The future of Britain after Brexit, national identity and political upheaval don’t appear to be subjects that would have you guffawing with mirth. But these are the themes that Northern Ireland comedian and television presenter Patrick Kielty has chosen for his new stand-up show Borderline which will visit Nottingham next month.
While he’s primarily known for making people laugh, he also has experience of dealing with serious subjects. In 2007 he was invited to conduct an in-depth interview at 10 Downing Street with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn about the Northern Ireland peace process.
His personal involvement goes much deeper. He was 16 in 1988 when his father Jack was shot dead by loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Defence Association.
Yet in a referendum for the Good Friday Agreement – the accord that ended most of the Troubles which had been going on since the late 1960s – Patrick voted yes. Even though it meant his father’s killers were released from prison. He explains why he did that.
“It was an easier decision than maybe you think because if you go through something like that, one of the first things that’s in your head is you don’t want anyone else to go through it,” he says in his unmistakeable Northern Ireland lilt.
“I also think that sometimes we paint ourselves into corners. Making peace is very hard. If you look at what’s going on in the world right now, making peace with people that want to kill each other is very difficult.
“One of the things in the show, weirdly on a personal level, is when you actually go through all that, you can look at situations slightly differently. If you share your story, people might think about their story in a different way.”
Patrick is quick to point out that his new show isn’t a lecture. He should know what an audience wants: during the Northern Ireland Troubles he set up a comedy club in Belfast, “probably the most successful comedy club in the UK because people wanted to come and hear satire about bigger politics and they wanted a release from the tension that was going on around them.
“When you look at where the UK is at the moment, with borders and protocols and Brexiteers and Remainers, sometimes you need a little pressure valve and go ‘there’s funny stuff in here that we can all laugh at.’
“If you look at how people are living at the moment with rising prices and a shortage of oil, none of those things is funny but when you see how we get to certain places and where we’re going, there’s funny in there.”
Patrick Kielty was born on 31 January 1971 in County Down. As a teenager he was a talented Gaelic footballer.
He began performing while a pupil at St Patrick’s Grammar School, Downpatrick when a teacher spotted him impersonating politicians, sportsmen and celebrities.
His professional career started while he was still a psychology student at Queen’s University, Belfast. After presenting television shows in Northern Ireland, he came to the attention of London-based broadcasters and fronted programmes including Fame Academy, Love Island and The One Show.
In 2012 he married the TV presenter Cat Deeley. They have two young sons. They moved to Los Angeles so that she could host the show So You Think You Can Dance but they came back to London two years ago after Patrick and their elder son narrowly avoided a shooting in a shopping mall.
Patrick is undertaking his first UK tour in seven years. Most of the gigs are towards the end of the week. Patrick quips: “I don’t look on it as a three- or four-month tour – I look at it more as a series of mini-breaks!”
Borderline started in Northern Ireland and he’s pleased with the reception so far.
“In your head you think to yourself that stand-up is like putting on a pair of slippers – but it’s not like that at all. It’s like putting on a new pair of high heels! You’re trying to squeeze your toes in and learn how to walk in them again.
“I’m now at the stage where I’m able to walk and dance in them. We’ve been selling out pretty much everywhere, people have been saying nice things and audiences seem to be enjoying it. There’s always that wee bit of relief whenever you get something up and running and people like it.”
The proceeds from the second date, in Larne, went to the Unicef Ukraine appeal.
“That was the week when things really started to get bad there (Ukraine)”, says Patrick. I’ve got two young kids myself and you’re seeing kids on TV and everything that was going on. I just wanted to do something. It’s a very small thing but every little helps, I suppose.”
Patrick explains why he called the tour Borderline.
“I wanted to write something about Northern Ireland and the second new border. There’s talk of Scottish independence, there’s talk of Boris Johnson presiding over the break-up of the Union – all these weird things that you never really thought would even be on the table.
“We live in a world where people go ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’. It seems to me that people want to see the world in black and white.
“To come from a polarised society that actually managed to come together to see a little bit of what the other side thinks and make peace by letting go of preconceptions a little bit – it was an interesting time for me to see the world going the other way.
“So I thought now is a good time to get on stage and talk about national pride, nationalism and where that leads us.”
Patrick always knows roughly what he wants to say in his shows. He explains that the skill is to weave it all together and say it in a funny way.
“I think one of the brilliant things that stand-up allows you to do is to take a serious situation and poke fun at some of the people who’ve made stupid decisions.
“First and foremost I poke fun at myself. That’s always something I try to do when I’m on stage. This isn’t a tour about me going: ‘Hey, I’m angry and I know everything and these are the people that have messed up’. When it comes together it’s great.”
The Glee Club in Nottingham will be the first English venue to welcome Borderline and Patrick appreciates coming to the East Midlands.
“A Nottingham audience like to listen and they like to be challenged – but they also know where the funny is. You know where you stand straightaway. They’re always pretty much bang up for it.”
After the tour Patrick will make his film debut in Ballywater alongside Seána Kerslake, “an amazing actress who’s won a couple of Irish film awards,” says Patrick.
When the producer and director pitched the idea to him, they asked Patrick if he had any questions. He replied: “There are loads of actors in the world – what the hell are you doing talking to me?”
The director told him his shocked reaction at being offered the part was one of the reasons why they wanted him to do the film.
But appearing on the big screen didn’t come naturally to Patrick.
“The idea of walking out in front of 300 or 400 people with a quarter of an inch of microphone cable between you and them and you saying ‘this is what I think is funny; what do you think?’ – that might well be terrifying for most people. For me it’s not.
“But walking out onto a film set when you haven’t done any screen acting before and you’re one of the major parts in the film, and you’ve got a whole camera crew ready to shoot – believe you me, that makes stand-up very easy.”
No doubt many comedy fans will be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of seeing Patrick Kielty live on stage again.
* Patrick Kielty’s Borderline will be at Nottingham Glee Club on Wednesday 11 May