TO MANY, Michael Redmond is known for his excellent comic turn as the frustratingly deadpan Fr Paul Stone in the Father Ted episode Entertaining Fr Stone, but I’d wager few people are aware that he knew the late, great Dermot Morgan, who played the title character in that much-loved comedy, long before it arrived on our screens, or that he is a contemporary of the likes of Jack Dee, Eddie Izzard and Jo Brand. Fortunately, Michael (above) is far removed from the character of Fr Stone, which is a relief as our conversation would have been far shorter and far less enlightening than it was as he spoke of growing up in the south side of Dublin, his beginnings in comedy, his decision to cross the Irish Sea and his life now, here in Glasgow.
“There were four of us, myself, my brothers Liam and Peter and my sister Sheila,” Michael explained. “I had a very settled family life. We lived in a middle class, residential area. We were just an average middle class family. My father, Michael —also known as Brue—was a tobacconist. He had a shop in O’Connell St in a really perfect location right next to the GPO, which was a bit of a goldmine! His mother had set it up originally and I don’t really think he wanted to take over the running of it, but he did just that after she died. My mother, Helen, was a full-time mother and housewife, as a lot of women were in those days.”
However, despite describing his younger brother Liam as ‘a bit mad’ and someone who would ‘play strange pranks on people,’ Michael hadn’t thought of comedy as a career path after he had left school, and—as hard as it is to believe now given the fecund comic talent that Ireland has been known for over the past couple of decades—Ireland in Michael’s formative years didn’t have a thriving comedy scene to speak of.
“When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Michael said. “ A lot of my friends were going to university to study business, commerce and the like, but I had no interest in it at all. I did get a job in an insurance office, but after a couple of years doing that I realised it wasn’t for me.”
Although Michael admits his mother would have preferred if he had stayed in the insurance business—albeit it she didn’t have any major issue with his decision—he eventually made the move into the world of comedy and it was the familiar face of Dermot Morgan who helped usher that career path along.
“I was about 30 when I began writing for the Mike Murphy show on RTÉ,” Michael said. “It was kind of the Irish equivalent of the Terry Wogan show. I was good mates with Dermot Morgan at the time and this was long before Father Ted as we lived just a couple of miles from each other. I met him through my brother who went to university with him. He was writing bits and pieces for Mike Murphy and he encouraged me to send some stuff in, which I did, kind of topical gags. At the time I had no thought of becoming a full-time comedian, I just knew I could write some funny stuff.
“About two years after I started writing for the radio, there was a guy called Billy McGrath—who later became head of comedy at RTÉ—he set up a gig at a place called The Sportsman Inn. I’d heard about that so I just went along and did some stuff. I was clueless. I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was only really myself and a guy called Kevin McAleer. It only lasted about five or six weeks as there weren’t enough comedians to keep it going longer.”
While the admission that he wasn’t the type of person who could ‘walk into a room an instantly make people laugh,’ does seem like a red flag for someone who was about to perform stand-up comedy for the first time in front of an Irish audience, he did so nonetheless, fuelled by a strange mixture of ‘terror and over confidence!’
“You don’t realise how shit you are, otherwise you wouldn’t do it,” Michael said. “I didn’t think too much about the audience, but it’s a strange thing, because I wasn’t very outgoing socially—I wasn’t withdrawn either—I wasn’t the type who would walk into a party and instantly make people laugh, so I thought it was going to be a lot more terrifying than it was. But the thing is when you’re on stage it’s the not the same as walking into a room, because you don’t really see the audience and the adrenaline is pumping. Once you’re up there it’s not even as terrifying as telling a joke in public, because even if a joke dies you don’t really know the audience, you’re not socialising with them, so you just get off stage and hopefully you won’t see them again! I’d find teaching a lot more terrifying because you’re standing in a classroom and if you make a fool of yourself you have to go in the next day to the same people. In comedy you get off stage and you’re gone. It can be humiliating but it’s not as terrifying as you think.”
Michael admits he would have stayed in Ireland and continued his comic career there had a TV sketch show written by Dermot Morgan for RTÉ not been put on the scrapheap.
“The show centred around Dermot, but I also featured in it quite prominently and had my own spot in it in which I preached to road-workers as Chairman of the radicalised Neo Road-Workers Party,” Michael explained. “I think I was called Ambrose De Lacy Donnelly. About a year after they’d filmed six half-hour episodes RTÉ told Dermot they were scrapping most of it and showing the rest as a one-hour special. It was a real shame!”
With that avenue closed off, Michael decided to try and plough the comic furrow in London, encouraged by stories from the booker of his first gigs in Dublin—Kevin McAleer—that there was a thriving scene there.
“I was excited about gigging in London because I was really looking to make a career out of comedy by then,” Michael said. “I’d spend my days in a phone box near my bedsit going through the Time Out magazine listings, calling up clubs and asking if they had an open spot. They’d then invite you a long to do five minutes and if they liked what they saw you’d get a booking out of it.”
That type of personal graft to establish yourself on the comedy scene back in the mid-1980s seems far removed from the scene that exists today, where there’s not only a plethora of comedy clubs, but also a whole host of TV shows that can help give an aspiring comedian a far wider audience than was previously available, something which Michael feels has drawbacks as well as obvious advantages.
“There seems to be a natural progression now from smaller clubs, to bigger clubs to stadiums, TV and so on,” Michael said. “If I started my career now it might be better moneywise, but a lot of comedians are just coming along now and seeing it as a career path and they have a 20 min skit they think would just be good for TV. It stifles their creativity I think. Back then you could experiment a bit more, you still had to be funny obviously, but there was a bit more scope and a bit more freedom. It looks a bit more saturated now.”
Michael’s self-awareness and focus on the need to be continually creative came through when pressed on his early shows in London and reviewers who often used the term ‘deadpan’ to describe his style onstage.
“I can see where that description came from because initially I was like that,” he admitted. “When I went to perform in London at first I was so scared so I used to go onstage with a mac, which for some reason got a laugh—maybe because I looked a bit strange. Sometimes I would just stand on stage for a minute or so and not say much because it would get a laugh then I would do a lot of non sequiturs, one-liners and then pause. So I was very deadpan then and I didn’t engage the audience at all. That was initially how I made my name.
“In the minds of the reviewers my style was deadpan, but I discovered that it was very limiting, because you could be funny for 15-20 minutes but if you wanted to do an hour long show you need something else and engage the audience in some way. Even if you have an hour of good one-liners the audience still needs something else. In order to do a longer show, you need to have longer bits in your set and engage with the audience.”
However, that early style was to pay dividends when two Irish writers came calling after a London show to ask if Michael would like to take part in a new sitcom they were writing.
“Someone put on a night of Irish comedy in the Bloomsbury Theatre in London,” he explained. “There was myself, Ardal O’Hanlon, Dylan Moran and someone else. We did the show and were having a drink afterwards and these two guys came up to me, introduced themselves and told me they were writing a sitcom about priests on an island in Ireland and said they might have a part for me. I said ok, but didn’t really think any more about it until I got this call six months later from my agent saying they wanted me to come in and read some lines for that sitcom about priests.
“I don’t know whether or not they—Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews—had specifically written it for me but I’d imagine they had me in mind when they wrote the character because I didn’t really have to act, which was good because I can’t! In fact, after Father Ted I got some auditions for acting jobs and I never got any of them! I can only do it in a certain framework like that if it’s an exaggeration of myself. TV isn’t all that scary though. A camera won’t shout back at you!
“The show was a huge help to my career though and I’m proud to have been a part of it. Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse was probably my favourite episode, but the one in the lingerie department was a classic too!”
I belong to Glasgow… now!
By 1994 however, Michael had begun to tire of the comedy circuit in London and with his former partner Mhairi being a Glaswegian, they decided to make the move north to Glasgow with their two young twin boys Nicky and Johnny.
“We had no family in London but my partner had parents up here,” he said. “I’d been up to Glasgow quite a few times and quite liked it. When I decided I didn’t want to do the circuit anymore she was quite happy to move back to Glasgow. It wasn’t a career move it was more for family reasons.
“For the first six months though I deeply regretted the move, because we came in April and the twins were only about 4. My partner was working, I was a house-husband, and that summer—I think it was 1998—it pissed with rain for the entire time. I know Glasgow doesn’t get tropical weather but this was extremely bad!
“The focus was on family life back then, I wasn’t really doing stand-up. The Stand didn’t exist in Glasgow then. There was a small club called The State Bar in Holland Street that held comedy nights and I occasionally did that, but I didn’t have much of a social life. But I settled well in Glasgow, it’s very similar to Dublin, they’re not that different at all in terms of culture and the sense of humour is the exact same, probably down to the fact that there’s so many Glaswegians with Irish ancestry! My kids Nicky, Johnny and Jamie and are still here, so I like Glasgow, it feels like home.”
Michael did eventually find his way back into the comedy scene in Glasgow after offering his services as a compere at clubs run by Tommy Sheppard—now an SNP MP—known as The Stand. Michael has been doing this in Glasgow now for well over a decade at a show called Sunday Service and has witnessed some famous performers take their first steps into comedy at the club.
“It’s been running for more than 11 years now,” he said. “I had never compered before, I always just did my act, but I knew that if I was gonna live in Glasgow there was no way I was gonna get booked to do my act every few weeks because you’ve got to change it up. So I asked Tommy Sheppard if I could compere and do it for a few weeks to see how it goes. And that’s been 11 years now! It’s been great; it’s great to have a bread and butter gig every week and it’s only down the road from me as well.
“During my time at the club we’ve played host to a number of talented performers. The most obvious talent was Kevin Bridges. I wasn’t the only one to spot him or I’d have asked for commission! Even in a five-minute slot you could tell he was a bit special. There’s some other great comedians coming up though, there’s Darren Connell who’s in Scot Squad. Ray Bradshaw, Scott Gibson and Rosco McLelland have brilliant as well and many more whose names escape me at the minute.”
Living in Glasgow has meant that Ireland has been brought that little bit closer to Michael, especially now that he has teamed up with former Father Ted stars and fellow comedians, Joe Rooney (Fr Damo) and Pat McDonnell (Eoin McLove), for a show called Further Ted, which takes him back home regularly, as well as to events like Tedinburgh and TedFest in Malones in Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively.
“I miss living near the sea—which I did in Ireland—and I still miss my brothers and sister obviously and my nieces and nephews, but I go back a fair bit now though,” he said. “I started doing a lot of gigs with Joe Rooney and Pat McDonnell who were both in Father Ted as well. They were both involved in stand up before Father Ted the same as me so we do a show called Further Ted, in which the three of us do stand up and other bits and pieces and we’ve been doing that around Ireland intermittently.
“Usually those gigs are on a Friday or Saturday night so I can fly over and stay with family. We go all over the place, for example one night we were in Sligo and the next night we were in Dungannon. It’s not really touring but you can call it that if you want!”
Michael hopes to perform at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, an event which he says is not only beneficial for comedians starting out but also to let the public and promoters know that established comics are ‘still around.’ He also plans to continue compering and performing for a good while yet, as well as appearing at the Father Ted events, which he described as ‘a great laugh, just like a night out.’
However, perhaps most interestingly, Michael is again dipping his toe into the world of writing. Having previously written a sitcom entitled Eamon Older Brother of Jesus, he has been commissioned to begin work on a new project.
“The guy who produced Eamon Older Brother of Jesus for Radio 4 has since moved on to Channel 4,” he explained. “He commissioned me to do a pilot episode but it didn’t make it through the final process, but since then I came up with another idea and he’s commissioned me to write that. It was originally set in Ireland the premise is about someone in a small town, who think they’re bigger than the town but can’t really move out of it—it’s along those lines. It’s now set in Scotland as opposed to Ireland, with the same characters, which isn’t hard to do because the culture is very similar.”
When I ask if perhaps his sons might follow in his footsteps in comedy, he ends, as all good comedians do, with a joke.
“Haha, not yet anyway,” he laughed. “One is a chef, the other a farmer and Jamie is still at school. They have all been at my show a few times so maybe that’s why none of them fancy following in footsteps!”
Michael Redmond’s Sunday Service at The Stand in Glasgow begins at 8.30pm. Tickets are priced at £6, £5 for concessions and £1 for members and can be obtained by visiting: http://www.thestand.co.uk
Michael is also performing series of the Further Ted gigs in Ireland with Joe Rooney and Pat McDonnell in Kinsale (Cork) on February 23, Bray (Wicklow) on February 24, Kildare on February 25 and also in Ballymun (Dublin) on March 4