JOE meets Irish comedian Keith Farnan
He's conquered the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow and lastly, our hearts - JOE met up with rising Irish comedian Keith Farnan.
JOE: Sex trafficking (Sex Traffic), the death penalty (Cruel and Unusual), racism (No Blacks. No Jews. No Dogs. No Irish. All Welcome) â€“ what attracts you to such serious subject matter for your comedy shows Keith?
Keith: Thereâ€™s never been a deliberate plan to tackle serious subjects. The first full show I brought to the Edinburgh Festival was Cruel and Unusual. This was a show which basically told the story of me working for summer internships in America in a Public Defenders office as well as the Innocence Project in New York. Before I was a Stand-up I was a solicitor and used to give talks to law students to convince them to give up some of their time to work against the death penalty for a summer or to go and work for some Human Rights organisation, before they give up their lives to the Dark Side (or corporate law as its known).
When I had the opportunity to bring a show to Edinburgh and talk about what I wanted to as a comedian (you donâ€™t really get the chance to address human rights issues with a beery crowd on a Friday night, you barely get to speak English - most of the time itâ€™s crowd control), I thought the first show I wanted to do was about the death penalty. I found that when I was talking to students, it was through various anecdotes and stories that they became interested in what they were doing. So I thought I could do the same thing with ordinary punters - get them thinking about something that would not normally appear on their radar by trying to make it funny.
A mic in one hand and a beer in the other - not a bad way to make a living
The other two shows came about because Iâ€™m always trying to work on material, topical or otherwise. The shows were a result of spotting a pattern in the news more than anything. Last year's show about racism and immigration was at a time when the BNP were in the news for the European Elections and an entire Roma community was run out of Belfast. Iâ€™m a newspaper junkie and when youâ€™re trying to write material, you pick up on certain overriding issues in the ether as it were.
This year, with Primark selling push up bras to seven year olds, Tesco selling poledancing kits to children, Belle de Jour being exposed as being a doctor in cancer research, my show looked at womens rights, sexism and whether we value women or put a value on them. The shows are my attempt to put together any number of jigsaw pieces in the news and make sense of the world in my own way.
I think thatâ€™s always been the way with any comedians I really enjoy, how they try to make sense of their world through their own comedy filter. By the way, you rarely know what youâ€™re doing until somebody points it out to you. A friend of mine said to me it was interesting that all my shows dealt with man's inhumanity to man and then this years show dealt with man's inhumanity to women. I nodded sagely and said of course, then wrote it down as a good description.
JOE: Do you think your history as a litigation lawyer informs a sense of logic and depth that allows you to pursue the topics you do? And how does someone even begin to chart that leap in careers?
Keith: Thatâ€™s a lot of question in there. I could be cheeky and just say "yes, it does" and "with difficulty". I think training in law gives you an ability to retain a lot of information and break it down in a very different way to other people. Thereâ€™s an entirely different language in law, and thatâ€™s one of the first things youâ€™re taught.
It can be a bit of a hindrance as well, as you donâ€™t want your shows to be too neat, so I tend to do a lot of reading for my shows, a lot of note-taking and then I just like to throw everything out, and see what sort of random associations I can make that would make it funny for an audience. I think the interest in law lead me to some of the shows and looking at the inequities we find in every day life. I also think it means youâ€™re less intimidated to tackle subjects that may be too boring or political, and try to find the devil in the detail, that will make it funny. Ultimately, thatâ€™s where most comedy lies. In the tiny little nooks behind the facts where all the ridiculousness resides.
In terms of jumping from law to comedy, it wasnâ€™t that big a leap. I was always interested in theatre, directing, acting, writing and producing when I was in college. I hosted a radio show in UCC called Artbeat â€“ even then I was familiar with bad puns â€“ and insisted on bringing comedy and comedians onto the show, as I considered it one of the performing arts. And also because thereâ€™s only so much you can say about theatre that hasnâ€™t been said before, though I also just wanted to have a laugh while I was doing the show.
From there, I ran a small lunchtime theatre company, briefly. So briefly I think we had two performances. I then headed to Australia for a year, and was the MC for some comedy clubs and began starting my own shows. Iâ€™ve managed to condense years of work, writing and worrying down to three sentences just there - I hope you appreciate it.