First encounters


Arthur Mathews & Paul Woodfull

ARTHUR MATHEWS writes for television, radio and theatre, and Hachette has just published his second book, Angry Baby! He co-created the sitcom Father Ted with Graham Linehan in 1994, and the musical I, Keano with Paul Woodfull in 2005. He lives in Dublin with his partner and young daughter

‘PAUL AND I met at Hot Press. We were the graphics people, in charge of production: we used to sing U2 songs on long nights of laying out the magazine. I’m originally from outside Navan. I went to the College of Marketing and Design in Dublin, did some illustrations for the Sunday Tribune and was in bands, was a drummer. It was during the grim recession of the 1980s.

“I’m a strange mixture of influences from rural Ireland and British television. I never felt I fitted in . . . when I met Paul, I thought, here’s somebody who thinks the same as me. We started [U2 parody band] The Joshua Trio, that was Paul, his brother Kieran and me on drums.

The Trio started out doing a few gigs, jazzy versions of U2 songs. Then Paul dressed up as Jesus. We had a little pendant with Bono’s picture on it. On one occasion, Paul arrived into the Baggot Inn on a donkey.

“We were both still working in Hot Press and I was heading for 30; Paul’s a few years older. Then Graham Linehan came on the scene. He was 18 or 19, very energetic and obviously quite brilliant. I followed Graham to London in the early 1990s. He’d gone to work on a music magazine there. We started writing comedy sketches. And then came Father Ted. Did that overshadow everything else? Yes, personally, professionally. I did make a few quid out of it.

“It’s not difficult to write together. When I was living with Graham, he’d write a bit, I’d write a bit. Graham and I find the same things funny and it’s the same with Paul and me. We’ve a very similar outlook on things. We both find a lot of things Enda Kenny says very funny. Paul sent me a cutting of Enda saying he cried at Riverdance. Most people read that and think ah, he’s very sensitive; we both found it hilarious.

“Now Paul and I are trying to do The Joshua Trio story as a stage show because the 25th anniversary is coming up next year. It’s like The Rutles, [a Beatles parody band] or The Life of Brian. This is the life of The Joshua Trio, paralleling the life of U2. We’ve got stuff recorded, it’s very complete. It’s a lighthearted inoffensive piece but it’s hard to get it put on. I get the impression that people don’t want to offend them. I understand that, I’m scared of them myself.

“I’ve also just done a sitcom pilot, Toast, with The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry and I don’t know what will happen with that.

“Angry Baby started when I got my daughter a T-shirt that said “Bertie Ahern ruined my country”. The book is a baby’s look at the financial crisis.

“Paul and I never discuss our friendship – we’re old school that way, we’re real men. I dunno, we just see things the same way. I’ve never met someone who’s really like me; Paul’s probably closest.”

PAUL WOODFULL is a writer, actor, comedian and musician who co-wrote I, Keano with Arthur Mathews and Michael Nugent. His work for TV includes Stew (RTÉ), with Paul Tylak. A founder of U2 parody band The Joshua Trio, he has a number of performance alter egos, including Republican balladeer Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly. He lives in Dublin with his partner, Laura Quilty and three children

‘I’D GONE TO NCAD and went for a job as a design assistant in Hot Press magazine. Arthur interviewed me – he was the newly-promoted art director. He asked me to go through the magazine and say what I didn’t like about it. And I did. I remember there was a picture of this band and one of the guys had a badly broken nose. Arthur said you know what we should do for a laugh . . . we got a piece of Letraset [artwork] and he straightened his nose. Then I kind of knew, we’re going to have some fun here.

“We’d sing swing versions of U2 songs on those nights of laying out Hot Press. A lot of messing went on really. Hot Press was a bit like being in playschool, it wasn’t quite grown-up. Niall Stokes [its editor] was very laidback, from the hippy era, he tolerated really unruly children.

“Then we formed The Joshua Trio. They were like a religious cult. I claimed that Bono had appeared to me in a dream. U2 did say we were their favourite band in Rolling Stone and there was a feature about us in the magazine. After Arthur left, we toured England and put out a single.

“Later, Arthur invited me to write for the second series of BBC’s Big Train and we worked together on an RTÉ radio show, Luneen Live.

“I was getting into writing and when Arthur came home we decided we’d do some stuff together. I can fairly quickly write for a character Arthur’s created.

“I’m from Dundrum in Dublin: although Arthur’s from the country, our upbringing was probably quite the same, we spent so much time watching television. He’s got a slightly more creddy taste in music, I’m a few years older than him, was into prog-rock; Arthur was bang on the button for punk.

“I find so much in Ireland that’s funny. We were trying to explain it to people in England who think of rural Ireland as this nice, happy go lucky place . I remember doing a gig one time in Ireland, we were trying to get out of the van; the venue had peacocks that tried to attack us, they were using them as watchdogs.

“Arthur and I wrote I, Keano with Mick Nugent, Ireland’s leading atheist. [He’s chair of Atheist Ireland]. Roy Keane went to see it and was photographed with the cast. He was immensely charming and good humoured about it.

“At the moment we’re hoping to do a really low-budget film that we’d write and direct . It would be very simple, naturalistic, improvised . . . and comic, yes. It comes from watching indie American films.

“I showed Arthur a film called Tiny Furniture by Lena Dunham, the woman who made HBO’s Girls. That’s quite comedy-ish. So we’re both thinking, why couldn’t we make a comedy film?

“Like Arthur, I wouldn’t discuss our friendship: like Jerry Seinfeld’s motto, ‘there’ll be no hugging, no learning’.

In conversation with Frances O’Rourke