PORTSTEWART comedian Jimeoin is a class act - both on and off stage. It’s been a long time since I interviewed a comedian, or any other sort of star for that matter, and my chat with him was as one of the most enjoyable encounters I’ve had with famous personalities. I’ve really enjoyed some interviews with big or at least well-known ‘names’ in the past. Dervla Kerwin was a treat to meet when she starred in a production at the Millennium Forum. Even though I’d failed to prepare myself for the interview, she was so charming and friendly that it was one of the easiest, not to mention most pleasurable, ‘jobs’ I’ve ever had. Some others, when I asked for an impromptu chat, refused to speak to me, instead swatting me away with a contemptuous wave of the arm and in one case a dismissive remark, “Talk to my agent.”
But there’s something about comedians, especially some of the bigger names, that can make them especially dislikeable. I guess it’s the contrast between the stage persona and the deluded individual that thinks that, as crowds hang on their every word while on stage, they deserve a special place off stage as well. Strangely enough, some of the funny men are extremely humourless when being interviewed. I’ve had one or two experiences which taught me that, but thankfully I didn’t have the experience of one of my former colleagues, who was once insulted throughout his telephone chat with an Irish joker who became something of a household name.
That particular comedian - I won’t name names and I use the term ‘comedian’ lightly as I’ve never found him funny - repeatedly told my then colleague that he’d heard all of his questions before and asked why the reporter could not come up with an original question rather than bore him with old material. (You’d never get a comic doing that, now, would you?) That’s the problem with some well-known, and even not so well-known comics - they are self-important and think their so-called ‘intelligent’ and ‘alternative’ approach to comedy affords them a special status, some place on a pedestal that allows them to look down upon us ordinary, boring, and predictable mortals.
What they fail to recognise, of course, is that just as they are bored with hearing the same old questions, reporters are utterly bored with asking them.
Seldom do we do so out of genuine interest - more likely we have been asked to conduct the interview, so said ‘stars’ can sell more tickets to their shows - in other words, they want us to swoon and swan around them and come up with articles that will help reduce the number of empty seats in the aisles.
What a delightful difference is Jimeoin, who chatted to me during a break in a manic schedule of 26 sell-out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and who will appear in Londonderry, at the Millennium Forum, on November 10, as part of his Irish tour. The man is as likeable and as genuinely decent and disarmingly charming off-stage as he is on it.
Jimeoin grew up in Portstewart, went to Dominican College, and has clearly not lost touch with his roots - either in terms of geography or humility.
Jimeoin - he uses the name coined by his mother as a play on his forename and surname (McKeown) - moved to Australia at the age of 22, gaining work as a gardener, after four years spent working on building sites in London.
What initially drew him ‘down under’ was the idea of working in warm weather.
“I wanted to go to a hot climate. I was working in construction at that time, and wanted to work outside in a good climate; it was great. I had a one year visa and then applied for residency.”
Jimeoin says he never really set out on a path to becoming a great comedian, but that “I really fell into it by default.”
It wasn’t that he was inspired by boyhood idols, and he admits: “Tommy Cooper got me laughing but I never really watched his show that much. There’s lots of Monty Python that I’ve never seen. I’ve watched Life of Brian, but I’ve never seen the dead parrot sketch.
“I just have a daft head on me, and it’s great when the audience buy into the nonsense.”
Having seen Jimeoin several times on TV, I really enjoy his act and I tell him that it’s refreshing to hear a comedian who can make us laugh without thinking we have to hear the prentious philosophical messages they want to convey - as if that makes them a more serious and ‘relevant’ kind of comedian.
He agrees: “There are trends and there’s way too much of that at the minute: Daft shows are fewer and harder to find.”
Slowly, but surely, Jimeoin began to make a name for himself in Australia, to the point that his full-time job was acting daft, and he went on to become one of the biggest stars on the continent.
For more than two decades the local papers in the Coleraine Triangle area have been faithfully recording the progress of this ‘local boy done good’ as he rocketed to fame in Australia, while still being a relatively unknown quantity here.
The distance between his new home and the UK was too great to allow him to make an impression back here until the advent of new media, especially Youtube.
The world became a smaller place, and soon audiences throughout the UK and Ireland were laughing themselves silly at the antics of the funny Irishman who had taken Australia by storm.
This led to TV offers and his stock here rose considerably.
“It’s as a result of doing things like (Michael) McIntyre and the Apollo - the TV thing changed things. Standards are better and people are also now more willing to go out to shows than they were 15 years ago, when most people would never have been to a stand-up comedy night but now theatres put them on.
“I’ll soon be doing the Millennium (Forum) which is a great venue.”
Asked whether he has a favourite type of venue, he responds: “Sometimes I don’t like places which are too pompous. I get a warped enjoyment from sh*tty venues. Sometimes people in pompous venues take on airs and graces.”
Jimeoin sees the crowd as an essential part of the performance, and of course the characteristics of crowds can change.
“You certainly have to be on your toes,” he explains. “You can be surprised. You could have a couple of real good laughers which can bring a crowd along, but you can get some miserable ones which could bring you down.”
His parents, who still live in Portstewart enjoy the chance to see their son at work when he travels to the UK and they are presently in Edinburgh watching him entertain large crowds there. But he confesses that they won’t watch him when he plays in Coleraine because of the extra pressure of being in front of a home crowd.
“They don’t come at home, they get nervous for me,” he says.
I doubt if they’d have anything to worry about, as Jimeoin is one of those rare and wonderful comedians who can actually induce hysterical, side-splitting laughter amongst any audience.
I for one am eagerly looking forward to seeing him live at the Millennium Forum on November 10. I am certain that the audience here will have no problem at all, in embracing the madness that is Jimeoin McKeown.
Dates in Ireland are: 2nd November 2012 Newry, Sean Hollywood Arts Centre
3rd November 2012 Vicar Street, Dublin
4th November 2012 Grand Opera House, Belfast
6th November 2012 Galway, Roisin Dubh
7th November 2012 Omagh, Strule Arts Centre
10th November 2012 Londonderry, Millenium Forum
11th November 2012 Strabane, Alley Theatre
13th November 2012 Coleraine, Riverside Theatre
14th November 2012 Cookstown, Burnavon Arts Centre