Who or what inspires you?
Anyone who’s trying to be honest on stage, while still managing to pull off being funny. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but if it goes right, it’s a sight to see. Louis CK in the States has an entire niche of trying to do warts-and-all comedy which is elegant, ugly and hilarious all at the same time. John Stewart is another favourite. When I was growing up in Ireland, we had to cover up any attacks on authority for years. Dermot Morgan [who played Father Ted in the eponymous TV comedy] was attacking the church and the politicians in Ireland at a time when they ruled the country with an iron grip and his career suffered for it. And Richard Bean, who’s a playwright who wrote The Heretic, One Man Two Guvnors etc, has always struck me as someone with a stand-up’s sensibilities: he has some amazing one liners in there, but surrounded by amazing writing.
If you could banish one person from the earth, who would it be and why?
Bono. And if you have to ask why, then we can’t be friends.
Can comedy be a tool for political and social change?
People might point to countries such as Italy where a comedian, Beppe Grillo, was elected into office, and Iceland where Jon Gnarr, another comedian, was made the mayor of Reyjkavik, and say this is a sure sign that comedy can lead to change. The truth is, comedy can simply highlight some of the absurdities and injustice and shake things up a bit. But after a while, people need the trains to run on time and the system to improve and that’s when the people themselves have to continue the momentum. People need to want the change. Comedians can definitely add some fuel to the fire at the beginning, though.
Do you think humour is a universal language?
Only if you’re a mime.
Your latest show is called ‘Fear itself’. Has fear become a political tool?
Fear has always been a political tool, but I’m trying to make this show more about how fear shapes our lives, rather than what scares us and how that’s used or abused.
The truth is, comedy can simply highlight some of the absurdities and injustice and shake things up a bit
Do you fear anything yourself?
Of course, and if I’m honest it’s a pretty long list. It’s funny when someone says they don’t fear anything. That’s impossible; you’d be dead after five minutes of walking across a street muttering, ‘I’m not afraid of this oncoming truc….’. Admitting to being afraid of something, though, has got to be one of the great contradictions. On the one hand, it’s seen as very brave admitting your fears. On the other hand, people suddenly see how fragile you are and in reflection, how fragile they can be, and that’s not something that they necessarily like.
Have your Irish roots influenced your brand of comedy?
Absolutely, we grow up in a culture and a community of storytellers and so we tend to address any crowd with a series of stories. However, most Irish comedians you know and love have spent time in England, as English audiences expect more in terms of punchlines and gags, and so there ends up being a nice mix of the two.
What are you politically passionate about at the moment?
The big debate in Ireland right now centres on a woman’s right to choose and proposed legislation allowing for a termination, in particular if there is a risk to her life. This debate was started when a young woman called Savita Halappanavar died in Galway last year as the pregnancy was in distress; the doctors could have saved her life had they performed an abortion. They didn’t and she died and the last words she heard were, ‘This is a Catholic country’. Savita means ‘The Sun’ in Hindi. We killed the sun because we were too afraid to have this conversation before.
If you could write your epitaph, what would it be?
I’m not done yet… Smiley face.
Keith has appeared on Michael McIntyre ‘s Comedy Roadshow (BBC), One Night Stand (BBC), Live from Amsterdam (Showtime), Montreal’s Just For Laughs and presented his own comedy documentary for RTE, Money, Money, Money: Keith Farnan versus the Economy. He has featured on a variety of radio shows including Loose Ends (Radio 4), The Guessing Game with Clive Anderson (BBC Scotland) and Colin Murphy’s Great Unanswered Questions (BBCNI). He was writer of one of the Irish Times' 'Tiny Plays' and received a commission to write his own play, 'The Last Stevedore'. He has also written for Time Out London, Hot Press and The Irish Post.
Keith is appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. For details, dates and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.