Tim McGarry, best known for his role as the dad in Give My Head Peace, said that stand-up comedy is “an art form that deserves protection.”
A stalwart of the Northern Ireland comedy scene was speaking after a joke at British comedian Joe Lycett’s recent concert in Belfast led several people to walk out of the show and an audience member reported it to the police.
Mr McGarry said the incident was “a bunch of crap” and joked that he felt “left out” because no one ever called the police on him.
“I haven’t had any problems with the show I’ve been on for a very long time and to be honest I feel a bit left out now, no one has ever called the police for me,” he laughed.
“If anyone wants to complain about me, tune in to our Perforated Ulster show on Radio Ulster on Saturdays at 12:30.”
He said he considered the whole situation “complete nonsense” and a “farce”.
“Obviously this is someone who has never been to a comedy show before,” he said.
“If you go to any concert, you will definitely hear much worse than what I consider a joke.
“People need a life – if you go to a comedy show, you expect it.”
Mr McGarry, who has been on local comedy and television for over 26 years, said “the audience in Belfast is great”.
“The scene here is really great – you have the Empire Comedy Club, which has been around for 30 years, Colin Geddis’s Lavery Comedy Club, and a lot of others popping up all over Belfast. Nice to see,” he said.
“This is obviously a political comedy that I make and since society is divided you have to be careful about how you do things but the bottom line is if you are funny and your jokes are good you can get away with it.
“I think now, thanks to Twitter and all that stuff, people are getting hypersensitive and every word is being analyzed and checked when it doesn’t have to be,” he added.
“And not every joke is a stroke of genius. That’s what we do as comedians, we try them, and if you’re offended, sorry, nothing happens, big deal. If the other people in the room laugh, that’s enough for me.”
Tim said it was “an impossible task” for a comedian to “constantly please every single person”.
“The great thing about comedy is that a lot of it happens spontaneously. This is a great art form and deserves to be defended and supported, not reviled,” he said, adding that comedy, like all art, is subjective.
“There are a lot of famous comedians that I don’t like, but I truly admire and respect anyone who can walk into a room full of strangers and make them laugh.
“I accept people who don’t find it funny, or don’t go to the concert, or leave, but all this nonsense about calling the police and getting upset because of one joke from the whole show is just an absolute farce.”
Lycett is not alone, it seems, as other well-known comedians have gotten into trouble in recent years performing potentially offensive jokes in Northern Ireland.
In 2017, Ricky Gervais defended his stand-up material after he joked about dead babies at a concert at the Waterfront.
At the time, he said, “Basically resentment has to do with feelings, and feelings are personal. People just don’t like being reminded of bad things.” Two years earlier, in 2015, there was an uproar when Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle was scheduled to play Feile an Phobail at the West Belfast Festival after he joked about children with Down syndrome.
At the time, over 1,300 people signed an online petition calling for the show to be cancelled.
Back in 2009, Northern Ireland politicians lashed out at British comedian Jimmy Carr after he joked about amputees. He told an anecdote to an audience assembled at the 2,500-seat Manchester Apollo.
“Whatever you say about these amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re going to have a damn good Paralympic team in 2012.”
UUP leader and former Royal Irish Regiment soldier Doug Beatty, who was awarded the Military Cross while serving in Afghanistan, said at the time that while the joke was “tasteless”, he believed that Carr meant no malice.
In 2007, audiences in Dublin left when Co Down comedian Paddy Kielty cracked a tawdry joke about Madeleine McCann missing.
And it wasn’t just the stand-up comedians in the line of fire. In the late 1990s, the university magazine made national headlines when it printed a page of jokes about Diana, Princess of Wales shortly after her death.
Queen’s University Belfast magazine PTQ was forced to scrap thousands of copies on sale after readers were outraged by dozens of jokes about the death of Diana and Dodi Fayed on the publication’s page.
At the time, the Student Union apologized to her family and launched an investigation into how the jokes got into print.