Interview: Patrick Kielty on stand-up therapy

Comedian and TV presenter Patrick Kielty. Picture: Adrian Lourie
Comedian and TV presenter Patrick Kielty. Picture: Adrian Lourie
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AFTER pretty much hitting the jackpot in life’s lottery, Patrick Kielty explains why he’s come to Scotland to launch a pre-emptive strike against impending gloom

Patrick Kielty has got to be joking. He’s making his Fringe debut and then hitting the road with a new show entitled Help, in which the psychology graduate has the cheek to ask the audience for advice as he attempts to write a modern rule book for love, life and happiness. Where exactly does the millionaire comedian married to a former model turned TV presenter wife, with homes in Beverly Hills, Hampstead and County Down, think he’s going wrong?

“Listen, I’m very aware there are people out there who would buy my worst day off me,” he says. “My life to this point has got me to here, and so far there have been some shit things and some good things, and if you stop it now then I’m happy. Happier than I’ve ever been.”

Good, I’m glad we’ve established that. “But what’s around the corner,” he continues. “What’s there to trip me up? There’s a feeling of, ‘Shit, I didn’t plan to get to this point, I have just stumbled across this moment where I am happy, therefore it’s probable I will stumble off it again’. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing in life, happiness is a state of mind. On the surface we might all think this is great, but if you drill down, there are a lot of trip wires that will f*** you up.

“I’m happy now, but optimism in the Kielty family comes with the knowledge that you can’t just enjoy the moment, because you might be OK now, but what’s around the corner?

“There’s no point in me pretending my life is shit when it isn’t, but I wanted to write something about my mates – we’re in our forties, and going through midlife crises. They’re like the guy in Dad’s Army, ‘We’re doomed, we’re doomed,’ Grumpy Old Men.”

Kielty is speaking in Los Angeles, where he spends much of his time with his wife, Cat Deeley, who decamped there to pursue her career and is in her eighth season of presenting So You Think You Can Dance.

As we talk, I keep thinking of the Talking Heads song, Once In A Lifetime, where David Byrne shouts, radio preacher style:

“And you may find yourself in a beautiful house,

“With a beautiful wife,

“And you may ask yourself,

“Well… How did I get here?”

Kielty knows he’s sitting pretty, but he just can’t help experiencing an existential angst. That’s why he is reaching out to his audience for suggestions of how to keep his charmed life on track. At the end of the show, they will choose the best bits of advice and Kielty will record them for future use.

“Everybody has experience and advice that they can give, so it’s a pre-emptive strike, an attempt at forward planning,” he says. “Maybe in future, if things aren’t working out in my life, I can go to my book for the advice. Look up what the people of Edinburgh said on a Monday night.”

A fish supper on the way home? “There will be relationship advice, some life advice and yes, there’s bound to be someone who might own a chip shop and suggest that too,” he says.

Kielty has had a couple of trial runs in Northern Ireland to test the water but so far he’s finding his audience haven’t come up with the anything the Dalai Lama missed out when he was writing The Art Of Happiness.

“Generally what I’m finding is you can’t really underestimate people’s lack of interest in other people’s happiness,” he says. “Other people” being Kielty.

“There’s some brilliant random joy in some of the stuff people suggest, for example that I buy their donkey. Why would I want their donkey? What use is that to me? Whenever you open it up to the audience, you start finding out about people’s lives.”

Which is all grist to the Kielty comedy mill and ripe for his blend of satire delivered with a roguish charm.

“Here in the US people will pay $300 to lie on a sofa for half an hour and tell an entire stranger their problems. Back in Ireland if we have a problem we go and talk to mates in the pub. The advice you get from them is the best, because they know you best.”

Despite living in La-la Land Kielty has never gone native and signed up for therapy – he reckons he doesn’t need to because he’s getting a free session every night. However, you wouldn’t blame him if he had sought help, given his family history. His father Jack was shot and killed in Dundrum, County Down, by a Loyalist gang in 1988. Doesn’t he feel he might have had his quota of heartache already? Kielty doesn’t think it works like that.

“Generally what you find is that when you buy a lottery ticket today, you have the exact same odds as when you buy one another day. I was coming up to 17 when it happened and me and my two brothers went to California to stay. My aunt said to me, ‘We are really proud of how you are handling this, but you do realise that you haven’t had your full lifetime quota of shit yet’. That was something that has always stayed in my head.

“There’s always this thing of a level of pessimism, that something bad is going to happen. That is life. Life is life and death, and the happier you are, the more you have to lose.”

The 44-year-old son of a builder and a mum who worked in the home looking after her three sons, Kielty’s comedy talent first emerged at school, where his impressions of teachers, Billy Connolly and Barry McGuigan made him a shoo-in for the school show. A psychology degree at Queen’s University Belfast followed, and while he was still a student he set up Northern Ireland’s first comedy club, the Empire Fights Back, with former BBC executive producer of comedy Jackie Hamilton. Kielty compered the show and performed a stand-up routine, often donning a balaclava and making spoof paramilitary pronouncements. He once did an impersonation of Martin McGuinness singing the Simon and Garfunkel song Bridge Over Troubled Water.

“We thought that world of The Troubles was totally normal,” says Kielty. “On my very first night Owen O’Neill [the writer, actor, director and comedian] was on the bill and he said, ‘Paddy you need to compere this club every week’. I said, ‘I’ve only got 15 minutes,’ and he said, ‘You’re not going to get any more unless you compere, just go through the papers and use that’. If you opened a newspaper in 1991/92 in Belfast, that’s what it was about: Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, so that was the type of stuff I was doing and there was a huge appetite for it because it was very relevant to people’s lives.

“People that were never in this situation tend to be either shocked, impressed or outraged by what we were doing, whereas people coming to those gigs every week, they were living it. For us it was very much a case of what’s going on out there this week?

“In my head there’s always been something comforting about coming to Scotland, because it’s essentially Northern Ireland upgraded,” he laughs. “There’s a veneer to scratch to get to the sectarianism but it’s there. It’s comforting.

“But I can’t go on stage now and talk about what’s going on in Belfast because people would say ‘what the f*** do you know about that? You’ve been living in London for 15 years and spending time between here and America’.

“And Northern Ireland has moved on so your only duty of care is to talk about what’s going on in your head and what’s going on in your life.”

Kielty’s combination of cheeky charm and fearless satire at the comedy club launched his television career with the PK Tonight entertainment show for BBC NI in 1995. His fame spread across the Irish Sea after he appeared on Comic Relief’s St Patrick’s Day Stand Up Special alongside Ben Elton and Jo Brand, and he went on to host Channel 4 comedy series Last Chance Lottery before teaming up with his future wife as co-presenter of hit BBC talent show Fame Academy. A chat show, Patrick Kielty Almost Live, followed in 2002 and ran for six seasons on BBC1. A regular on TV, Kielty returned to stand-up on stage with a sell-out UK tour and chart-topping DVD, Patrick Kielty Live, in 2006.

Kielty’s career hasn’t all been light entertainment and laughter as he also got serious with a straight acting role in Marie Jones’ play about identity during The Troubles, A Night In November, at the Grand Opera House in Belfast. This got such rave reviews it transferred to London’s West End. “I’d really like to do more theatre if it came along,” says Kielty.

Kielty has hosted countless television shows, including Love Island with Kelly Brook, Sport Relief, One Night Stand, BBC1’s Live At The Apollo and Channel 4’s popular Stand Up For The Week. He has also been a regular on Radio 2, where last month he was sitting in again for Steve Wright on his afternoon show. But stand-up is his first love and his new concept show is a return to that.

All of this fits seamlessly into Kielty’s private life, with a wife who is also in the business. In September 2012 Kielty married Deeley in what the tabloids described as a “shock wedding”.

“Yes, it was a terrible shock to us,” he laughs, recalling the reaction. The press also made much of his whirlwind romance, although the pair had been friends since Fame Academy in 2002. They got together in 2010 when, in a romantic gesture, he flew to LA to help her celebrate her birthday.

“I walk into places with Cat and people think we’re from the Make a Wish Foundation and she’s taking me out,” he says, putting himself down.

“I know, but it’s where I’m from,” he says.

With a work life spent at multiple red carpet events with little gold chairs arranged around round tables, Kielty and Deeley went for a low-key wedding with the minimum of fuss and guests. He later said: “We didn’t want to get married, we wanted to be married. There’s a difference.”

Was it good to get together with someone he knew well already?

“Well, there’s a shorthand where all of that awkward feeling and stuff that you have to do at the start doesn’t happen. Chris Rock said when you’re meeting a person, you don’t meet a person, you meet their PR, and it’s only through a process of discovery that you get to know them. So it was quite nice that we had been friends and knew each other and worked together for eight years already.

“We’ll be on different sides of the room at a function and I’ll look over at her and she’ll look back at me, and we both know what we mean.”

As for the future, Kielty would be happy if children were part of the equation. “Hopefully at some point, but with all of those things you can never plan anything too much. If they come along, that would be good.”

Since 2006, 38-year-old Deeley has been a popular host of So You Think You Can Dance in the US, for which she has clocked up four Emmy nominations, so the couple live between Los Angeles, Deeley’s old flat in Hampstead, and Dundrum, Kielty’s home town.

“We spend a fair wee bit of time in Dundrum so I’m lucky that I’m over here [in LA] about four months a year and then in London and then we have a month or six weeks in Ireland. The great thing is I don’t really get to miss any of these places. And I’ve got Air Miles coming out of my arse. You think they’re like Twitter followers, build them up and they’re going to turn into gold. But you try spending them… you can’t.”

Kielty relishes his peripatetic lifestyle: “I graduated from Queen’s and since then I’ve always been on the road. It has always been exciting. I have an unpacked washbag in each place with the same things in it. That excitement of always going to different places has never left me. I have always loved it.”

As for his career, Kielty says: “It’s fun. I have never had a proper job. I generally find that anybody who gets on stage and talks nonsense, gets paid and is asked to do it again, doesn’t want to try anything else. What I do is not work. My dad was a builder, one of my brothers sells cars, and the other is in insurance.

“I know what a day’s work is and, believe you me, going on stage and talking nonsense is not. Anybody that starts talking about it as if it is, has lost it,” he says. “Never underestimate your lack of importance if you work in entertainment. We have got ourselves now into a society where we obsess with paparazzi pictures and have convinced ourselves that entertainment is a thing, but let’s put it into context. I’m very lucky to do something that I love and in terms of the scheme of things, I very much know where I am in the pecking order.”

In the meantime, apart from touring Help around the UK in October, he’s been commissioned to write four sitcom scripts for the BBC.

“I’m really enjoying doing that,” he says. “People say, ‘Are you going to play the lead?’ But no, I’m not. Maybe there will be more writing in future, that would be good.”

What is the sitcom about? “Can’t tell you.”

Ok, give us a hint. “It’s potentially set in one of the most unglamorous places there is. There is no glamour. Zero glamour.”

So not Beverly Hills. Is it set in Northern Ireland? He won’t say any more, but apart from this, he’s been a funny and obliging interviewee. We’ve already run way over the time I was allocated and Kielty hasn’t mentioned it once, happy to blether away. I decide, since I’ve got a comedian on the line, to put him on the spot and ask for his favourite joke.

“Eddie Bannon used to tell this joke and I loved it,” he says. “It goes… I went into a bar one night and this woman with huge breasts came over and bought me a drink. I’m looking her right in the eyes and I keep saying to myself don’t look at her tits, don’t look at her tits, don’t look at her tits, and she says, ‘Don’t look at whose tits?’”

As he prepares to go back to his beautiful wife, in his beautiful house, I ask him what it is that Deeley likes about him, just as she walks up the stairs. “She’s just walked in on that question and some of the suggestions she is coming up with…” he says, aghast with mock outrage.

There is giggling and laughter from Deeley who, despite his attempts to muffle the phone, can clearly be heard shouting: “It’s his huge…”

Now Kielty is shouting back at her, “It’s Scotland on Sunday, they can’t put that in!”

...“humongous…” she bellows.

“You can see why I need help!” squeaks Kielty.

At which point the sensible PR comes on the line and says: “And that’s where we have to wind it up.”

Aw.

• Patrick Kielty: Help is at Studio Three at Assembly George Square from 24-30 August, tickets, £12.50-£14, tel: 0131-623 3030, assemblyfestival.com. Autumn UK tour, tickets, £16 (subject to booking fee), tel: 0844 826 2826, www.ticketmaster.com