Greenwich Comedy Festival: Ardal O'Hanlon on terrorist insults and My Lovely Horse

By Rob Virtue on August 21, 2014 2:07 PM |

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If there's a stand-up comedian who deserves to be heckled then it's probably Frankie Boyle. It's not Ardal O'Hanlon.

Affable and good-natured, he's a (much more) clued-up version of Father Dougal, the TV priest that made him a household name.

But around the time of his role in Father Ted, the Irishman faced his only hostile audience. And it was at Up The Creek in Greenwich.

"It was in the mid-1990s, around the time of the Canary Wharf bombing," said the 49-year-old. "A table of people were giving me a really hard time and calling me a terrorist.

"It was nasty and vicious and I really wasn't expecting it. They just started going crazy at me. Tensions in the area were running high at the time but that wasn't my fault."

Thankfully salvation was to come in the form of fellow audience members.

"The rest of the audience turned against them, which was a great feeling," he said. "After that I can't remember if they left or just shut up but it worked. I never really had another experience like that."

But O'Hanlon wasn't to let that sour what has become a long and happy connection with the borough. His links with the town will be strengthened next month when he returns to the Greenwich Comedy Festival.

He describes the five-day festival is one of the best not least because the comedians are looked after with a beer and given a chair "which is good because, as you may realise, I like the easy life," laughs the Dubliner.

But it's at Up The Creek where he has the most memories.

"It was one of those places where you would know you were going because you'll be pacing up and down a couple of days before," he said. "The great Malcolm Hardee was in charge and used to really get the crowd worked up.

"But it was a favourite of mine, a tough crowd but I seemed to get on with them.

"It was mainly back in the 1990s before comedy got so mainstream. When I started out in London there was a variety of acts - cabaret, jugglers and street performers.

"But it changed with people wanting the TV-style stuff."

But it was TV during the 1990s - between 95 and 98 - that led O'Hanlon achieving far-reaching fame. And despite starring in numerous screen and stage roles - including rave reviews for recent West End performances - it's for the part of Father Dougal that he will always be known for. Whether he likes it of not.

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"I have to accept that," he said. "Nothing crazy ever happens but there's times when I go on stage expected to sing My Lovely Horse and not a day goes by without people saying 'go on, go on'.

"But the shows are repeated so often and each time a younger audience discovers it. Just when I think I've escaped Father Ted it comes back to bite me."

The Greenwich Comedy Festival will see a host of other comedians including Milton Jones, David O'Doherty, Rich Hall and Stewart Lee, take to the stage. It runs from September 24 to 28. Go to greenwichcomedyfestival.co.uk for tickets.