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Interview: Ryan Cullen, Ireland’s latest comedy starlet

Donegal native Ryan Cullen is Ireland's latest comedy starlet.

Donegal native Ryan Cullen is rapidly establishing himself as Ireland’s latest comedy star.

Donegal native Ryan Cullen is rapidly establishing himself as one of the foremost names on the Irish comedy scene. Ryan is a regular performer at many of Ireland’s most prestigious comedy venues, such as The International Comedy Club and the Roisin Dubh, and is also a festival favourite having performed in the comedy tents at Longitude, Electric Picnic and many more. With his first run at the legendary Edinburgh Fringe Festival complete, we spoke to Ireland’s latest comedy starlet on his career beginnings, influences and setting a Hollywood star’s head on fire.

Ryan’s passion for comedy has been with him since his teens, but his performing days began during his time in University College Dublin: “I’ve always loved comedy and have watched stand up since I was in my teens. I became the satire editor in the college newspaper. I only wrote for it so I could use their office for chilling during the day. People said I should give stand-up a go so I went to a local open mic night in ‘Anseo’ on Camden Street. I loved it. I equate the rush to that of drugs. I felt like a junkie.”

Those familiar with Ryan’s comedy will not be surprised to learn who he cites as his biggest influences: “As a teenager, Dylan Moran was always my favourite, he was my ‘go to’ guy. As I got more and more into comedy, my biggest influence became Bill Burr. I listen to his podcast every week and was lucky enough to finally meet him last summer at a festival we both played at,” he says.

As well as performing regularly, Ryan is also a prolific comedy writer and has worked on some of Ireland’s best known comedy shows: “I used to write for a lot of TV and Radio shows like Callan’s Kicks and Republic of Telly, it was fine but I decided to focus on just stand-up to build more of a reputation. Finally, after a two year hiatus, I’ve just finished writing for a sketch show, which I’ll also be starring in, called ‘Late License’ which is due to air on BBC One in early March. It’s with a bunch of emerging Northern Irish talent and was great fun filming.”

Ryan recently supported Steve-O, who gained global notoriety for his extreme stunts and pranks during the hit MTV series Jackass which spawned three hugely successful movies. “It was a great night, the show was in Vicar Street which is a fantastic venue. I was hesitant at first because I had visions of 700 Jackass fans throwing each other through tables while I tried to tell my stupid jokes, but luckily they kept all that energy for when Steve-O went onstage. I had a great gig. I was interested to see if Steve-O was an act, or was he genuinely like he is on all those TV shows. When I first met him backstage, within 30 seconds I was helping him spray his hair with hairspray & oil and lighting his whole head on fire as practice for the show. He was incredibly humble, friendly and most importantly, funny.”

Having recently completed his debut run at the iconic Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Ryan has returned a more hardened and experienced performer following an intense month long schedule. “The Edinburgh Fringe is where you really hone your act. It’s essentially bootcamp. Doing 28 one hour shows one night after another, not including the various compilation spots you do every day, makes you bulletproof. It’s an endurance test that takes a lot out of you mentally and physically but I can’t think of a better way to spend a month. My debut show went great, I couldn’t be happier. 90% of the shows went great and I left feeling like a much better comic. Whether you are a performer or fancy seeing some comedy, the Edinburgh Fringe is a must. I’m currently writing a show to bring to this year’s edition.”

As with anyone brave enough to take to the stage, Ryan occasionally has to deal with hecklers, however he says it’s simply part of the trade: “Loads of comedians hate hecklers, some clubs don’t even allow it at all but I sometimes really enjoy it. I feel like dealing with heckling is part of the art, as long as the heckler is controllable and not disrupting the show. The odd 5 second heckle can really make or break a show. I usually tend to hit them hard and fast. Be assertive or else you risk losing control of the situation. I enjoy that feeling, it always keeps you on your toes.”

As his career trajectory continues to pick up momentum, Ryan has played to some impressively large crowds at some of Ireland’s most renowned venues and festivals: “Comedy clubs such as The Laughter Lounge usually hold close to 400 and Vicar Street a little more than that, which is a lot of fun. Music festivals during the summer is where the crowds really build up. At Indiependence in 2015, the crowd was close to 1,000 at one stage and in other festivals it can be even more. I do enjoy playing at music festivals, solely due to the fact you get paid to drink all weekend and see your favourite bands, living the dream and all that.”

As with any career in the spotlight, stand-up doesn’t come without its uncomfortable moments, and Ryan is no stranger to this: “When I started doing comedy, about 5 months in, I played the ‘Old Mill’ in Tallaght. No audience showed up, so the promoter went downstairs to find anyone to come watch the show. He somehow managed to bring up a group of 5 women who had just shaved their heads for Cancer awareness to honour the death of a close friend of theirs. They were not in any mood for comedy and it was the most uncomfortable 90 mins of my life.”

Ryan is also something of an Irish internet celebrity, with a Twitter account boasting over 16 thousand followers. He’s also a star contributor to the YouTube channel “Facts”, whose videos frequently attract over a million views a piece. His online presence brings with it a certain amount of fandom, and with that comes fan mail. “I had one guy who kept messaging me to show him my armpits, I don’t want to know why. I also had a girl asking me to blink twice at the 2 minute mark in my next Facts video for her. Obviously this doesn’t make sense as the videos aren’t live and are edited. How could I ever time that? And more importantly, why would I ever do that? Most of the fan mail is cool, others just creepy.”

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