It was the 95th anniversary of the shooting of Padraig Pearse and it was also the first night Conor Neville (24) did a stand up comedy gig. The Longford comedian believes that these two events are remarkably similar in that they both sparked a cultural rebirth in Ireland.
Someone, somewhere must agree because this Ferefad man has just qualified for ‘So You Think You’re Funny’, a prestigious competition held at the Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh. Past winners of this competition include Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan, David O’Doherty and Peter Kay. What is even more remarkable is that Conor has achieved this after only one year delivering stand-up comedy.
“This is the 25th anniversary of this competition, so it’ll be a special event,” said Conor who also works as a journalist with the Longford Leader.
In securing one of four Irish slots available for the Edinburgh finals, Conor competed against some 40 other Irish comics.
“I’m assuming I came first. We weren’t told what order we came. I’ll assume I came first for egotistical purposes but other qualifiers might have something to say about that!” said the NUI Maynooth graduate and former pupil of St. Mel’s College.
He continued: “We get about eight minutes, maybe ten, to complete our routines. My references will be tricky in Edinburgh because they can be quite specific to Ireland but you can find humour in that. I have a bit at the start about how I did a stand-up to a crowd of Americans and Australians once. I referred to a stretch of road between Castlepollard and Athlone.”
That said, Conor believes that he won’t have to perform “massive surgery” on his scripts to secure the necessary laughs at the Gilded Balloon. Script aside, nerves are the next issue.
“It’s totally nerve-wrecking getting up there but I enjoy the moment when I realise that it’s going very well. I relax for that moment.
“I remember I did one gig in Edgeworthstown for a GAA dinner dance. It was short notice and I think the people there would be scratching their heads as to how I got to Edinburgh. It doesn’t always go right, but when it does it’s incredible.”
Conor has been doing stand-up intermittently since May 2011, mainly in Dublin venues such as The Ha’Penny and The Mercantile. Describing his style, Conor said: “I usually get people saying I’m very dead-pan. I like to go for the more supposedly intelligent stuff. There are a lot of political references and allusions to the odd religious thing. It can be dark sometimes and other times satirical. I wouldn’t call it ‘laddish’ though.”
A son of Declan and Teresa, Conor is no stranger to the stage. His father was previously nominated for Best Actor in the 1990 All Irelands for his role as ‘Harry’ in ‘Whistle In The Dark’ (Tom Murphy).
“I’ve never been in drama myself. I just haven’t gone that direction but I wouldn’t be adverse to trying it,” said Conor who used to play football for Slashers.
He added: “The best part about comedy is writing it. I like to think of witty things. The ideas can occur to you at any time. You never really sit down at a computer to write a script – unless it’s a comic article.
“With stand-up it’s really about just getting up and doing it. The rhythm has to be there to get the laughs. Also, audiences are amazingly different. Some jokes will storm with some audiences and the same jokes could just leave you with an awkward pause with others.”
Conor, who has done about 14 stand-up gigs to date, describes himself as a naturally quiet guy.
“I remember Ardal O’Hanlon saying once that he hardly said a word in secondary school. I wouldn’t be massively extrovert myself either,” he said.
One of the highlights of Conor’s comedy career to date was when a well-known critic dubbed his work as “the highlight” of her night.
“I’m not sure what my dream is. I would like to write something for TV like ‘The Thick Of It’ or ‘Have I Got News For You’,” he said. “I would probably like to go into comedy full-time – it’s less work and more money than journalism - if you make it, that is – and that’s an unbeatable combination!”