The UK’s most cherished Irish comic, presenter and maths geek, Dara O’Briain, is in good form. “Comedians are very good company because we just like to sit around and gossip,” he tells us, laughing. The funnyman is speaking to us from his home in London where he’s enjoying time off from gigging – he’s just wrapped up his 113-date Crowd Tickler tour, which he has also released a DVD for – and which he will perform at Dubai World Trade Centre on Thursday March 17.
A fitting date for the Irish native (it’s St. Patrick’s Day) but he insists the gig won’t be an ode to the Emerald Isle. “I’m very proud to be Irish,” the 43 year-old says in his thick Wicklow accent. “But there’s nothing especially Paddy-tastic about it. I don’t walk out on stage with a big flag and sing ‘Amhrán Na bhFiann’ (The Irish national anthem).” He is, however, still patriotic. He speaks fluent Gaelic, says he misses watching the GAA games in Dublin and heads to the pub to watch the Irish national football team play when he gets a chance.
Hailing from Bray in County Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland, O’Briain is often referred to as “Britain’s favourite Irishman” and is known for his comic routines on UK TV show Mock the Week and is a regular on Live at the Apollo. It’s not hard to see his comic appeal. Aside from his sharp-witted humour, O’Briain seems built for comedy – quite literally. At 6ft 4, the fast-talking stand-up admits his physical appearance is often enough to get people laughing. He’s often compared to animated characters such as Gru from Despicable Me – go on, Google it, the resemblance is uncanny.
Growing up though, O’Briain’s interests were more academic – he has a degree in maths and theoretical physics from University College Dublin and presents various science and maths TV shows in the UK including Dara O’Briain’s Science Club, but ultimately he says comedy was his calling. “I honestly don’t think I had the spark that you need for science. Emotionally you need to be able to work without getting applause and laughter every 15 minutes and I think that’s probably the main character flaw that would keep me out of it. I like making people laugh every half a minute.”
A self-confessed nerd, O’Briain’s highlight of 2015 was meeting physicist Stephen Hawking as part of a special BBC documentary. “I've met him a few times actually, bizarrely at the Monty Python reunion. He’s a bit of a hero of mine,” O’Briain says. “I got to go for drinks with him once, too. It was me, him and Benedict Cumberbatch in a bar. I was hosting a science panel discussion, and afterwards they said, ‘We’re going for a drink, Stephen would love you to come.’ There’s no way you say, ‘I’ve actually got some Fifa to play tonight,’ to an invitation like that. I got to ask him a series of very rude and personal questions that day, which he was very gracious in answering.”
O’Briain discovered comedy at university but says he never thought of himself as a stand-up. “You have a moment where you think you might try this, but you never say, ‘I’m going to become a comedian,’ because it’s like the most ridiculous dream in the world to do this for a living. Before you know it though, it’s paying your rent and you’re on the BBC. You want the love of a bunch of strangers, that’s why you do it. Getting that buzz of the crowd is incredible. It’s playtime really,” he says.
When he’s not performing, he’s doing “normal things or faffing around on Twitter”, engaging with fans. “I used to enjoy Twitter a lot more. There used to be loads of randomers on it and you’d fling an idea out and you’d have people chiming in with funny suggestions but I sort of feel like the party is fizzling out a bit.” These days his ideas come to him by sitting in a room “having a bit of a rant to yourself” with a piece of paper while drinking a glass of grape. And what if he forgets his material for his live shows? “I often watch my own DVD on the plane over to gigs,” he says bashfully. “It’s hard not to be really conspicuous when everyone else is watching a movie and you are watching yourself. It’s not just me basking in my own brilliance on the plane though,” he assures us.
On stage O’Briain is incisive, thoughtful and just as personable as he is with us – his gags cover everything from scientific issues to people’s TV watching habits. “The last thing you’ll ever see me do is a funny thing my kid said. I would sooner eat my leg than entertain that,” he says. His timing too is perfect and the delivery razor-sharp. At times he sounds like a racing commentator, babbling and spewing out observations, but it works. “I don’t think comedy is something you inherit. I think it’s a weird mutation,” he says thoughtfully of his profession. So what does he think the key to success is? “I’m lucky, blessedly lucky and at some point it will all be taken away from me, but in the meantime don’t tell anyone.” Hopefully Dara will bring the luck of the Irish to Dubai on March 17.
Dhs300-500. Thursday March 17. Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road www.doneevents.com/dara.