Patrick Monahan, stand up comedian, chats with Kevin Cooper about appearing in pantomime, performing at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, growing up in Teesside and his current That 80’s Show
Patrick Monahan is an Irish Iranian stand up comedian who was brought up in Middlesbrough when he came to the UK from Tehran at three years old.
He won the television series Take The Mike in 2001 and Show Me The Funny in 2011, which led to the release of his debut DVD Patrick Monahan Live. He also performs regularly at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
In 2012 he took part in Let’s Dance for Sports Relief on BBC and in 2014 he took part in the hit family diving entertainment series, Splash!
Whilst currently touring his That 80’s Show, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Patrick how are you today?
Good morning Kevin, I’m not too bad thanks, how are you doing today?
I’m feeling good thanks and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
No worries, no worries at all.
And just how is life treating you?
I have to say that life is good at the minute. I have been working non-stop with the festivals, my own show together with six weeks of panto….
(Laughter) oh no you didn’t.
Oh yes I bloody well did (laughter). I started rehearsing in November; we opened in December and the panto ran for a solid six weeks. I actually liked it because it gave me a chance to have a break from the stand-up. After that it just goes bonkers with me doing all of my warm-up shows followed by the actual show throughout June and July and then it’s August which can only mean one thing, the Edinburgh Festival (laughter). After that it’s my own shows again up until rehearsals for panto. So as you can see, for me every year just rolls into another. I feel like a little gerbil on a wheel. I no longer think about time in months and years, I gauge it by shows. I never know where I am (laughter).
On the subject of the panto, did you enjoy it?
Yes it was brilliant. Panto is one of those things that all comics really do want to do. It gives you a totally different outlook on comedy. The thing that I like about being in panto is that you find yourself playing to an audience of every single age. I think that every comic should have to appear in panto at some stage in their career. It is an eye-opener because you are performing to everyone from a two year old to a ninety-two year old. It’s totally brilliant.
Was it harder for you as a comedian, having to perform something that has been scripted for you?
Yes, oh god yes, that was totally alien to me. When I first started rehearsals I thought that it was so hard because it really was scripted but then luckily the producer let me change a little bit as long as I could still get the plot across. I was playing Captain Hook who as you know is the baddie, but they let me change the script so I made him fifty percent bad and fifty percent funny. That allowed me to go on stage, deliver the plot lines but also let me be funny too. I have to say that it worked brilliantly and I found it hilarious to play. However, there were a few times when I had to rein it in a little (laughter). After what I thought was a particularly good performance the producer had a quiet word with me because the show was twenty-five minutes longer than it should have been (laughter).
You have briefly mentioned the Edinburgh Festival, how do you find it performing there?
Honest answer, I love it. The easiest way to describe the Festival is that it is like an army assault course. If you want to get your troops ready for battle then you cannot get any better training than the Edinburgh Festival. The Festival is great if you are going there as a punter; it’s fantastic. However, if you are going there as a performer to play for a month then honestly, it is one of the toughest training courses that you will ever see. It is just relentless. Not only is it the pressure of doing your own show, but you are performing every night to an audience that is spoilt for choice. When they come to see you it could well be their fourth show of the day. They could be tired plus they are not there to specifically see you. It’s crazy when you sit and think about the amount of work that goes into performing just one day there and you have to do that for a month.
Coming right up to date you are bringing That 80’s Show to the Theatre Royal Third Stage here in Nottingham on Monday 13th March. What can we expect?
It’s funny really because even though the show is set in the 80s it covers all years of my life because it is biographical. It covers the time that my family fled the war between Iran and Iraq, and came over to the UK. My mum is Iranian and my dad is Irish and it tells how they first met when he was working over in Tehran. Although that obviously sounds quite serious it is also funny as well. There are two major points to the show; firstly when my family first came over to the UK no one was even speaking about the Middle East and terrorism back then. In fact they were more terrified of my dad and his family all being Irish (laughter).
And then the second thing that I talk about is immigration and people’s fears of foreigners coming into the country and changing everything. I try to tell real life stories in a modern day way so that they reflect just what is happening in the world today.
How long did it take you to write the show?
Oh god, the show as it stands at this moment in time took me well over a year to write. It actually includes a lot of material from my stand-up shows which I performed throughout last year. Sometimes when I am writing for the show there will be sections that will not fit in for some reason so I will save them to use at a later date.
And without giving too much away just what was it like being an immigrant growing up on Teesside?
To be honest with you I found it to be a double-edged sword. In one way it was hilarious. I think that if I hadn’t grown up in that environment then I probably would not be doing stand-up today. It was such a great grounding for me to take with me in to the world of stand-up comedy. There really was a clash of two cultures but now you can bring them all into one (laughter). For me growing up in an environment like that was normal, I didn’t feel or notice anything different or weird about it. For me on the one hand it was fun but on the other it could be a little confusing but you just had to get on with it.
Would you say that was where your comedy started; did you use it as a shield from the other kid’s mistrust of you and their misunderstanding of the situation?
Yes that is exactly right. The problem with kids when you are growing up is that they don’t see anything other than your appearance. That is how they see other people, and to them I was always the foreign kid. So whenever they would call me the foreign kid I would laugh and make jokes about it. Some of the other kids asked me why I just laughed at stuff and I tried to point out to them that I couldn’t spend every minute of the day fighting. I feel that it was making a joke of things back then that gave me the sharpness, the routine to be who I am today.
Who were your comedy heroes?
When I was a youngster growing up my dad would always be watching Dave Allen on the TV. Although at that time I never understood his material I think that Dave Allen played a big part in me becoming a comedian. He was amazing. I was also very interested in just what Richard Pryor was doing at that time. The thing that both Dave Allen and Richard Pryor had in common was that no other comedians were doing their jokes; they couldn’t because it was so personal to them. I would also have to mention Robin Williams, he was just so amazing. It’s just a pity that the three people that I have mentioned are sadly all dead now. I’d better not mention anyone else just in case they die (laughter).
What makes Patrick Monahan laugh?
Well I have to say that whenever I am up in Edinburgh I will try to see a few live solo shows. Someone who is performing their own one hour show because then you really get to see the craft working. Without naming any one comic because that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the guys out there, but what I will say is that we are spoilt for choice here in the UK. There are so many brilliant comics who all make me laugh. All of the guys here in the UK are fantastic. I think that is testament to both the British culture and the British way of life.
Putting you on the spot, what was the last thing that you saw or heard that left you with tears in your eyes?
God where did that come from (laughter). I recently saw the movie La La Land and there was a funny scene it that which had me crying with laughter. Also I can’t watch Groucho Marx or Tommy Cooper without crying with laughter. I love all of that.
Looking at the classic comics from the past, Sid James, Tony Hancock and Tommy Cooper to name but a few, is there a coloration between depression and comedians?
That is a very good point because what I think that the people forget is that with comedy and depression it’s not just those two things. It’s actually a combination of many things. The comedy leads to the drink and the drugs because the comics are constantly looking for that buzz and that in turns leads on to depression. You may get the rare case where someone is born with depression but it is normally triggered by a combination of all of the other stuff including drink and drugs. However, looking back to that era, Tony Hancock was a fantastic comedian but it was his drinking together with his constant striving to be better that led to his depression.
However, what you have to remember is that you are talking about that era where no one ever used to openly speak about depression; men were men and women were women. Whereas now people will openly speak about their depression and there are even shows at the Edinburgh Festival based around nothing more than depression. That’s how things have changed so much over the years. Back in the old days comics would try to hide their depression by using drink and drugs, whereas now they are at ease speaking about it and some even use their show as therapy. What you have to take on board is that because of social media you can see that nothing is hidden anymore.
From your own personal point of view is there anything that is off limits?
If you are asking me personally then I would have to say yes there are a few things that I wouldn’t speak about simply because I have got nothing funny to say about them. However, if you are asking me in terms of comedy, then I think that if you are a comedian and you have got a funny story and there is something personal about it, then talk about it. The one thing that I do hate to see is a comedian attacking someone in the audience just for the sake of it. There is no point to that and it is not funny at all. What I do find interesting is when the audience police the show themselves. If the comedian was speaking about a topic that they didn’t like, homophobia for example, they would heckle the comedian until they changed their routine.
I would never try to make a joke out of someone being a paedophile or someone who has been raped for example. Simply because I personally don’t feel that there is anything funny about either topic. However, I have to say that sadly there are comics out there who do tackle those subjects.
If I had to push you what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s difficult because so many great things have happened to me. I would have to say that travelling to all of the different countries that I have performed in has been fantastic. Also I would have to say that being on the TV in Splash was also a fantastic moment for me. I have done such a lot of stuff that you quite simply couldn’t make up. At times I just don’t know what I am going to be doing next (laughter). Some of the things that my agent asks me to do are outrageous; for example swimming with sharks in Australia whilst being dressed as a tuna fish (laughter). That is the beauty of stand-up; you just never know what is around the next corner. The problem is that being a comedian you are never given a safety net.
Is Patrick Monahan’s glass half empty or half full?
It is most certainly always half full. You have always got to be optimistic haven’t you? Being honest with you I’m just happy to have a glass, usually I’m just using my hands under the tap (laughter). The best piece of advice that I was given was to try and always be positive on stage because if the audience sense your positivity then you will get positivity back from them.
On that note Patrick let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been fantastic.