Stand-up comedian Dylan Moran's humour transcends cultures
With material based on emotions and local flavour, the Irish comic's set should resonate with Hongkongers
Dylan Moran is 43 and he's just landed in Melbourne with his young family on a tour that is taking him around the world.
The dead giveaway that it's been a long haul so far is that, when we first speak, the Irish comedian at first sounds like he's talking through a mouthful of gravel. He immediately stresses that his head is still spinning and that his brain is still finding its bearings.
It might not be the best time to bring up the fixation with ageing that Moran has long included in his act, but why not give the man a chance to let loose while the cobwebs in his head are still being cleared?
"Like with anybody else, it's a nightmare," says Moran. "It's a constant outrage, it's a constant injustice. It's a kangaroo court of atoms that are f***ing frying me. No one warns you about ageing. And if you are going to complain about it, you have to be funny about it otherwise people will just trample you to death. That's it."
It is this exploration of such common themes that has helped Moran establish himself as one of the most popular stand-up comedians on the global circuit. He has also branched out as an author, star of a TV show (Black Books) themed around a character he created and a sometime actor with a growing list of appearances in the likes of John Michael McDonagh's superbly dark Calvary (2014), which saw Moran take on the role of a man who seemingly has everything, yet still seems to hate life.
The man you see up on stage, Moran says, is pretty much the man you might meet off it. "I would describe my work trying to make a mirror of where I am," Moran explains. "The themes I cleave to tend to be pretty universal. I try not to stray too far from emotion. I don't think it's particularly cerebral. It tends to be attached to a strong feeling of one kind or another.
"Some people are quite happy to do something that is intellectually stimulating, that has a kind of lucid pleasure in it. I don't do that. I travel the arch of life a lot. Ageing. What happens to you. How you get eroded by the rain of time."
The trick when it comes to touring is getting a feel for the pulse of the city you arrive in — something no amount of research can really help, says Moran. On this day he is about to wander around Melbourne asking questions, a process he'll use again when he arrives in Hong Kong before his show on September 3 at Kitec.
"I read about it before I get there and then once I arrive I try to talk to as many people as possible," he says. "Taxi drivers, hotel staff, anybody working in a restaurant. You just try to chat as much as possible and that way you can find what is going on in town. What are people complaining about? What's it like to live there? Is it expensive? What's the big story in town?
"Off the top of my head right now, I don't know who the head of state is or what's been going on here recently, but I will in a few hours — and I'll use it. I'll get a coffee and I'll start bugging people with questions."
Moran had thought about a career in comedy during high school, but didn't take to the stage until he was 20, inspired by the comics he went to see at the Comedy Cellar in Dublin. He had gone from job to job since leaving high school and, he says, one night he simply took a chance. "I was 19 or 20 and you don't think about too much at that stage in life, you just do things," he says. "You dance first and think later. That's what I did."
The game has certainly changed over the past two decades, with comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Ricky Gervais bemoaning the impact social media, along with smartphones and cameras, have had on their craft. These days, they say, it is so easy to take things out of context, to find outrage or scandal in what a comedian says when there is none, really, if you are sitting there listening to the act in its entirety.
It's not something that has affected Moran, but he has seen the signs. "Just imagine the whole world is wearing a Go-Pro. That gives you an idea of what's around you today," he says. "What really makes sense is the phrase 'you had to be there'. And in terms of context that is certainly the case, but it wouldn't stop me. If you are doing something interesting, a lot of the time it could be taken the wrong way. And by interesting I don't mean fake edgy. I'm not a young man any more and there are plenty of young guys who are willing to alienate half the audience for attention. The purpose of that is really just to make some noise and that's not my beat."
Moran's beat today — before his first show in Melbourne — will include shortly a coffee and a walk around town as he fine-tunes his opening night act by picking up some local flavours for material.
"On tour you're on a bungee rope of adrenaline and then that becomes despair, which is not so useful," he explains. "I am particularly prone to getting the bends on this tour because it is very long, and it's very wide- ranging. It includes Hong Kong but it also includes Prague, it also includes Nottingham, it will most likely include American dates and a month in Ireland. I've already done 50 or 60 dates in the UK. So there are so many contexts to be in.
"This is why I try to use these strong emotions, these very human themes, because I am in so many different environments. The philosopher's stone in this line of work, the thing that everybody is after, is what plays everywhere. That's what I am always looking to find."
Dylan Moran, September 3, 8pm, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$488-HK$888, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 3128 8288