Dylan Moran: ‘Panel shows… I have an absolute horror of those’

As his new tour kicks off, the Irish stand-up reveals his loathing of cosy British comedy, and why he’s still laughing at those who threaten our freedom of speech
Dylan Moran
Dylan Moran, photographed in the Lake District for the Observer. Photograph: Gary Calton

Dylan Moran is an energetic man. When we speak, he’s whizzing around the Lake District trying out material (“to scare myself”) before he embarks on his extensive Off the Hook tour. But the one place you won’t find him is on any kind of panel show. Maybe it’s because he’s Irish, he explains, but he just can’t abide what he sees as a peculiarly British trait: “There’s an institutionalised love of games, an institutionalised passion for parlour games, a kind of ludic obsession with passing time in a non-threatening way. And that just gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies, the vapours; it makes me want to shriek, running over the hills, picking up my clothes. I have an absolute horror of that… people sitting around on the radio making puns; the panel shows where you get a load of blokes who are trying to out-monkey each other, and the room is throbbing with testosterone and hatred for other people and for themselves. I cannot take it.”

Lucky, then, that the 43-year-old comedian, who grew up in West Meath, in the Irish midlands, and now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two children, loves live work – or, as he describes it, “when you find out what it is you’re after”. Having just returned from Lithuania, he’ll be on the road in the UK from now until the end of May, with tours planned for Ireland, mainland Europe, Australia and the US.

Part of the enjoyment is meeting comedians from other countries; at last year’s Edinburgh festival, Moran, Eddie Izzard and promoter Mick Perrin brought a group of comedians over from Germany, Italy and France to perform for the first time in English.

Edinburgh is where things really got going for Moran, who at 24 was the youngest-ever winner of the Perrier comedy award, back in 1996. It was a stellar start to a career that went on to encompass Black Books, the Channel 4 sitcom that saw Moran create and play the miserabilist bookshop proprietor Bernard Black, as well as parts in films such as Notting Hill, Shaun of the Dead and Calvary.

“When I started [in comedy], it was like putting ‘pirate’ in your career-choice box,” he says, explaining that the tail-end of 1980s comedy, with its influences from America, was still “very exciting and fresh and rebellious”. Now, he concedes, referring to the rise of stadium tours and DVDs, it’s a little more “like when the chain shops pop up around the country”.

That’s why he likes to stay under the radar. He’s still winnowing material for Off the Hook, for which he’s written and illustrated some pamphlets that he describes as “squibs”. He’s unsure that there’s an overarching theme to the tour beyond, perhaps, the vantage point of his time of life. “I don’t imagine I’m alone in having over the past few months – maybe years, even – felt like I have to check with my friends and peers all the time that this [stage of my life] is quite as extraordinarily unstable and mad and changeable as it seems to me it is,” he explains. “Because a lot of the time people wonder, is that just my age, is that just time passing by, and me being more aware of what’s going on everywhere?”

I ask him how the instability of the times – and the threats faced by freedom of speech and satire – has affected what comedians do. “You don’t have any choice,” he replies. “You just have to laugh at it. The alternative is saying nothing, going quiet… That’s not going to happen.”

Off the Hook tours nationwide until 30 May

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