Listowel.”
An Evening with Reggie opens at The Everyman Cork on April 2nd