Despite their best intentions, the employees of the Rochester Castle pub in North London have not been successful in creating the ambience of Christmas cheer that they might have hoped. In what must have been 15 minutes’ hard work, some sentimentalists on staff saw fit to erect a tree, adorn the walls with plastic bells, and affix some drab, wilted drips of tinsel to the bleeping, honking Deal or No Deal machines that clustered between the door and the bar. Taken all together, the effect is about as heartwarmingly festive as a turkey dinner at the hospice, or the jaunty little graphic of a red-breasted robin which adorns your December gas bill.
Given the charm of such attractions, it’s remarkable that Irish comics Hugh Cooney and Xnthony Keigher are gearing up to leave London for their homecoming Christmas gigs in Dublin this year, but that they are. Hugh Cooney, a comedian, artist and videographer best known for his hilarious YouTube vignettes, is bringing his celebrated live show – last seen during this Summer’s Beatyard festival in Dun Laoghaire – to the Sugar Club for two nights of mayhem on Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th December. Meanwhile, Roscommon’s “self-indulgent shambles and pop-star wannabe” Xnthony is reviving his riotous Xnto Panto for another seasonal spectacle of comedy, drag and miscellaneous theatricality, at the OutHouse on Capel Street on Saturday 17th December.
In the manner of Irish exiles since time immemorial, we sat them down in the finest Wetherspoon pub within navigable distance where they talked at length about each other’s work, the nature of performance and a variety of alternative revenue streams available to struggling artists; be it lookalike, sock-wearer or disreputable gym proprietor. They kicked off with what Dublin should expect from their respective shows.
Hugh: My show is basically infuriating in that never starts. Fifteen minutes in, I haven’t made an entrance. It’ll be me milling around the crowd with a large record bag, which I won’t use. At this stage I’ll be wearing the hat and gloves as DJ Vibesphere. He’s a different guy from the “me” character. He’ll be knocking around handing out business cards. That is one issue with doing different characters, it is hard for us both to be in the same place at the same time. There are your standard, written-as-funny bits, and then there’s stuff like the DJ set which opens my show, which definitely has to have an element of the audience going “Is this… is this part of the thing?”. There’s always a percentage of people who are not there for that reason and don’t know what’s going on. I like the idea that the show I do now, it’s hard to tell when it starts. When I start talking, each time you think it’s starting, something else interrupts it. I can see people enjoying it, but clearly thinking “Is there going to be any stand-up?” or “Is this a part of the show?”.
Xnto: In the beginning, I rarely think anything I’m doing is funny, I just do the thing and what people laugh at, I find gas. We won a comedy award at an international festival, and that kind of fucked my brain up, because I was like, “Oh right, that’s what I do now”. One-liners, one-liners, one-liners – and then you do feel like you’re maybe not writing for yourself.
H: The Pygmalion shows I did [2009’s Hugh Cooney Don’t Like Mondays] had one bit with me wearing cardboard wings, flying over Dublin. Just me on stage, flapping my wings over a projected film I’d made of Dublin. It was 20 minutes long. I cut it down to five and it was still too long really. It’s funny at the start, then it’s not funny at all, everyone is like, “Why is he still doing this?” But then it gets really, really funny again.
X: The commitment of it. You have to commit. I have a show where I’m walking in high heels doing all these things, constantly walking up and down. Constantly. It’s almost coming from a more performance art thing and going in to theatre. Having said that, I really insult my drag queen friends when I’m putting make-up on, cos I don’t take it as seriously as them. I hate it. And I never wear wigs, only that I’m doing a Britney Spears tribute so it’s part of it. Xnto Pnto was just, my producer and I, kind of wanted to bring back Alternative Miss Ireland. It’s been dead for like six years.
H: That reminds me, when [highly viral Hugh Cooney YouTube video] “Accessorise” went big, I was asked to enter Alternative Miss Ireland.
X: Well, there’s an absence of queer work in Dublin, it’s pretty obvious, there’s a hole there. And what we do is find other performers to give a space and present them. Within that you’ve got Xnto Panto which is about Xnto’s hole and is based on the album In The Zone by Britney Spears. The performers are in Xnto’s hole. In The Zone is a good album, it’s all about sex and the body, and just before Britney failed and we want to give her another, second life.
H: Speaking of a second life, I sent myself to a proper lookalike agency and I’d love to really see that thing out. I think I could milk the David Guetta thing. If I was a little more financially secure I’d love to initiate my lookalike sequence. Barry Gibb as well. I wanted to do one as Only Gibb, the last remaining Gibb brother. I’d love if I could bring David Guetta and Barry Gibb together, but the costume changes would be a nightmare. I would love to do that kind of thing as a nixer.
X: I was having a sort of similar conversation with a friend. My God! My mum is going to be like, “What?”. But – just as an example – I changed my photograph on Grindr and it was a nice photograph from a hotel room in Berlin, the lighting was good, and suddenly I was getting offers galore. For cash, like.
H: Right. Because you were in a hotel room.
X: No, because you look sexy cos the lighting’s good.
H: Oh right! [Laughs]
X: Anyway, suddenly I was getting all these emails. One guy texted me like, “Walk on me with your dirty socks for fifteen minutes, and I’ll give you €150”. I was like, this is legitimately a form of eBay. I should be clear: I’m not actually doing any of this, Mum.
H: But you could tap into some funds without getting too physically involved. I was thinking you could go factory-style on it. You know the way there’s people on Craigslist selling dirty underpants, etc.? What you do is you set up a gym where everyone has to wear these disposable pants and you say it’s for hygiene reasons and that everyone has to make sure to put their pants in the bin. So you’re getting all the cash from these people’s gym memberships, but you’ve also got a bit of money coming in the back door through the pants, as well. You could have a few irons in the fire, is what I’m saying.
The only actual thing I do keep an eye on, a little, is casting alerts for ads and films. It’s a real scattergun thing though. They try to make you feel like they’ve really catered the casting call to your exact profile, but my last two were a hardy builder type guy for a Screwfix catalogue, and Mick Ronson who is David Bowie’s guitarist. Neither being particularly similar to me, or each other.
X: I don’t get involved in any of that. I’d never even do a reality TV show, even though that’s what I love. I wouldn’t do any of them at all because they have your brand, they have everything. I had a flat mate who did it and he was vilified, it ruined him. I don’t think it’s fair.
H: Yeah, DJ Spiral never bounced back.
X: I don’t know who that is.
H: Ah man, [sounding genuinely proud] I used to work behind the bar in Barcode, and we had DJ Spiral down on the regular.
X: We did have something in the real world that went viral. I was living in a house that had a garden shed in it. It was a garden shed that was in the sitting room and it was £480. Some guy came in and saw it and said it was ridiculous. I’d moved out by this point anyway, so I wasn’t really involved.
H: I remember that!
X: Rents had gotten so high is all, but this post with the shed keeps cropping up every year. The flatmate we were living with stuck it in there, because he thought it was great, it wasn’t something out of desperation or anything. It was more like, “We’re all like a family”. One of our flatmates lived in it. The mattress fitted in the room perfectly and he slept there in the sitting room.
H: I think if you’re describing a mattress as fitting a room perfectly, it’s likely too small.
X: But it’s mad what keeps coming up. I even look at videos I did like four years ago and it’s mortifying. I saw something I’d done at RVT – Royal Vauxhall Tavern. I was like… Jesus! You get much better, and shows develop better, when you do them in front of an audience, because you’re using so much adrenaline. Then you have to try and capture that and bring it in again.
H: Yeah, for my show, we did at one stage toy with a bit of stand-up, almost as a filler between the two sections but it didn’t gel. And, although it was funny, you could see people were like, “Oh is he being serious?”. So what we’ve done is taken it out entirely and instead, we do this grand entrance. And when it tanks, it gets repeated and is made into a photo-op. The whole show is like a dream sequence of a deluded idiot who sees himself as a scenester. It’s cheese and it’s more cheese, even to the point that I’ve awarded myself a guitar solo at the end and I don’t even play guitar.
X: Although Xnto Panto is two hours, the best show length for me is almost an hour or so because, as a viewer, I don’t want to be there all night. But with Xnto Panto, my bit is the bread in the sandwich, we have Xnthony’s tribute to Britney Spears and there’s also the story of Xnthony’s hole, which holds other performers who we’ve collected or have applied from other corners of Ireland and London to take part. So I’m presenting them from my hole. It’s like a panto, but not a panto; there’s no pressure to deliver on a theme or anything like that. With the Dublin show this year, we have loads of great guests, Aoife Leonard of Collapsing Horse theatre, Conor Behan as well. So there’s some great stuff in Ireland right now and there’s been a change in thinking about YouTube acts. Did you ever used to get hate mail?
H: Yeah, I had lots.
X: One I got was just “If I had a gun I’d shoot you”. All this crazy stuff, and you’re just having the craic. I used to get really upset but now it doesn’t bother me.
H: The Farewell Ireland one went up online and some people reaaaally did not get it. It was skirting the line between being a piss take and very similar to something a deluded emigrant would actually make. It was well-produced because Charlie Doran, the director, is so good, and it blurred that line as if it had money behind it, so people genuinely thought it was real and were writing horrible comments. Even though it was simple, it did still kind of hurt.
It’s real funny now. When I was doing them at the start I never used to get involved, even in liking positive comments or whatever. People were writing horrible stuff though. Not even as bad as what you just said, but basic stuff like “the state of his teeth”.
X: That is awful. Having said that, my worst is still the one about being shot with a gun.
The Hugh Cooney Show takes place on Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th December in the Sugar Club, with tickets costing €12.50. Xnto Panto takes place at Outhouse on Capel Street on Saturday 17th December with tickets costing €10. For more of Hugh’s videos and messing, check out hughcooney.org, and you can find more of Xnthony’s work at xnthony.com
Words: Seamas O’Reilly
Photos: Dan Dennison