Dylan Moran on the horrors of IS and Candy Crush

Dylan Moran. Picture: Andy HollingworthDylan Moran. Picture: Andy Hollingworth
Dylan Moran. Picture: Andy Hollingworth
ON HIS first UK tour for four years, Dylan Moran addresses the horrors of IS and Candy Crush

DYLAN Moran has an ambivalent attitude towards technology. On stage, he rails against his wretched addiction to Candy Crush on his son’s phone. And he tells me that there’s “some truth” to that routine.

Sat in the basement of Maison Bertaux in Soho, London’s oldest cake shop, the comedian is wrestling with his smartphone. As Bernard Black, the bilious bookseller in his sitcom Black Books, he banned all such devices from his shop. But he’s not quite such a Luddite. After a certain amount of frustrated fiddling, he manages to show me some self-illustrated images from his new, pocket-sized books of fables on it, anthropomorphic tales with animals, “full of greed, lust, corruption and terrible behaviour” that he’s selling after his shows. They are “daft, funny, stupid things”, absolutely not for children, he stresses. “I’m slightly concerned about making that clear. I don’t want anyone taking them home and their children just staring into the corner, unable to speak”.

Hide Ad

He calls his own children at one point to check that they’re OK, and says that on a normal day, he scans the news constantly. “Lapping up the news. Why am I looking again?” the 43-year-old shrugs. “What’s the new, awful thing that’s happened? Why am I telling myself I’m an informed person, just because I know some people are suffering thousands of miles away? How does that constitute an informed modern mind? It doesn’t. It just completely stymies you and stops you doing anything.”

The Edinburgh-based Irishman is touring the UK for the first time in four years and the adrenaline is “still an absolute bastard, you can see why comics get messed up, walking off high as a kite, bouncing around on moonboots”. His new show is titled Off The Hook, reflecting his desire to revert to a “brick phone” and that the only way to go truly “underground” in the modern world is “to go offline… you have to make a real effort to get off the grid”.

He wrote a sitcom pilot for the US channel ABC in 2013 along the lines of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, about a features journalist inadvertently sent to cover a war zone, “the wrong guy in the wrong place”. Conceived “before all of the Islamic State stuff got incredibly dark”, it wasn’t picked up for broadcast, but events had been “tending that way already. There were horrible stories happening, it just wasn’t the constant black rain we have at the moment.”

That idea of rolling news as “toxic, thick, black, viscous” is one he returns to again and again. “Do you ever unplug [from the internet]?” he asks me suddenly. “Doesn’t it feel good? This texture-goop of work, research, entertainment, infotainment, it all becomes the same sludginess. You can’t absorb it. It’s not for human consumption. And yet it has to be, because that’s part of what’s out there. This thing [he taps his phone] is the most amazing producer in the world for terrorist shows. This high-functioning group of shitheads understand the internet and we’ve catastrophised it, sadly. Whatever horrible footage there is of the latest IS killing, that fact that it exists, almost puts more responsibility on you to get as much fun as possible out of everything else.”

He’s not a comic who can overlook routine beheadings, simply standing on stage and saying “wahey, look at my fluffy stick!” He gestures to his forehead: “That’s not what’s going in here… so that’s not what’s coming out here,” pointing to his mouth.

The difficulties of distilling comedy from such horror for a mainstream US television network are obvious unless, perhaps, you adopt The Day Today model of inflating war and terrorism to hyperbolic extremes. But that’s not Moran’s approach.

Hide Ad

“It’s hard to avoid sometimes because the reality is so indigestible, you try and make it palatable through parody. Or exaggeration,” he says. “That mode is very common in comedy. But because it’s already so grotesquely beyond exaggeration, you have to hyper-exaggerate, make it more lurid, more horrible, to make us feel anything. To ping on somebody’s surface. How vulcanised are we by reality? I get depressed about the fact that you have to go into these incredibly elaborate, exaggerated terms to even register.”

He sees himself forced into “a choice between being Frankie Boyle and Miranda [Hart], either super-aggressive and super-hostile, or anything else, which suddenly seems anodyne”, but is instead grasping for a “more progressive” engagement, “more suggestive and understated”.

Hide Ad

And his response is vulnerability. Two of his current standout routines are a daftly pathetic Fifty Shades Of Grey pastiche and a fitful masturbation reverie, both underscored by an aching appeal for real human connection. “I’m talking about sex, love and wanting to be wanted,” he says. “I use that peg to hang different things on because it’s a tender point in the map of someone’s psyche. Being aware that when you want or need, you’re vulnerable. You’re porous, open to someone. If you’re not prepared to be vulnerable, you’re on a road that ends up with IS. They’re trying to get through some humanistic loophole that doesn’t exist. There’s no way round vulnerability, there’s no way round heartbreak, other people f***ing you off or hurting you.”

He’s concerned that we might be discussing comedy too earnestly, as he tries not to analyse his stand-up too closely, despite recording every show and driving himself “round the f***ing twist listening to the same story six different ways. But that seems to be the way, nothing happens without it.” He never used to do warm-up shows, didn’t worry about remembering everything, because it always felt like he could “kick the jukebox” and something would materialise. He shows me that he’s “got notebooks and notebooks full of arrows and schemes and different routes into the fortress I’m trying to kick open, literally dozens of the things, yet in the end, I chuck them all away”. Nevertheless, becoming the first English language stand-up to play Russia recently, and touring Eastern Europe, has been particularly rewarding, “because these people want to be part of the same conversation”.

He finds he’s “always asking questions, looking into their local history and attitudes, how they feel about the people down the road, what happened five or ten years ago, it’s all really important. Whatever part of you connects with people is paramount. Everyone thinks that in comedy you’ve got to be so funny all the time. Yeah, sure, if you can. But the main thing is connecting. If you don’t have that you don’t have anything.”

Identifying “the baselines of popular culture” that resonate with any audience grows ever more difficult in a world fragmented by digital technology, with fewer obvious communal touchstones. “Even if you don’t go to church, my generation would know a certain number of Bible stories, but is that still the case?” Moreover, as Moran ages, he’s preoccupied with how his perception of love, sex, death, religion, politics, “all the greats”, have shifted anyway.

“It’s harder to get obvious laughs because things are more complex, subtle and elusive,” he says. “You’re less bludgeoning with your opinions than when you were a young guy. You tend to try and see it from other people’s point of view. You’re old and boring. How about that?”

Off The Hook may also allude to him relinquishing his plans to write a realistic novel, which has dogged the former Perrier Award winner since his teenage years in Ireland, a country he now views as a “visitor”, having spent most of his life outside it.

Hide Ad

“This is really weird to talk about in this tortured, dilatory way, but it was a huge deal,” he says. “I’ve never said this to anybody before but there are things in your life that are defining and that was probably it for me, this overpowering idea cast a very long shadow over everything I was doing. [Comedy] was just hand-to-mouth existence stuff because I was going to write a book.

“You know, you’re supposed to do a realistic novel, in the mode of whatever writers du jour you’re supposed to admire. I grew up reading bales of that stuff, [John] Cheever and everybody else, all the New Yorker gang. But it became more of a duty than a pleasure, a cultural agreement that I had bought into without really examining. I had wildly inflated its importance.”

Hide Ad

Writing and illustrating his pocket books of animal fables has allowed him to scratch that itch to an extent. But the bottom line is that Moran no longer cares about making his literary mark. Or indeed, his stand-up career.

“I don’t think about it, that’s the honest answer,” he says. “I’ve no plans. If I try to think about the future, I get properly transported. I can’t casually project myself into the future or past, like so many women seem able to do. That’s metaphysical multitasking and I can’t do it.”

Twitter: @jayirichardson

• Dylan Moran plays Eden Court, Inverness, tonight, and the Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow, on 18 March www.dylanmoran.com