Interview: Paddy Raff On The BBC's Stand Up for Live Comedy

Interview: Paddy Raff On The BBC's Stand Up for Live Comedy

Irish star Paddy Raff hosts the second instalment of Stand Up for Live Comedy, which was filmed at CARGO by Vertigo in Belfast and features Funny Women finalist Mary O’Connell (second from left), ‘All Killa No Filla’ podcast star Rachel Fairburn (left)) and local comic Shane Todd (right).  

Stand Up For Live Comedy (Belfast) is on iPlayer now and will repeat on BBC1 on Monday at 10.45pm. On BBC NI, it'll air at 11.15pm.

Why do you feel Stand Up For Live Comedy is an important show for right now?

I think it’s great for people to see that live comedy can be done and that it can be done right, under the current circumstance and given the restrictions. It shows that comedy is important for our culture that the BBC has decided to make the show and it’s important to get it out there and remind people what they’re missing. We’ve been consuming a lot of media that was made before lockdown so I feel that to be able to watch something that’s been made recently gives people hope that new things can be made and to a really high standard.


Why do you feel comedy is such a vital part of British culture?

It’s great because it’s instant. A lot of people’s sets can reflect circumstances that are going on then and there. Some of the stuff I did on Stand Up For Live Comedy I wrote while I was there because of what was going on. You were kind of thrust back into making something and seeing people for the first time in a good while. So I think it can also be satirical and of course everybody likes to get together and have a laugh. A comedy show is a very cathartic experience and comedy is just an important part of our live entertainment scene as well because there are so many different acts and so much diversity out there. 


How have you been keeping yourself busy over these past few months?

It was strange because on March 7th I did my first night at the SSE Arena in Belfast. It was the first of five sold-out nights and that was the last mass gathering of anyone in Ireland really, certainly of that kind. That gig just sort of got through in terms of lockdown a week later and since then I’ve focussed my energy online. I’ve always had a bit of a decent social media presence and it was kind of reciprocal because as much as it was giving me something to do, there was a big appetite for online comedy out there. People wanted a bit of comic relief so I’ve been doing a lot of online content and I got calls from news outlets in England and further afield.


Have you mastered any new skills during the pandemic?

I’ve mastered disciplining children whilst maintaining a decent Zoom meeting. That’s something I didn’t know I had in me. There have been times where the kids are going mad and I’ve had to put myself on ‘mute’. It’s just ventriloquism - being able to shout at your kids whilst on ‘mute’ as well as throwing your voice to make it sound more threatening. I have two young kids and I’m disciplining them while I’m on Zoom and trying not to come across like a madman. I try and keep them in a different room but at a crucial time they decide to wander in and start playing around your feet.


You recorded your episode of Stand Up For Live Comedy at CARGO by Vertigo in your home town of Belfast. How was the experience?

They’re based in the Titanic Quarter, where there’s a lot of wide open space, and they were able to capitalise on that space. The Titanic Quarter is a real hub of activity and creativity in Belfast. Game Of Thrones was largely made there at the massive Titanic Studios and the area brings in a lot of tourists. It felt exciting that we were doing something groundbreaking ourselves there - that this show was able to go ahead because they have ample space. It was really nice to be hosting the show there and it’s a spectacular setting because you’re in the shadow of the Harland & Wolff Cranes and you’ve got the Titanic Hotel and the Titanic centre right next door to the venue. 


What safety measures were in place on the day?

One of the reasons I knew the show would work was when they said they’d be doing it at CARGO. I made a joke about it being my first time looking at a crowd who were on sofas, that it looked like Belfast’s version of Central Perk in Friends. But it was great because people booked their tickets in their bubbles and there were tables as well for people in bubbles. It felt like nobody was being put at risk or made to feel uneasy. There was hand sanitiser everywhere obviously and I can still smell it. I’ve become a bit of a hand sanitiser connoisseur, as we all have, and it was quite a nice one; it was a good year, a good vintage.

Then backstage there’s so much ample space too. We had a huge space backstage that was half indoors and half outdoors and it was all elbow bumps. That was one of the things I commented on on stage on the night, that it was the first time I’d actually been elbow-bumping people and I had the socially awkward experience of being left hanging a few times. When you stick your hand out to shake someone else’s hand and you miss then you can kind of do that thing of pretending to fix your hair, even if you’re bald, but I was left hanging for a few elbow bumps and there’s nothing you can really do about that. 


How was it being back on stage in front of a live audience?

It was very surreal. I’ve only been doing comedy for two and a half years and it’s been sort of a mad explosion and an upwards trajectory from March 2018, when I first started, to March 2020 doing the SSE Arena, and that turned out to be by last gig until now. So when this came up I was like ‘Oh yeah!’ It was strange being back on stage in front of a live audience for a TV thing but it was great. 


Your co-comedians on the show are Mary O’Connell, Rachel Fairburn and Shane Todd. What do they each bring to the mix?

It was great to have such a mixture of acts because here in Ireland we don’t tend to get many performers over from England. It was a real treat for the audience to have Mary and Rachel on the bill. Mary’s from London and that’s a world that’s very different from here, but the audience loved hearing different voices, plus she linked a lot of stuff back to Belfast and Norther Ireland.

Rachel is from Manchester and I find that our humour in Belfast has a lot in common with Northern humour, so a lot of her references were similar to what we see here. She was another comedian everyone was happy to see and her act went down brilliantly on the night. Then Shane is a local comedian from Northern Ireland and he’s been doing it for about 12 years, so a lot of people know him and were happy to hear another local voice. He and I have quite different styles so it was a good mix on the night. As far as comedy club line-ups go, I don’t think you could get much better.


How does what’s been happening around the world in general and the UK in particular play into your stage routine?

My approach has been that people don’t want to hear too much about it in your set so I don’t talk too much about coronavirus. You do a bit at the start obviously, to set the scene a bit, but I’ve made a decision that anything I have to say about coronavirus I’m going to make it there and then, put it up online and not feature it in my set. The feeling I get is that people don’t want to be reminded too much about it and that was the thing with the Stand Up For Live Comedy show - nobody really focussed on it and I think it was a better show for that.


When it comes to making people laugh, do you have boundaries you won’t cross?

My comedy is very much who I am rather than having a version of me on stage or a stage persona. Even though I do character comedy on stage as well, there’s a very clear line between that and who I am when I do my set. For me, having grown up as a carer for someone with special needs and being around people with special needs as a result, I don’t get offended by it very much. I think that’s one of the things about being from Belfast and catching the tail end of The Troubles, we tend to have quite a dark sense of humour here - which is great because you can get away with quite a lot on stage. 


Having been back in front of an audience, are you optimistic about the future of live comedy?

My previous job before a stand-up comedy, and which I was still doing up until last year, was playing in a wedding band. I’ve got a lot of contacts and a lot of friends who are still in that industry and watching how hard it’s been for them it hit me that had I still been doing that job I’d be absolutely crippled financially. A lot of my friends have taken to doing deliveries and stuff like that because their income has been completely turned off like a tap and it doesn’t look like it’s going to come back on.

But comedy is one of the few things that doesn’t fall into the ‘live music’ or ‘live performance’ categories. It’s found a loophole somehow so what we’re seeing is a lot of comedy clubs springing up now where the venue can show that they’re socially distanced and it’s all table service. In Ireland we’re starting to be able to have indoor comedy gigs again as well as the outdoor ones, although going into autumn I’m not sure our weather is conducive to the latter. It seems like an exciting time where we’re taking tentative steps towards getting back to some kind of normality. You’ve just got to roll with what the directions are because it seems like they change week after week. 


Interview supplied by publicists




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