Over the years, Dublin’s vibrant comedy scene has served as a breeding ground for many of the country’s most beloved comic minds. The likes of Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan, David O’Doherty, Maeve Higgins, Dara Ó Briain and others all honed their craft in some of the city’s leading comedy venues.
Now, a new generation has assumed the mantle and is busy transforming the city’s comedy scene into something more welcoming and diverse than we have been accustomed to. The landscape is now populated with whippersnapper stand-ups, internet upstarts, and multihyphenates, and it’s all the better for it.
With that in mind, we caught up with some of the city’s most exciting emerging comics.
“Hunter’s style of comedy can be best described as droll and deadpan with a sprinkling of surreality for good measure.”
In 2016, Ruth Hunter traveled to the Edinburgh Festival to perform in the finals of So You Think You’re Funny. She was crashing in Alison Spittle’s and, in her words, was “bricking it”. After all, the long-running stand-up comedy competition has helped launch the careers of acts like David O’Doherty, Aisling Bea and Dylan Moran over the years.
“I felt totally way in over my head because the other performers were so talented and it was the biggest audience I’d ever performed to,” she recalls.
To her surprise, she ended up finishing in second place in the final. Guest judge Alan Davies even informed her afterwards that she was his favourite.
“It’s one of those moments where you imagine yourself being fifteen and then you leap forward in time, suddenly, to where you are now with Jonathan Creek telling you that he thought you were the funniest comedian in that competition you just performed in,” she says.
Prior to getting into comedy, Hunter worked as a shift manager at a hotel reception. The Rathfarnham native had always had a keen interest in stand-up, but was unsure as to how one might go about performing. One day, a night porter at the hotel told her about Battle of the Axe, a regular comedy night at The Ha’Penny Inn, and encouraged her to give it a lash. She prepared a seven-minute set, drank three glasses of wine, and got up on stage to perform. Needless to say, it went well.
“They give a little rubber duckie to the audience favourite of the night and I won it the first night I did it,” she recalls. “It was very unexpected.”
Hunter’s style of comedy can be best described as droll and deadpan with a sprinkling of surreality for good measure. She likens watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus as a child to having a “comedic awakening of sorts.” These days, her influences include Maria Bamford, Mae Martin and Broad City, to name but a few.
Since finishing as runner-up at So You Think You’re Funny, Hunter’s nascent comedy career has gone from strength to strength. She secured a UK agent leading to gigs in some of London’s leading comedy venues.
Closer to home, she set up Workman’s Comedy Club alongside Conor O’Toole. It takes place on the third Sunday of each month in Workman’s and has quickly established itself as one of the city’s most consistently interesting comedy nights.
Elsewhere, she is currently writing a BAI-funded radio sitcom. A radio documentary about sex education and a chat show are in the early stages of gestation. Later this year, she will perform her show Science Idiot in Edinburgh, which she hopes she can nurture into an hour-long show.
“It would be great to have an hour-long show I’m happy with and people enjoyed,” she says. “I would love to tour with my own show and develop an audience who would come to see me because they enjoy what I do.”
Something tells us you’d be a fool to bet against her.
“It’s still tough but it’s obviously the single most gratifying thing you can do when it’s going well and it’s instant!”
“Guys, please can I have your attention because I’m only going to nip out in the Punto once.” So begins Tony Cantwell’s memeworthy sketch, Meanwhile At Clongowes, which features a private school type with a distorted face taking soft drinks orders from his friends Oscar, Cormac, Neen, Iasc, Gearroin, Waaalter, Frantine, Ploon, Roll and Train. Over the course of two minutes, the sketch gets progressively sillier and more absurd with Cantwell barely suppressing his laughter at certain points.
Since he uploaded the sketch in December 2016, it has garnered over 750,000 views. It struck such a chord that Cantwell now sells t-shirts and tote bags bearing the names of Oscar, Ploon, and the gang. While it has the appearance of a surreal riff, Cantwell says the seeds for the sketch were planted many years ago.
“Believe it or not, the idea for the sketch was something I’d had in the back of my head for years ever since the first southsider I ever befriended, Conor Barry, called a can of coke a soft drink,” he says.
“I didn’t know anything about Clongowes but remembered the name from the Young Scientists competition because it sounded like Congo, and I was a fan of the movie Congo,” he adds. “Coupled with going to my little brother’s communion and seeing the names on some of these kids, I just thought it would be funny to list the names off and say ‘soft drink’ too much.”
“Then I found that mad face filter and it just clicked into place. The maddest thing about it is people saying, ‘Dude, I went to Clongowes and it was exactly like that!’”
Prior to striking gold with Meanwhile At Clongowes, Cantwell studied business in IADT before moving to London for five years. In 2012, he procured a decent camera phone and started making short sketches for Instagram.
“Something about uploading to Instagram just felt disposable and that there wasn’t that much pressure on them,” he says. “Then it became my favourite thing to do. I’d just be cracking up in my bedroom.”
Cantwell now has a following of over 28,000 fans on Facebook, where he treats them to non-sequitur sketches and song parodies. Think a sultry ode to fried chicken entitled Chicken Titties or a sketch featuring Mrs. Doubtfire dabbing.
Having amassed a significant following on social media, Cantwell is now taking his mode of comedy to the stage. He recently debuted his show Soft Boy at The Sugar Club and is slated to perform at this year’s Cat Laughs Festival. How has he handled the transition?
“My live show is a mix of stand-up, sketches, videos people have never seen before, and characters brought to the stage using incredible bonkers head-pieces made by my fiancé Terri.”
“I did bits of stand-up when I was living in London. I think the longest I did was fifteen minutes and they make you work for it. I’ve been gifted an easier transition here in Dublin because the audience are familiar with myself and the characters, so I’m really lucky that way.”
“Having said that, it’s still tough but it’s obviously the single most gratifying thing you can do when it’s going well and it’s instant!”
“Smooshing them together is definitely the sweet spot”
Hannah Mamalis sort of fell into comedy by accident. Fresh from having completed an acting course, she performed a piece of her own writing for the first time at a work-in-progress festival in 2016. Much to her astonishment, the piece elicited laughs from the crowd.
“When I’d written it, I hadn’t necessarily intended it to be that funny so when people were laughing I was genuinely kind of taken aback,” she says. “I remember coming off stage after that first show and bursting into tears. Good tears, thinking, ‘Oh shit, that was the best, I kind of want to do that forever.’”
The experience lit a fire in her belly and opened a new world of performance to her.
“A couple of months later I wrote a blog post about sex and anxiety and Keanu Reeves. A friend of mine read it and asked me whether I’d like to do some stand up at an alternative night he ran called The Black Hole in the Wall. So I agreed and that was it. It just felt natural to want to chase that feeling.”
In the two years that have passed since that first foray into comedy, Mamalis has dabbled in acting, writing, and comedy. She considers herself to be something of a multihyphenate and says her recent one-woman show The Egg is a Lonely Hunter reflected that.
“That was really the culmination of all of those things – acting and writing and comedy,” she says. “Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy them all separately but in terms of my own creative fulfillment, smooshing them together is definitely the sweet spot.”
The Egg is a Lonely Hunter, a darkly funny and weird show following a girl with an irrational fear of eggs, played well at both Dublin Fringe Festival and First Fortnight. Mamalis says she will take the show to Edinburgh this August and is working on adapting it as a feature film.
Elsewhere, Mamalis frequently collaborates with Dreamgun, the comedy collective known for their podcast and live show Dreamgun Film Reads, which sees them take a popular film script, load it with gags, and perform it in front of a live audience. “Getting to do those shows with my pals is genuinely a continuous highlight of what I do,” she says.
She has been featured in Republic of Telly and Des Bishop’s This is Ireland, and also had acting roles in Ripper Street and The Drummer and the Keeper.
With her ability to traverse across so many creative disciplines, it’s no coincidence that some of her favourite performers are known for their ability to multitask. She cites Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jenny Slate, Sharon Horgan, Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade as influences.
“Generally artists who have carved out their own distinctive voices and paths,” she says.
Sounds like Mamalis is well on her way to doing just that.
“I’ve always wanted to write my own sitcom based in Dublin so I’ll definitely be focusing on that once I finish writing my 2019 stand up show.”
Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen some of Enya Martin’s videos pop up on your Facebook timeline. The Clondalkin native has been sharing sketches on her page Giz A Laugh since 2014. The page itself has racked up a quarter of a million likes and some of her videos have been watched over one million times.
Martin describes herself to be a ‘female Chandler Bing’. Growing up, she knew she had a penchant for performing, but never took it seriously.
“I loved doing drama workshops and felt I had a knack for stage school, but I never pursued it because society tells you the only way you will make money is by going to college and getting a 9-5,” she explains.
Instead, she studied advertising and marketing in IT Tallaght. In her last year in college, she noticed comedians using Facebook to showcase their comedy. She decided to take the plunge and make her own videos.
“After a year of debating with myself I decided to upload a video of myself impersonating a certain female stereotype in Dublin,” she says. “A ‘Chanto’ you might call her. I was petrified the moment I pressed upload. But it actually went down really well.”
She kept it up and soon introduced the Irish viewing public to characters like Dearbhla, a Southside influencer, and Shardon, a no-nonsense Irish Mammy. She wrote and starred in sketches based on relatable ideas like ‘when girls try to book a holiday’ and ‘when your Ma tries to wake you for school’.
By 2016, Martin was a one-woman comedy machine. A millennial Katherine Lynch, if you will. That year, she quit her job to pursue comedy full-time.
“I now make comedy videos and do stand-up for a living,” she says. “I have never been happier.”
Taking the leap from Facebook to stage wasn’t easy and Martin was understandably apprehensive at first.
“The thought of telling jokes on stage petrified me because I always had a fear of bombing on stage,” she says. “Hand me a script and off I go, but trying to make people laugh live on stage with my own writing… Well, it took a lot of self belief quotes on Pinterest to finally give myself the ‘it’s now or never’ pep talk.”
But her first performance was a resounding success and left her hungry for more.
“When I walked off stage after my first seven-minute set in Whelan’s, I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she recalls.
She has since performed in front of sellout crowds in Vicar Street and will perform there again for the third time in June. It’s been a meteoric rise so far and Martin has no intention of slowing down. She is currently writing a show for next year’s Edinburgh Festival. Afterwards, she has plans to conquer television.
“I would love a chat show like Graham Norton,” she says. “That’s in the distant future, though. I’ve always wanted to write my own sitcom based in Dublin so I’ll definitely be focusing on that once I finish writing my 2019 stand up show.”
“If you can make someone laugh while they’re eating soup in a restaurant, you know your joke is funny.”
“I am one of those horrible people who didn’t do any real work before getting into comedy,” says Martin Angolo, almost apologetically.
Angolo may be young, but he’s got an impressive resume already. Just last month, he opened for comedian and podcast impresario Marc Maron in Vicar Street.
“I was very surprised to get the call to do it actually,” he says of the gig. “It wasn’t something I was chasing.”
“I have no management pushing for me to get big gigs and I don’t really network with the big bookers or agents but I think it was just word of mouth that got me in.”
The son of a Namibian mother, Angolo grew up in Cabra. Having been raised on the likes of The Simpsons and Spike Milligan, he harboured comedy aspirations from a young age. Initially he was focused on becoming a comedy writer and didn’t have any interest in performing. However, he quickly realised that his jokes would languish unless they were put out into the ether.
“A lot of writing ends up going nowhere so I thought stand up comedy would be an immediate way to see if the weird thoughts I had were funny or not,” he says.
At first, he took gigs wherever he could get them. Open mics, cafés, restaurants. “If you can make someone laugh while they’re eating soup in a restaurant, you know your joke is funny,” he notes.
After two years of hustling, he began to land paid gigs and festival work. He even landed an Irish-language comedy web series with TG4 called Arsa Angolo. How did that come about?
“I went to a Gaelscoil and unlike a lot of people I didn’t hate the Irish language afterwards,” he says. “There was a show on TG4 a few years ago looking for funny Gaeilgeoirs and I didn’t think my standard of Irish would be strong enough as it had been three years since I spoke it. But then I saw the show and realised my Irish was great compared to some of the people on it.”
Gigs at Irish language comedy nights followed and a production company approached him about making Arsa Angolo for TG4.
“Arsa Angolo was basically me giving advice on a subject but I was an idiot and thus hilarity ensued,” he says. “It was fun to make, actually, and I learned a lot about working with production companies and shooting comedy.”
In spite of the positive experience, he has little interest in pursuing a television career for now. Instead, he wants to concentrate his efforts on stand up.
“Working with TV people has so many challenges to it that you don’t get when it’s just you and a microphone,” he says. “My main focus now is stand up. I’m writing more than I have in a while and I’m trying to get that as funny as it can possibly be.”
Words: Amy O’Connor
Portraits: Malcolm McGettigan