THE TINKLE of pianos fills the silence while I wait to talk to Karl Spain. ‘Hold music’. Is there anything more infuriating?
When I am finally connected to Karl Spain, it turns out the Limerick comedian is at home in his native city despite the fact that I have been instructed to call a Dublin number to speak to him.
PR protocol and such.
Spain laughs at this and says I should have called his mobile directly. I laugh and say I actually secretly enjoyed the hold music and the fact that I am calling Dublin to speak to a man sitting across the city.
We both laugh at this thought.
You see Spain is in the business of making people laugh and has been doing so for more than ten years. (He sighs at the merest mention of this fact). Despite the fact that his ambition as a child was to be a professional footballer (“I haven’t given up yet”), Spain has carved out a niche for himself in the competitive world of Irish comedy, a sphere that is well stocked.
An indication of his prowess is his selection for the main stage at Comedy Central Killarney, a new festival taking place in September, along with Ardal O’Hanlon, Neil Delamere, Andrew Maxwell and Fred Cooke. A two day festival, featuring eighteen top Irish and international comedians, Spain argues that it is “great bang for your buck”.
“One thing you will notice, in the times we live in, is that you are getting extra comics for less money than you used to,” he laughs. “The show I am on has Cooke, Delamere, O’Hanlon, Maxwell - and you get day passes and stuff, so it is great value. You would pay that price for individual shows for some of those people. The comedy thing, while I wouldn’t say it is booming in times of recession, is still hanging in there. I read a theory about how people still tend to spend money - if you are surviving, you will get out and enjoy yourself, rather than saving.”
Spain believes the high standard in Irish comedy is down to a wave of new comics learning from their forebears - a passing of the standard as the generations evolve.
“The first comedy gig I saw was just a club gig and the headliner was Tommy Tiernan and if anything it knocked me back a few years, because I thought, ‘Jesus, you have to be that good to headline’,” laughs Karl.
“The other thing is that people help each other, there is an unofficial mentor system and when I started Des Bishop was great. When I was a few years established, I helped out a few people, recommended them for gigs and stuff. You have to keep passing it on,” he adds.
Despite the good natured banter, most Irish comics get on well together Karl explains, giving off an air of fraternity, which would be unusual in that ‘showbiz’ world.
“It is a good community, yeah, while it would be competitive in some ways, you are always trying to improve, it is not dog eat dog - we are too small, you can’t be trying to stab each other in the back and then go working with each other down in Killarney,” he laughs.
In the comedy game now since his first gig in April 2000 in Dublin’s Haypenny Inn, Spain has fond memories of his first gig in Limerick.
“My first gig in Limerick was July 2001, in Dolan’s. I dreaded it thinking the Limerick crowd would give me hell, but they have always been the best audiences,” he says.
“I was quite fearful. I thought Limerick people would shout ‘you are the guy from Burgerland’. I was nervous before the gigs, but when they started and I got the first laugh, I found it quite exhilarating. I think that Limerick gig gave me quite a high, quite a buzz,” he adds, although working in Burgerland still comes back to haunt him from time to time, he laughs.
Spain also plays at the Electric Picnic this weekend, a festival he has become somewhat synonymous with, given his regular appearances at the Stradbally music and arts extravaganza in recent years.
“It is fantastic, I have done a few of them and it is a great thing, a great atmosphere,” he says.
“Comedy and music go well together, we are the rock and roll, edgy people in society! It is just about making people enjoy themselves - if I could play music or sing, I would do that. Maybe Arcade Fire would swap?”
Karl Spain plays Electric Picnic this weekend. Comedy Central Killarney takes place on September 16-17 at the INEC. See Killarney INEC for more.