Britain's new king has been on a mission for some time now to visit every county in Ireland – or at least he was while he was still a prince – that's according to Brendan O’Connor’s newest royal correspondent Dara Ó Briain, who recounted how he met the then-Prince's private secretary:
"'Where are you from?’ he said and I said, ‘I’m from Bray in county Wicklow.’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, we haven't done Wicklow yet.’ And I said, ‘What’s that?’ They were on a mission – Charles and Camilla – to get to every county."
It’s amazing to think that King Charles and his royal consort have been touring our wee country in a fairly under-the-radar kind of way for years and it’s never really been remarked upon until Dara revealed all to Brendan. And it seems – at least the way he tells it – that Dara was vital to the inclusion of Wicklow in the royals’ touring schedule, even if he couldn’t be there when they made landfall in the Garden County:
"Weirdly I got a phone call then from Wicklow council about three months later going, ‘Will you be in Ireland? Because we have some special guests coming over. We can’t tell you who they are.’ I said, ‘I know who they are, I literally spoke to the man.’ So I said, ‘Look, bring them to Clara Lara, Clouseau’s night club in Ashford, the Aughrim GAA grounds.’ But they were doing a thing of just going county to county, going to every single county. They wanted to see them all."
Dara is back in Ireland doing his show, So... Where Were We? and he told Brendan that he had difficulty securing somewhere to stay due to another celebrity non-Royal visitor drawing the crowds and taking up all the available hotel rooms. But it looks like Garth-mania is a pretty localised phenomenon:
"I went to get hotel rooms and couldn’t find somewhere to stay. Oh Jesus, and it was an absolute nightmare trying to find a place to stay. And then I had this panic of, ‘Oh Christ, I’ve not booked the flights either.’ And I quickly went onto the website to get the flights and that wasn’t a problem. No one is flying in. It’s really weird. It’s a big event and it’s just Irish people."
Mock the Week, the long-running comedy panel show that Dara has presented on the BBC is coming to an end this year, but Brendan couldn’t resist mentioning the cult RTÉ panel show Don’t Feed the Gondolas, that they were both regulars on in the late 1990s and Dara revealed that he still – somehow – gets mistaken for his former co-panelist:
"I still get ‘Howya Brendan.’ I got it the other day, a ‘Howya Brendan’ and you’re going, ‘What do I have to do?’ I left the country. I never had a Cork accent."
Brendan wondered if Mock the Week was considered too woke or not woke enough? Were they pale, male and stale or too left wing and radical? Dara suggested that no one seems to know for sure:
"Were we too angry and vicious or did we lose our edge? We constantly seem to be both of these things. We existed in some sort of quantum state, like Schrödinger's panel show, that we managed to be all these things. We were the reason that Jeremy Corbyn didn’t get in, but also like we were hideously left wing and Brexity. And you’re kind of going, ‘We affected none of the votes on any of this, lads, at all."
There has always been outrage about show business in general and comedy in particular, though. Dara referenced an American historian called Kliph Nesterof who writes a lot about showbiz history and comedy history in the US:
"And he’s found examples of comedy’s gone too far articles from every decade from the 1920s... comedy’s gone too far, but also we can’t say anything anymore, it’s impossible, you know, the cancel culture thing, nothing’s new. None of this is new."
Dara’s current show, So... Where Were We? has a serious element to it, as he includes the story of his adoption. Was it a risk to drop a serious story in the middle of a stand-up show?
"There are tensions and I relieve the tensions, so there are laughs throughout... And actually, there’s a line that I put in where I go, ‘Look, this journey, this is how this worked for me, but there will be others for whom this journey has not gone well.’ Because I look into the crowd and you can see people who are upset."
Ultimately, Dara says, comedy is a release of tension and drawing the audience into a serious story and using comedic asides can give micro-releases of that tension in a very satisfying way:
"We can dress it up whatever way we want, like whatever, but you basically are lifting the audience and dropping them. And there’s times where, and I’ve seen his happen you know, in a million different ways, if a joke doesn’t go well and then you know to go, ‘Well, why did that not go well? How dare you come here and not laugh at my joke.’ It is again, it’s doing the same thing, you’re creating tension and you drop them, and the audience all laugh because of the tension. But equally, if you’re telling a serious story, the tension builds amazingly and releasing that can be, is amazing sometimes. Some of the laughs are among my favourites."
You can hear Brendan’s full conversation with Dara by going here. The final season of Mock the Week will be on BBC2 later this year. And the final extra Irish dates of Dara’s 2022 stand-up show, So... Where Were We? are in Vicar Street, Dublin on 23 and 24 September.