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Comic Oliver Callan says Irish people are ‘besotted’ with UK news

Callan set to kick myths into touch as he puts UK comics’ knowledge of Ireland to the test

Comedian Oliver Callan

Oliver (centre) with Josh Jones and Sophie Duker

Roisin GormanSunday World

Comic Oliver Callan plans to win over a UK audience by exposing how little they know about Ireland.

Confusion reigns in his new BBC Sounds series, Killing Leprechauns, as the RTÉ star quizzes a panel of English comedians about Irish stereotypes.

They’re in the dark about shame, sex, death, religion and boozing, but Oliver gets to educate them about culchies and Cromwell.

He’s better known for his savage political satire, which has earned the 41-year-old his own TV show, a huge radio following and nearly two million listeners to his Callan’s Kicks podcast.

The comedian is also a world-class mimic with a range of over 100 well-known figures, including Boris Johnson, Mary Lou McDonald and Leo Varadkar. He says with Boris the current bookies favourite to succeed Liz Truss, his bumbling Johnson could make a return.

For his first BBC series, Oliver is playing himself alongside guests including Rhys James, Glenn Moore, Josh Jones and Sophie Duker.

And if they know nothing about Ireland they’re completely stumped by Northern Ireland.

“We pay a lot of attention, North and South, to what goes on in the UK. We’re a rather besotted neighbour,” says Oliver.

“And Irish people are aghast quite frequently at how little their counterparts know about them.

“I regularly go to London with my Bank of Ireland sterling notes and get told ‘we don’t accept Irish money here’ so it must be really devastating for a member of a Unionist party when they go to England and get treated as Irish.

“We look at that lack of knowledge using a very unscientific comedy panel.”

The biggest myths he’s busted are that Irish people are heavy drinkers who are obsessed with religion.

The influence of the Irish abroad is also a complete mystery to his guests who have no idea that Joe Biden talks regularly about his Celtic roots and JFK’s family were from Ireland.

“I tried to burst the drinking myth with statistics, and more than one panellist straight away said ‘you’re very religious’.

“They assume North and South we are all inside our churches whipping ourselves.

“They have no real idea of modern liberal young people campaigning for societal reform or the growth of people being neither one or the other in Northern Ireland.”

Oliver says he can’t criticise his guests for their ignorance of Irish cultural icons like soap Fair City, the ratings-winning Late Late Toy Show or the Rose of Tralee when the south’s lack of knowledge about the north is glaring.

While he was studying journalism at uni in Dublin his class was told to contact their local police station to get a story and his classmates expressed sympathy that he’d have to speak to the RUC. He’s from Monaghan.

During the Covid pandemic the indifference moved up a notch to hostility.

“There was a lot of ‘othering’ about people travelling down here with their Covid. All the united advocates suddenly worrying about northerners coming down here with their disease.

“When people here couldn’t go on staycations in Ireland because of the cost, my partner and I just went up north to a hotel where the value is so much better. People down here just didn’t consider it.”

Oliver (centre) with Josh Jones and Sophie Duker

He’s trying to get to the bottom of why the South ignores the North, the North ignores the South and the UK ignores Ireland.

The comedian says it’s like the British attitude to America, which knows nothing about UK culture beyond the royal family.

“The average American would struggle to know who Boris Johnson is and the British media realise that’s our relationship to them.

“All nations look up to the next one saying please notice us.”

The award-winning satirist, a Late Late Show regular, says the new series is a departure from 15 years of comedy which began with three-minute slots on Gerry Ryan’s RTÉ radio show as Nob Nation. He’d started out as a journalist but admits the call of the funny voices was too hard to ignore.

His political takedowns are now quietly recommended to new British ambassadors if they want to know who the main government movers are, and at least three envoys have quoted lines from Callan’s Kicks to him.

Oliver’s embracing the cultural differences and is excited that his first BBC project will take him to a brand new audience.

“I’m going to follow the Neil Delamere school of comedy, just about 20 years behind him, and there’s a fantastic audience there,” says Oliver.

  • In Bits: Killing Leprechauns drops on BBC Sounds on Saturday.


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