Paddy Raff: Comedy star of the coronavirus lockdown
A young Belfast comedian is taking social media by storm with his lockdown-life skits
A still from Paddy Raff’s skit on the frustrations of hosting a family Zoom quiz.
There is nothing funny about a deadly virus, but, human nature being what it is, a lot of comedy gold is to be mined from our responses to it, from Zoom quizzes to home workouts and competitive clapping for health-service workers.
Paddy Raff, a 36-year-old comedian from west Belfast, has consistently come up with some of the best nuggets around, including a recent video satirising Dominic Cummings’s Barnard Castle escapade, which begins with the comic accidentally blinding himself with a garden spray, then telling his wife: “I can’t see properly, my vision’s blurry. Get the kids, pack the car, we’re going to Belfast Castle... Of course I’m driving, how else am I going to test my vision?” And then, later: “I totally understand your position, officer, but I’m not here sightseeing. I’m seeing if I have sight.”
The lockdown has been double-edged for Raff, for while his videos have gone viral, many of his gigs have been postponed, just as his career has begun to take off.
I assumed people’s sense of humour would have been knocked during the pandemic, but if anything there’s been more of an appetite than usual for comic relief
“As I’ve always posted online content fairly regulary whilst doing stand-up, I was able to continue that and ramp it up, given the fact I’d more time to devote to it, what with shows being postponed,” he says. “I assumed people’s sense of humour would have been knocked during the pandemic, but if anything there’s been more of an appetite than usual for comic relief on people’s timelines and group chats.
“My following has grown a lot quicker during lockdown, and I’ve been getting messages from people all over the world who are enjoying my content, so it’s been a bitter-sweet time to have success, when things are so awful for so many.”
He has a lot of lockdown hits. One of the funniest features him sunning himself in the back garden while being pestered by his kids for money for the ice-cream van. They get no change out of him until they relay the ice-cream man’s message: “Tell your ma and da I sell cold beer and Buckfast slushies.” Suddenly, it’s action stations: “Go and get your ma’s purse!”
His own favourite is the one about the frustrations of hosting the family Zoom quiz. “So many people now can relate to it and the madness that ensues when you try to bring together about 15 groups of people online with varying degrees of technical proficiency, different devices, wifi connections and levels of intoxication, to answer general-knowledge questions on a Saturday night.”
Raff played a sold-out gig at Belfast’s biggest venue, the SSE Arena, in March, just before lockdown, only two years into his comedy career.
“I decided to give comedy a go in March 2018, after a few videos I’d done using Snapchat filters through 2017 had gone WhatsApp viral, and some found their way on to social media, where they got a great reception. They’d only been circulated amongst family and friends initially, but after they’d passed them on I found the clips popping up online and even having them sent to me by friends who didn’t know it was me in the video.
“My family eventually convinced me to try stand-up and launch my own Facebook page. I was a musician in a wedding band and a trainer in a call centre before that, and those experiences meant I hit the ground running. My first TV pilot will be on air this summer, featuring sketches from myself and some of my characters.”
His most popular character is Nigel, an affectionate caricature of a posh Belfast snob, whose lockdown advice is. “Stay at home - or, if you’re from BT9, stay at one of your homes.”
“He’s an egotistical snob from one of the most affluent areas of Belfast. He’s got a warmth to him where he tries to appeal to working-class people, but the classism he grew up in sometimes can’t be suppressed.”
He is hopeful the material will travel.
“As far as Nigel goes, I did make lots of very niche references in the early days, not really aiming for broad appeal, but as my audience built I’ve tried to accommodate other perspectives, so that even if there’s a niche reference there’s a bit of exposition, which is another opportunity for gags, to bring everyone along.
“It must be working, because we were in talks with BBC Comedy in London regarding a sitcom centred around Nigel, but lockdown has slowed down progress on that front. I was due to do a small tour over the water and had two sold-out shows in London, but, again, they were corona’d.”
Billy Connolly is a major influence. Like the Scotish star, Raff started off playing music, then segued into comedy. “I didn’t realise how much of an influence he was on me until people started comparing me to him after live gigs. I take it as a huge compliment. He’s one of, if not the greatest stand-up comedians ever. I used the guitar a lot more in my earlier shows, and the incorporation of music certainly adds another layer, but I’m finding the confidence to put the guitar down and do regular stand-up, and those segments are now the strongest parts of my show. Just don’t tell Nigel I said that.”
One of his first big breakthrough hits online was Stacy’s Ma is in the Ra, a tongue-in-cheek cover of the Fountains of Wayne song Stacy’s Mom. Is comedy post-Troubles easier or less edgy in Belfast? Can you get away with more?
“The references to the Troubles are something you can’t get away from up here, but I try not to dwell on it too much,” he says. “I think it’s given us a thicker skin and a darker sense of humour, which is great for a comedian.”
Raff is not the only social-media star in his household. A video of his daughter watching The Incredible Hulk on TV and telling him off for wrecking the place went viral, even getting a message from the actor Mark Ruffalo.
“I toyed with whether or not to post that clip, as I don’t post much of my kids, but I thought it was too funny not to be shared. It’s the biggest clip I’ve ever put up. It’s been viewed literally hundreds of millions of times and featured in Google’s 2019 ‘year in search’ video. It was surreal to see Mark Ruffalo retweet and comment on it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that she was actually shouting at Ed Norton as the Hulk.”