First Gig Worst Gig

Joanne McNally

Joanne McNally

Over the three years or so that this feature has been running we've had a fair bit of variation in answer to the 'First Gig' question, although there are three popular themes.

Usually it's along the lines of 'I always wanted to and finally got round to it' or 'I never wanted to but a friend put my name down', or sometimes 'it was the culmination of a comedy course.' What they all tend to have in common is a fairly small room. But not this week. By crikey, no.

As will become clear in the chat below, Joanne McNally hit the ground running as a stand-up, and rapidly became a big noise over in Ireland, then Scotland, where her issue-tackling one-woman theatre show Bite Me garnered much praise at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe. Her most recent hour is at the Soho Theatre next week (15 and 16 April), and is very much one-woman comedy.

"The show is called Wine Tamer and it's straight-up stand-up," she says. "There is no life lesson in it, no deep emotional journey, it's a high energy hour of FUN."

And you can't beat a bit of that right now. Let's begin, then, with McNally's unique debut.

Joanne McNally

First gig?

I had a weird start, I didn't come into stand-up the regular way. I didn't start in the clubs: my first gig was in a 300-seater venue in Ireland.

Before that I'd been working full time in PR when a mate of mine suggested I be in her show that she was putting on in the Dublin Fringe, I just had to be myself and talk about my love life on stage. I'd just been broken up with by this bald lad at the time which I felt was very unjust considering his... situation.

So I was telling that story and a comedian came to see the show and suggested I do stand-up. I initially laughed it off but then thought 'fuck it, I'll give it a go.' He brought me on tour with him and that's where I started. I did my first five minutes on his tour; I loved it, it just felt like the right thing to be doing with myself. I was doing all this weird stuff about orphan Annie which no-one but me found entertaining.

The audience were very nice about it, in some ways it was a more pressurised way to start, 'cos the rooms I was doing were so big for a brand-new comedian, but in other ways, it was a lovely way to start 'cos I was protected; I was introduced as a brand-new act and everyone was really sound.

Once the tour finished I was out on my own!

Favourite show, ever?

I love big rooms, the bigger the better, so I did the 3Arena in Dublin last year for Comic Relief, which was a 3,000-seater. Even though I was absolutely shitting it beforehand, it's been my favourite gig so far.

Oh, and I'm doing my first ever Vicar Street in April which is our main venue at home, so hopefully that will be my fave gig once it's done, unless I fuck it up. I've supported other acts there before but this is the first time I'm doing it myself which means this time when I steal wine from the green room like I always do, I'll be stealing from myself, so that's quite cool.

Worst gig?

I was over doing a month of shows in Australia recently and one of them was weird, it was just a weird vibe, they were a much older crowd than I was used to.

Basically it wasn't going very well and I asked this man in the front row something and he said 'I've no interest in talking to you, I'd rather go out and get a beer,' so off he went and his wife didn't even flinch.

She sat there with her arms folded staring off into the distance, it was clear she hated him. And then he arrived back in, ten minutes later and walked onto the stage and asked the crowd, 'Did I miss anything?' and I told him, 'I think you've missed the fact that your marriage is over.' Things got worse then...

Joanne McNally

Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

The comedian who got me into it: PJ Gallagher is his name. He encouraged me and kept me in it before I really had a hunger for it, he made me take it seriously and taught me so, so much, he mentored me to death. At the time I didn't realise how lucky I was to have him, he was my Mr Miyagi and I'll always be grateful to him for that.

And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

HA! Jaysis there's loads and I'm probably one of them. Comedy is fierce competitive so it can get catty, but it's just people trying to succeed. I try and stay in my own lane and only bitch about my best mates; that feels healthier.

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

Yes, but I'm not setting it up properly so they think it's racist, so I won't write it here in case they're right.

Do you have any tips for Irish comics still thinking of coming to the UK (despite everything)?

Don't come. I'm here now and I want all the work. Oh, but if you are coming bring your own butter, because you can't order it anywhere coz they think you're asking for booter and they don't know what that is.

I've had to start acting out buttering things in restaurants, it's humiliating.

The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction?

I did a tweet recently about pharmacists and the amount of time it takes to get your meds. I'd had two incredibly painfully slow pharmacy experiences in a row but clearly the tweet was not a serious one: I do not actually believe pharmacists stand out the back on their phones.

Anyway, it greatly upset the pharmacists. I ended up being added to some 'pharmacy banter and lols' Facebook group, being threatened with violence and being called a slag. I think they should probably rename the group.

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

Good! I'm in the planting seeds period, not sexually of course: I couldn't raise anything now I'm too busy with the pharmacists, but work wise, I'm planting seeds. I've had a pilot commissioned so that's cool. It's all pitches now, meetings, meetings about pitches, it takes time and I'm in no rush.

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