‘The worst advice I’ve ever received? Do technical drawing’
In Conversation: Rory O’Neill, best-known by his stage name Panti Bliss, and long-time collaborator, theatre producer Phillip McMahon
Phillip McMahon and Rory O’Neill “We’re away somewhere, it’s in the middle of a tour, or at the end of one, so there’s not a huge amount of pressure at that moment, and we’re somewhere nice, food, a beach, all that. And we’re lucky to get to do that a lot”
Phillip McMahon: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
Rory: Do technical drawing.
Phillip: The worst advice I ever received was from an accountant friend who gave me and my dad a tip to buy an apartment in a new swanky apartment block in the corner of Ballymun and Finglas…We didn’t get it.
Rory: If I have been given bad advice I don’t remember it. You know me, I don’t remember anything anyway.
Phillip: You don’t listen to people.
Rory: It’s true that I don’t remember things. I have a terrible memory; faces, names.
Phillip: The only reason you keep me on board is because I remember everything. You need someone who knows what you’ve done.
Rory: I’m bad at day-to-day memories. I have some form of Alzheimer’s. Who are you again?
Rory: Can you remember the first time we got drunk together?
Phillip : Here’s the thing, you rarely get drunk, you’re not a big drinker. I’m Fun Bobby all the time. The drunk sister. I remember the last time you were drunk, which was Kilkenny Cat Laughs, sitting on Deirdre O’Kane’s knee holding court at 5am in Langtons.
Rory: That’s true. I’m not a big drinker, which people are often surprised about. It’s only because I get tired and bored. I don’t get drunk very often, but when I decide to do it I do it well.
Phillip: You do. I decide to get drunk often and I don’t do it well.
Phillip: What’s your idea of a perfect moment on stage?
Rory: You like it when I do everything exactly the way we discussed it. Whereas I like the moments where it doesn’t go exactly like that, where somehow in the riffing or the going off bit I find something that I think really works. That’s where I get excited about it.
Phillip: I feel the same. I love the improvised moments with the audience. That moment where anything can happen. I like when the show is performed as we’ve rehearsed it, but in the show there are breakout bits, and the amazing part is something you didn’t expect to happen with an audience member.
Rory: I do like the surreal nuttery, going off on a stupid thing where nobody knows where it’s going but it somehow comes back.
Phillip: I’m just too real.
Phillip: What’s your idea of the perfect day together?
Rory: We’re away somewhere, it’s in the middle of a tour, or at the end of one, so there’s not a huge amount of pressure at that moment, and we’re somewhere nice, food, a beach, all that. And we’re lucky to get to do that a lot.
Phillip: One that springs to mind recently was in Perth. We popped down to the local nudie beach, had a sunbathe, got kicked around in the surf, had an amazing lunch, booze. You paid. One thing we do love doing though, no matter how good or bad it is, is seeing local drag. We will follow that blue dot on Google Maps to go anywhere to see a bit of local drag.
Rory: What is the stupidest thing either of us has ever done?
Phillip: Oh god. Well, yours is not fit for print.
Rory: Oh yeah. I mean, take your pick!
Rory: When did you last cry?
Phillip: I had a little tear this morning. I think it was my hangover. There was a group of Irish fans doing a cover of the Conor McGregor song. Someone posted a video on Facebook, the fans are singing it and they all know the words, and I had a little moment. I cry quite often.
Rory: I don’t. But when I do it’s over something stupid like that as well. Not necessarily because I’m hung over.
Phillip: At the very last show of High Heels And Low Places at the Abbey you told a new bit about a friend of yours who gave her baby up to a mother and baby home.
Rory: That’s right. Yeah.
Phillip: I cry at shows. I saw an amazing show about two refugees in Edinburgh. I cried at that.
Phillip: What do you think is our greatest achievement?
Rory: This is going to sound really patronising. I think your greatest accomplishment is coming from a really traditional, dyed-in-the-wool Finglas working class background, where none of this stuff is expected. At whatever age you were you went to Dublin Youth Theatre and thought ‘f*** it’ and made a space for yourself in a world that isn’t easily accessible for somebody from your background.
Phillip: That’s well put! I think Panti is your greatest achievement – doing that in the first place. What it takes to be a drag queen is incredible, and then keeping that going for how many years?
Phillip: 28 years, that’s incredible. Everything – all of the tangents that have happened – come from putting that dress and makeup on and creating Panti every night, which is incredible to me.
- Rory O’Neill is an artist and activist, best-known by his stage name Panti Bliss. Phillip McMahon is a theatre producer and one half of THISISPOPBABY