Dross FM Arts Correspondent , Malachy Mullarkey, interviews comedy writer Karl MacDermott.
Why did you become a comedy writer?
I drifted into it after failing abysmally at stand-up comedy. It was all my parents’ fault. My three siblings were training to be a doctor, an engineer, and a lawyer, and my parents said that they were bored by all this conformity, over-achievement and success. They wanted one child to be the black sheep of the family. I had my heart set on being a quantity surveyor. But they insisted. Freud is right. Your parents are always to blame for everything that goes wrong.
So when was this?
The early 1990’s.
And the stand-up didn’t go well?
No. I ended up in A&E after most gigs. A victim of violent assault. If truth be told my persona lacked a certain tactfulness for the Ireland of that time. I billed myself as ‘Ireland’s only home-based anti-Irish comedian’.
You could say you have suffered for your comedy?
Look at my nose. Six operations and still counting.
So overall, the stand-up experience was not a success then?
Most definitely not. To be honest, the stage was never my home. It was more like a B&B in Waterford.
Bord Failte approved?
So you wouldn’t recommend a life in comedy for anybody?
No. Comedy is a cruel and fickle mistress. She laughs at you. Not with you.
How would you describe your stand- up comedy?
An agent once said to me ‘You are not ‘funny ha-ha’. You are not ‘funny peculiar’. You are ‘funny unfunny’. I think that sums it up.
Well at least your abysmal failure as a stand-up comedian helped provide the groundwork for that seamless transition into being an abysmal failure as a comedy writer….
And you’ve put all this resentment, self-loathing and bitterness in your new book “Ireland’s Favourite Failure”? Tell me about it…
It’s about a middle-aged Everyman from Galway, Lar Gibbons, simultaneously experiencing both a sense of loss and a loss of sense as his life spirals from one minor calamity to another.
I find the name of the character very profound. Lar Gibbons. A species of monkey. You probably mean it as a comment on the ongoing insignificance of the day-to-day struggles, within this vast universe, of all homo sapiens and their simian descendants, going back hundreds of thousands of millions of years?
No. I sort of just liked the name. Read it in a match report somewhere. Some under-I5 hurling game in Ennistymon…but that’s a very good point…why didn’t I think of that? Told you, I’m not really suited to this writing game.
You were born in Galway yourself. Is the book in any way autobiographical?
Each novelist borrows willy-nilly from a smorgasbord of experience and imagination. And it is never easy to attribute exact percentages to what is real and what is made up, although giving a wild guess off the top of my head, I’d say it’s 54.27% autobiographical, 45.73 % imagination.
Which bits are autobiographical?
Funnily enough the bit about the actual smorgasbord referred to in page 67 is true. My mother went through a Swedish phase in the mid-1970’s because of her favourite character from the Muppets. The Swedish Chef.
Tell me about your writing day?
I get up. I hide under the bed. I cry for three hours. I think of something funny. By the time my near obsolete Microsoft XL computer has warmed up and switched on, I’ve forgotten what it is. Then I just follow attention-seeking nobodies on twitter for the rest of the day and marvel at the insanity of the world.
Where do you get your ideas from?
I have this little man in a cage in my garage. He’s sort of tied up. You could say he’s held captive. I feed him raw meat sometimes. He’s particularly partial to liver. But he has some great comedy ideas. In his younger days he read all the high-profile exponents of humour fiction. P.G. Wodehouse, James Thurber, S.J. Perelman and of course our very own Flann O’Brien, and he is also up to speed with later generations like George Saunders and Sam Lipsyte so when I’m stuck I just go into him and ask him for some help on a certain topic and if he can’t think up an original angle on the topic he’ll just borrow an idea from one of the maestros. He’s got such an excellent memory.
What’s your favourite book?
There is this American book on quantity surveying I really like, “Appraising and Tendering For Construction Work” by a Robert J. Kuechenmeister, which I feel captures so well the nuances and complexity of the quantity surveyor’s world
Do you read reviews of your work? Good or bad. How do you respond?
Did you ever see the movie “Death Wish” with Charles Bronson, probably before your time Malachy, well I take the vigilante approach to bad reviews – good reviews never enter into the equation. Now some people may find this petty and somewhat illegal, they might say, Karl, it’s all part of the game. But I’m sorry. Any time I am disrespected online or in print, I have just one message for those involved. I. Will. Find. You.
And finally Karl, what are you working on now, what is your next project?
I am working on my first screenplay. At present all I’ve got is the logline. ‘By day he writes TV ideas and has countless meetings with industry figures. By night he collects money for the mob – he is Manbag Bagman!’
Sounds intriguing – when will it be produced?
Well, I’ve already got Steve Buscemi attached. Literally. He’s tied up to the little man in the garage out back.
(c) Karl MacDermott
About Ireland’s Favourite Failure
One man. One life. Many failures. Meet Lar Gibbons, the man who put the Lar in lard and protagonist of ‘Ireland’s Favourite Failure.’ He has recently lost his job. His wife has walked out on him. A parent has passed away. Can things get any worse?
With posterity preying on his mind, he has decided to leave his mark by attempting to write The Great Irish Novel. But things just keep getting in the way.
Set in Galway, ‘Ireland’s Favourite Failure’ chronicles the hapless adventures of a middle-aged Everyman as he grapples with both a sense of loss and a loss of sense while contemplating his creative masterpiece.
Calamity and hilarity accompany Lar Gibbons on his odyssey through sex, death, friendship, unemployment, memory, bad TV, family, colonic hydrotherapy and Ireland.
Pick up your copy of Ireland’s Favourite Failure online here