Funnyman Dara O’Briain is a journalist’s dream. His razor-sharp mind and tongue means that given half a chance, he would spend the rest of the day replying to a single question. It’s almost as if he is unleashing his whole stand-up routine in front of you in his trademark 200mph delivery.
The 44-year-old from County Wicklow, who is as ubiquitous on British and Irish TV as Terry Wogan was in the 1980s, was in Dubai recently for a special St Patrick’s Day show at the World Trade Centre. And he’s already packed some factor 50 he took on his last visit to the emirate.
“I’ve been coming here for about 15 years,” he told the Friday. “I’ve had my adventures in Dubai before you know! I’ve played at comedy clubs and did the tennis stadium five years ago. Once I did Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Hong Kong all in a week.”
This time he found himself doing a show on the actual day that the whole world turned green.
St Patrick’s Day has seemingly been embraced by the whole world. Landmarks such as the Colosseum in Rome and Nelson’s Column in London are illuminated green for the day.
It is all a far cry from Dara’s boyhood experiences in Ireland. “I know in the 90s in Dublin they made a big effort to catch up with America. Chicago and New York have made it into this big festival. Americans would ride into Dublin and say ‘what is this, why isn’t there more going on?’ In New York you’d have a three-day festival. In Dublin you’d have this parade that would start at 11 o’clock in the morning.”
Dara’s show in Dubai was an extension of his hugely successful ‘Crowd Tickler’ tour which he’d been taking relentlessly around Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe since 2014.
It is so difficult to categorise this London-based performer these days. Stand-up comedian, TV presenter, newspaper columnist, some people even think he is the face of the no-frills, low-cost coach company Megabus in the UK, as he bears such a striking resemblance to the big jolly man with the yellow cap painted on the back of each vehicle. It’s a long-running gag that Dara has been happy to play along with. “That’s the thing. You don’t get to choose what people say about you. It may not be the greatest thing but it’s fine. I don’t think Megabus are even aware of it. Maybe I could record an on-board greeting for passengers: ‘hello and welcome to Megabus’. We all have our price!”
Of all his jobs in the world of entertainment, the job of comic is his preferred ‘day job’. No surprise, given the weeks on end he spends on tour.
“If the passport still had that line ‘what’s your trade’, yeah I definitely would put down ‘comedian’. The tour is 150 dates so everything else like the TV shows get pushed to one side and are done on a Monday or a Tuesday. Everything has to be arranged around the tour. I’m really busy doing all the other stuff, there’s loads going on. I love it. It’s a great craic doing all that but it’s just a sideline to my actual job which is a comedian.”
He’s probably best known on British TV as the host of popular panel show Mock the Week but he also presents more cerebral programmes such as Stargazing and the School of Hard Sums. It’s a nice balance. “It is yes because you are using a different part of your brain than the one you use for stand-up comedy. With stand up you just let yourself loose, mess around and come up with ideas and string them out, whereas with the TV work you have to put your head down and think: Science, stars, galaxies. It’s quite refreshing going from one to the other.”
The passion for science developed from his days at University College Dublin where he studied maths and theoretical physics. It has opened plenty of doors for him on TV including interviewing British astronaut Tim Peake and his boyhood hero Stephen Hawking. “It was a joy just hanging out for a while. It was wonderful,” he said about the iconic scientist.
It’s fairly easy to track Dara’s life, likes and dislikes through his strong social media presence. He is a prominent member of the Twitterati. As you’d expect there is plenty of lively banter on there but he’s also had his fair share of trolls to deal with – does he think that is a price worth paying? Dara goes on a rant that is both insightful and funny. “It’s an interesting one. For some people, no, but Twitter has shifted towards people like me with a rhino skin. I’ve had 20 years in comedy clubs dealing with abuse from people.
“For some reason, people have this attitude on Twitter that if they know you, then they are allowed to be as rude as possible. I mean really? And people accidentally send you rude things. If they say ‘I really hate @daraobriain’ instead of ‘I really hate Dara O’Brian’, then I can read it because it comes directly to me and pops up on my screen!
“But people will rarely go ‘oh sorry about that’, they will double down on it and go ‘well, you should be able to handle it’ or something like that. It’s like the antlers come out and they won’t back down. Someone else said ‘I hate you and my mother hates you too’ and I was like ‘wow’. But I am big enough and ugly enough to ride those, but for other people it shouldn’t have to be the price of engaging and it’s sort of taken the heart out of it.”
As a big Arsenal FC fan, it’s the perfect way for Dara to unwind. “Well you’re allowed to have your own name on the back of the seat so when I’m there it says: ‘Dara O’Briain is not on tour’.”