Ardal O’Hanlon has an endearing quality to him. And it’s not just the lingering essence of delightful Dougal, either. Instead it’s a sense of authenticity and sincerity that is rare in a comedian these days. I think Jerry Lewis and Norman Wisdom had the same kind of energy, back in their own time, but in my experience, there’s a hard edge to most comedy (especially with the funny men as opposed to the funny wimmins) these days, a cruel twist and some often rather uncomfortably prickly bits.
Not so with Ardal. He brings an element of innocence to the stage, as he cracks jokes about sex which pack just the right amount of discomfort to make them all the funnier. No, we can’t imagine you screwing Ardal, but if you insist, we will try, and there it is, an even more genius punchline because you’ve contorted our brains into this not-so-appropriate mental image already…
The audience adores Ardal. Last night, we laughed louder, clapped harder, and showered him with love in the packed out Room 2 of Fifth on Teeling, because this man has already won the crowd’s love as he bounds on stage with self-proclaimed ‘Puppy-like enthusiasm’ (are you still in bed with him in your mind’s eye? Best get out now, that’s bordering on bestiality, poor puppy) and fills every silence with protracted moans of what could be agony or delight. Some of his jokes are creaking with the weight of rural Ireland’s expectations, others razor sharp and bordering on offensive, but he pulls it all off because he is so lovely and he trusts us so implicitly.
And that’s the thing. An audience can feel it when an act gets up on stage without that trust. The performer sizzles with defensiveness. They poke fun, picking holes in a crowd of spectators to demonstrate how tough they are, how much they don’t care if we don’t love them. And it works sometimes, unfortunately. It always fascinates me how much a roomful of people will laugh along at the humiliation of one of their own, delirious in the relief of it not being them. And yet we back huge campaigns against bullying in our schools and workplaces. The dark side of comedy I suppose… Anyhow I digress. None of this from our Ardal. In fact, quite the opposite. Throughout the show, he looks out into his herd of admirers and makes eye contact, makes conversation, asks the odd random question. He laughs along with us and winks and jollies us along with him and we love it. He ignores the few tipsy girls in the back row who won’t shut up and watch the show with the rest of us, who are chit-chatting about the guy three seats down who looks a little like Ed Sheerin, because they only came here to be seen and not actually to pay attention. He tells the guy who scurries down the centre aisle of the room with two pints and an apologetic moue up at the stage “Good on ya” instead of lambasting him with a snarky observation about his physical appearance.
Ardal loves his audience. And that love circulates through the room and ends, like last night, with rapturous applause and a general sense of well being permeating the atmosphere.
And that, my dear readers, is precisely what I think comedy should do.