Legendary comedian Dylan Moran is hitting the Riverside Theatre on Thursday, November 14 with his latest show, Dr Cosmos. MELISSA KRUGER had a chat with the inimitable Irishman from Melbourne, about the state of the world and what’s currently grinding his gears.
How are you, how’s Melbourne?
Yeah, Melbourne’s good. I’ve done about 385,000 interviews so I’m a little spacey. But yeah, I’m pretty good, Melbourne is doing its 95 season in one day thing.
Tell me a little bit about Dr Cosmos as an identity…
Oh well, you know, the notion was pretty simple. Two things happened. A lot of people were saying “God, everything is so mad!”, and the rate of change that we’re in – an acceleration with no end, and with the emergence of all these populist tosspots around the globe, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orbán, Putin, the list goes on and on, they’re everywhere. ‘Round about the same time, the culture globally, everybody started freaking out and electing all these “charismatics” who are promising to cleanse society through their own personality, but you may find that you’re rather resistant to the personalities they’re offering. I am, and it reminded me of westerns when somebody would set up in a town, selling hair tonic…
Like a snake oil salesman!
A snake oil salesman, exactly! So I thought Dr Cosmos was a good name for one of those guys.
Love it. Dr Cosmos is also a TV show that you’re putting together. Where are you at with that?
I am writing a TV show and there’s a character on it that’s called Dr Pete Cosmos who’s a Greek doctor, but it’s a running thread with me, it’s kind of… I don’t know, an avatar, I suppose, of something or somebody who embodies a theme that kind of comes back. It’s been around as a character with me for a while and I actually wrote a pilot for another show called Dr Cosmos, and that transformed into this show.
Beautiful, any idea when we might be blessed with that on our screens?
They’re hoping to shoot it early next year and I’m writing five episodes, they’re all very short – 15 minutes – I’ve written four and I’m writing the last one on the road here in Oz between gigs.
Tell me a little bit about how you separate Dylan Moran the person from whatever character you are embodying during a show run, or in a series like Black Books, for example.
Well, you know… I don’t know? I don’t know how you compartmentalise yourself for your different roles in the day but it just sort of comes naturally. I think we all have a bag of heads we carry around with us and we slip them on where and when we need to, to a degree. I mean, sometimes it’s just not that different but you’re shutting down certain parts of you and emphasising other bits essentially, you know? You’re never 100% of you all the time in every context because it’s just superfluous. Nobody needs to know what a wonderful listener you are, say, if you’re trying to make them dinner. Or if you’re gardening, nobody needs to know what a wonderful singer you are.
Except for maybe your neighbours…
Yeah, maybe! You know what I’m saying though, you pick and choose bits of yourself and bits you’re turning on and off.
Of course. When you’re putting a new show together how long does it take you to devise it, generally?
It’s not like that, to be honest with you it’s just not that premeditated. It’s much more a thing where you’re sort of crawling around and you find a thing and you throw it in your bag and think, yep I’m gonna use that. And then you scurry home and you make a little thing and then it’s something you’re sort of walking around in your mind and then there are other times when you’re beachcombing for bits, things that you’ve noticed or things that keep striking you and you go, what is this thing? And it’s kind of like an opportunity in a way to pick up and address all those phenomena or maybe language or things people do that sticks in your mind like a bur and you go what is it? What is that? For what I do, I’m lucky enough in my work to be able to use all that stuff that occurs to all of us. You know, somebody once said the only difference between writers and everybody else is that writers write things down. And I think that’s a brilliant observation. It’s the only difference. It’s just that you make note of things and then you pick them up and look at them a bit longer.
You make people laugh and you have this amazing ability to create moments that are endlessly quotable. Who makes YOU laugh?
Oh, gosh, lots of people! Family and friends are probably the first people. I don’t think there’s anything funnier than people taking the mickey out of you at home, you know? We all wanna be recognised in that way, in that intimate way, to be known, because that makes us feel human. Loads of people make me laugh. I was listening to Loudon Wainwright the other day, what an incredible songwriter. He’s hilarious. Songwriters are actually pretty good to go to for laughs. I love old Broadway tunes or amazing songwriters like Randy Newman. Blues, blues music, I listen to a lot of blues music. Some of that stuff cracks me up. Everybody knows the song Shake, Rattle and Roll, you know the old rock ‘n roll song? You hear them in the car radio or whatever and you don’t actually listen that closely but to actually listen to the ingenuity of the lyrics, it makes you throw your hands up and think about what’s around that. One of the lines from that song goes: “You’re wearing those old dresses as the sun comes shining through…” something something… “all the mess belongs to you…” and then… “the harder I work the faster my money goes, I swear” (laughs), “I swear to my soul you’re the devil in nylon hose”. I mean, that’s just genius.
When you just started out as a comedian did you have any performers or writers that you looked up to or were inspired by?
Pryor, Richard Pryor was the guy, and he still is. There’s nobody funnier than Richard Pryor, there never has been. In my opinion.
I love how easily you were able to answer that question!
Yeah, well, there’s something about Richard Pryor. Billy Connolly is very funny as well but Richard Pryor, he’s out on his own for me. Dave Chappelle’s a great comic but Richard Pryor is something else. He’s just magical. He’s wonderful. He’s endless.
Before stand-up, did you venture into the world of performance in other ways?
Ehhh no, I dicked around in school you know, doing drama and stuff, here and there. I had a nice English teacher who was a breath of fresh air in the… drizzly oppression of midland Ireland, and he was good because he communicated with young people but talked to them like they were human beings rather than just some sort of, you know, stations of dandruff in a classroom he had to deal with.
Do you have advice for young comedians starting out?
Enjoy yourselves. That’s my advice. Have a good time. Enjoy yourselves. Enjoy your thoughts. Enjoy language, enjoy communicating, and it’s not an explosion of ego. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about connecting with other people.
That must be difficult though. I imagine getting yourself geared up to go on stage and have people listen to you and nothing but you for two hours must be… hard?
Well, yeah, but if you start getting high on your own supply and believing your own hype, you’re done for. You have to remember it’s nothing without that connection, it’s nothing. You know? Connect, connect, connect.
Is there anything in particular that’s currently grinding your gears?
Well, I get a bit impatient with the people who complain about the climate change protesters holding up the show and saying it’s bad for business and all that stuff because there ain’t no business if there ain’t no planet. There’s a lot. There’s a whole flotilla of problems out there to alight on. I don’t understand how we got to this point where we have elected such a mediocre raft of men, and they are usually men, it has to be said. I think it’s a very unhealthy scene that we’ve allowed to develop. So we need to listen to the young people I think.
Hopefully, the ‘young people’ have something good to say!
Well, I think that people like Greta Thunberg do, it’s just a difficult message. It’s a tough message, but it’s important. We can either tune in or we can carry on staring into space.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I am reading an incredible book at the moment, I’m mad about it, it’s the best book I’ve found in ages. It’s called Ka, and it’s by Roberto Calasso and it’s a retelling of all of the Hindu myths.
Are you still not drinking?
No, I’m having a break from that. It got a bit boring, you know? You do too much of anything and it gets a bit tedious. It’s refreshing not to feel like that.