Saturday, June 12, 2010
06/08/2010 Kilkenny's Cat Laughs: Ireland's answer to the Edinburgh festival? | Bruce Dessau

Dara O'Briain and Ardal O'Hanlon were among the stars at Ireland's annual comedy-fest â€" a traditional warm-up that allows audiences to get up close and personal with the sharpest funnymen in the business

While the world's best footballers were limbering up in South Africa at the weekend, comedy's finest were limbering up at Kilkenny's 16th Cat Laughs comedy festival with their annual Ireland v Rest of the World soccer showdown. A packed crowd of local families gathered around the Marble City's modest green to see the likes of Wayne Rooney-shaped Kevin Bridges, Scotland's heir apparent to Billy Connolly, clatter into 2008's If.comedy award-winner David O'Doherty.

The Cat Laughs is the ultimate boutique comedy festival, a chance to see theatre-filling household names up close and personal. Every pub in this dinky little city is overrun by standups for one gloriously long weekend. There are no intervals and most acts only last 20 minutes, condensing longer routines into all-killer, no-filler sets. On Saturday, for instance, Dara O'Briain â€" due to play nine nights at the Hammersmith Apollo in the autumn â€" gave a breathless turn at Langton's Bar to deafening roars. The comic appeared to relish the liberation of playing live and uncensored, revealing how ITV's lawyers had wanted to pull a gag about the Irish potato famine that he told to Phillip Schofield on This Morning for fear of upsetting viewers â€" just another example, he said, of how nervous TV execs have become since Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross.

Another local issue was dealt with by Ardal O'Hanlon, who acknowledged that these are tough times for Catholicism: "It's not even safe to admit you used to play a comedy priest." Yet it was reassuring to see that some standup tropes are universal: when Dubliner Gearóid Farrelly referred to the clunky gear changes on Irish afternoon TV â€" one minute leukaemia, the next split ends â€" he could easily have been talking about the BBC's The One Show.

Other hits included Simon Amstell delivering a masterclass in whimsical existentialist angst; but newer talents gave the stars a run for their money. Homegrown quartet Dead Cat Bounce made a huge impression with their tight-trousered musical spoofs, skewering Westlife and children's television â€" easy targets, but the set was brilliantly executed. Another discovery was cranky Californian Moshe Kasher , whose neurotic, self-styled "angry Jew" ranting referenced everyone from Dante to Devo. Kasher was even more idiosyncratic than the venue he was performing in, the Kilford Arms (and that's saying something: it's a modern pub built around the ruins of what the manager assured me was a fake 16th-century church.)

As for the football match, this was clearly no gimmick â€" despite the fact that impish Irishman Andrew Maxwell played while sporting a Mexican wrestler's mask, a topless man invaded the pitch and Fred MacAulay compared proceedings to Escape to Victory. Everyone apart from Maxwell â€" including 2009 Edinburgh comedy award-winner Tim Key, Peter Crouch lookalike Alun Cochrane and human rights lawyer-turned-comedian Keith Farnan â€" took things very seriously. If the Irish were hoping to salvage national pride for missing South Africa, things did not look good when they were 2:0 down at half time. Whatever they put in their interval oranges, though, it did the trick. After two beautifully struck shots and a gloriously headed own goal by Mock the Week's Andy Parsons â€" the funniest sight all weekend â€" Ireland romped home, 3:2 winners.

Dara O Briain
Bruce Dessau ? Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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