The London Evening News called Irish comedian/actor/writer, Dylan Moran, ‘The Oscar Wilde of comedy‘. Just minutes into the interview I understood why. His swing through Texas on the final leg of his current North American tour (tonight at the Paramount Theater in Austin and Thursday at the Lakewood Theater in Dallas), is the comic’s first venture into the state. It may be the first time he has set foot on Texas soil but public television viewers in both North Texas and across the U.S. will immediately recognize Moran from either his brilliant Black Books sitcom or the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright zombie classic, Shaun of the Dead.
Tagged awhile back as ‘the greatest comedian, living or dead‘ by French newspaper, Le Monde, Moran routinely does a bit of localizing of his stand-up material by doing some fairly extensive research about the area. Where most comedians or visitors to the area tend to, sadly, binge watch the entire 1980’s series, Dallas, or feel the need to connect with a JFK assassination story, Moran is light years beyond that and quickly referenced a recent story in Time Magazine as the starting point for his Lone Star State research…
Tellyspotting: First time in Texas?
Dylan Moran: First time. I know nothing.
TS: You seem to do a bit of research prior to a tour stop about the city or area you are in and tailor your stand-up a bit to where you are. How on Earth did you research Texas?
DM: My general policy wherever I’m going is to look into what’s going on, what are the recent local political stories, all trying to get a sense as to what people are talking about. There was a big story in Time Magazine the last couple of days about how people are using ‘the Texan model’, how economically people are moving into the state, it’s cheaper to live, you can buy yourself a big house for the amount of money it would cost to buy a small apartment in a bunch of other cities. There’s obviously a lot going on here, it’s a dynamic time in the state. Historically, there has always seemed to be a feeling of separatism and a very strong local identity.
TS: In the middle of your U.S. tour, have you figured out America yet?
DM: No, not at all. I think that might be pushing it and would take some doing. I’m overwhelmed at the vastness of the country. It was interesting coming here from Eastern Europe because so many people came over here on the Red Star Line and other big ships. People who really got involved in the construction of America, the people who were fleeing Naziism.
TS: Having performed virtually in all parts of the globe, does comedy travel as well as you’d expected?
DM: You’d be very surprised. It’s really hard to tell how it’s going to go. I’ve been surprised at how quick AND slow people are on the uptake. There are certain countries that people want to join the world party, to improve their own lot for their families, learning English. Luckily, I happen to be doing this at a time in a period of history where English is hovering around the peak point as sort of a false language for people that don’t understand each other but will use English so you can sort of sail along on the tailwind of that.
TS: Personally, you seem to be in a constant state of learning and very much enjoy the art of conversation. Where does that come from?
DM: I grew up in Ireland where the most popular form of entertainment or passing the time is talking because that’s always free. You’re always swapping stories with people about where they’re from, what’s going on, etc.
TS: Have you been able to pick up in either certain areas of the country or certain areas of the world things that you thought would connect but didn’t or vice versa?
DM: Tracking the immigrant experience from Eastern Europe was really interesting to see what those people were coming from and why those people are vociferously patriotic, nationalist types and as Americans from that part of the world are very appreciative of what was made available to them here. Traveling around the different territories in America, it’s very interesting to see there are so many nations within the nation. When you’re in a territory as big as Texas with 25 million people or a huge city like New York, everyone is really self-referential. People will track national politics in the big cities but for the most part, people’s concerns or focus are quite local.
TS: In writing ‘Black Books’, did you find it tougher to write for yourself in a sitcom as opposed now writing for yourself doing stand-up?
DM: That’s a good question. With ‘Black Books’, I wanted to make an ensemble show. I was very lucky to have Bill Bailey, an amazing comic phenomenon and Tamsin Greig who is an absolutely world-class actor. To be honest with you, I just wanted to write a show that made time go by quickly. In terms of writing stand-up, it’s as hard as you want it to be. If you don’t want to just phone it in, it does get harder. You can talk about certain stuff any where in the world and you’ll get laughs but if you want to try and push it a bit, be more exploratory, then it takes more work.
TS: When you look at the individual characters of a Bernard Black, Basil Fawlty or Edmund Blackadder, is it the writing that can take a very unlikeable human being and, essentially, deliver a character that the audience desperately wants to succeed?
DM: It’s not so much writing as it is a question of voice. When you are very familiar with a character’s voice in your head or a particular type of human being, they resonate with people and what happens is that it’s not so much that they want them to succeed as it is that they love the fact that they can vicariously live through these characters who get to say and do all kinds of things they wouldn’t dare.
TS: What makes you laugh today?
DM: I think there is lots of good comedy around. I prefer small stories that are more like literature where its from someone’s mind. This particular thing happened on this particular Sunday in this particular small town. They tend to hook me more. What I really love is ‘The Kids Are Alright’ which comes to mind recently. You get a real sense of the person who had written it and the characters. What works best for me is something that has a really strong voice rather than something that is simply trying to get as many laughs as possible.
After letting me in on a bit of inside information that he favors both The Long Hall and Doheny & Nesbitt‘s in Dublin (two really great pubs, BTW), it was time to head out to find a bite to eat in Austin before Tuesday’s show and, from what I could surmise, to continue to tweak and put the final touches on what promises to be an evening you’ll definitely regret if you are not in attendance. If you miss Wednesday’s show at the Paramount Theater in Austin, get in your car and head 200 miles north to the Lakewood Theater in Dallas on Thursday to catch the show. If you’re in Dallas, you need to be at the Lakewood on Thursday. All the cool kids will be there. You can thank me later…