Hardy Bucks: Riding Again

Ahead of their return to screens in 2018, Co. Mayo’s finest are hitting the road with a new show, including a session out in Connolly’s of Leap. Mike McGrath-Bryan somehow emerges unscathed from a conversation with Eddie Durkan and Buzz McDonnell.

The air of television and film superstardom is rarefied stuff to be breathing. The whirls of handlers, the fawning of press professionals, the gaping maw of the general public; a lesser man could easily buy into the hype machine’s latest whirrings and emerge having made a loss, a hollow, purposeless parody of himself. But neither Eddie Durkan or Buzz McDonnell, proud Mayo men and certified Hardy Bucks, is a lesser man on this day. Having survived years of endless summers of drinking, smoking and being embroiled in petty misdemeanours, the Castletown, Co. Mayo natives that came to define the documentary genre for recession-era Ireland are due back on our screens soon, with confirmation on this coming directly from McDonnell: “There’ll be a new series coming out in January, please God and all the saints. Four episodes of high-grade pipe talk.”

Before all that, though, the lads are due to grace the country’s gig venues with their presence in a new live show, the ominously-titled ‘The Hardy Bucks Steal Christmas’, over the course of the holiday season. The cameras might be back on the lads after a break, but for Eddie, an early Irish pioneer of what’s now called the gig economy, the grind is constant. “We’ll be doing a bit of workin’ alright. Workin’ on the pints and turkey sandwiches. Maybe watching the back of the eyelids. And they call me Eddie “Never Workin'” Durkan. The absolute cheek of them.” Perhaps in light of the title of the show, Buzz is quick to reassure your writer (upon inquiry) that Christmas, will, in fact, remain resolutely in place, and that the show’s name is an attempt to wrest the seasons away from the interests of capitalism, rather than a confession to the actual theft of Christmas and its iconography. “Christmas can never go bye-bye. It’s inside all of us. And not in a sexual way, but in a very innocent ‘let’s be kind to each other’ way. The only thing we’d steal is the odd pint, or if we found money on the street, and nobody wanted it. Salmon once had planned to rob a post office, but he slept in.”

It seems to be the core group of rural Mayo’s finest doing the rounds this time around, but the lads aren’t ruling out returns from the extended citizenry of Castletown and surrounding areas. Says Eddie: “You wouldn’t know who’s coming in and out of the Hardy Bucks these days. It’s like Lillie’s Bordello sometimes, with all the hard men and superstars trying to get a slice of the power pie”. While inquiries as to certain characters are dismissed quickly by besieged and visibly tired public-relations staffers, and the boys visibly shuffle in their seats, the question of whatever happened to Castletown’s resident moonchild, Ladybird, is deemed acceptable. “Ladybird is over in Ibiza on a Manumission tour, so we don’t hear anything from her these days”, says Eddie, after a long draw on a hastily-constructed rollie. “Buzz was meant to meet her a few months back, but he got cold feet and chickened out. She sent Buzz a picture of them shifting last Xmas, which Buzz keeps in the attic for emergencies.”

A major part of the lads’ new live show, according to promoter Cormac Daly, is the topic of getting older: hitting your mid-thirties and making sense of the world, and all of its changes at a very weird time for society in general. Whether we’re going to see a wiser or more savvy Hardy Bucks in action out in Leap, however, is in question, according to Eddie. “Unfortunately, you’ll see physically older Hardy Bucks. I doubt our brains have caught up with the our deteriorating good looks. That’s why hitting the punch bag is essential.” On this important point, Buzz begs to differ. “Well, we’ve all matured over the years, mostly thanks to listening to Joe Rogan. He’s been like a father to us and helped our development so much”.

With the newfound maturity and clarity that age and a position of influence has granted the boys, it’s natural to wonder if they’ve had the inclination to look back on the last few years, the effect that fame and the series has had on their own lives. Eddie looks back on their whirlwind success, from YouTube to RTÉ to storming the silver screen in 2012, as just reward for a lifetime’s hard work. “Being famous in Ireland is like trying to stuff twelve lads into a Volkswagen Passat. It’s first come, first served. We never got any handy numbers from RTÉ like Tubridy and all those other people, sitting around on contract, absorbing tax-payer money for knocking about in a corridor all day. I’d be happy doing that!” Meanwhile, life for the citizenry of Castletown, the small Mayo village where the lads ply various trades for cash in claw, has changed since it was first showcased to the world almost a decade ago, according to Buzz. “We got a few new shops. We had an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant that closed down inside a week ’cause we ate everything around us, there was a massage parlour that did so well she apparently made a million quid in one year and retired. We also got a vape shop called Planet of the Vapes that’s doing really well, it’s being run by a man from the Lebanon who’s mad for pints.”

As mentioned earlier, the lads are heading to Connolly’s of Leap on the 23rd of December, as part of touring for the new show. While one readily assumes that the consumption of copious amounts of tinned beverages presents no issues to any of the crew, the gig will be the lads’ first sojourn under the McNicholl family’s famous hammers. Buzz remains undaunted. “We’ve all done time down in Cork. Love the place. Never been to this venue, but the first time you do anything is always the best. So in saying that, we’re confident that this will be the best gig anyone has ever seen.” Time wears on, and with PR people conspicuously ushering the next in a queue of arts journalists through the door, Eddie is compelled to throw in a quick few words for fans in Cork before we wrap up hurriedly. “We love ye to bits. And thank you for all your continued support over the years. Haven’t been to Leap before. I never heard of the place to be honest. But any time spent in Cork is quality time, and we’re looking forward to raising the roof & reuniting wth you afterwards. ‘Hon the lushers! Echo! Echo!”

Rubberbandits: Horse Sense

After selling out one show and announcing a second for St. Luke’s, the Rubberbandits top off a banner year with a trip to Cork. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Blindboy Boatclub ahead of their Leeside engagements.

It has to have been an exhausting year for Limerick comedy/performance-art duo The Rubberbandits. The duo of Blindboy Boatclub and Mr. Chrome, along with collaborators, have been at it for years, but their groundswell of support and grassroots influence has grown massively. Progressing from prank-calls and early tunes to post-austerity commentary, the Rubberbandits have made their thickly-accented voices heard, most notably the anti-materialism of 2012’s Horse Outside, and last year’s Dad’s Best Friend, a chilling examination of male mental health issues in modern Ireland.

The Rubberbandits’ Guide has just finished up after a four-episode run on RTÉ, that followed last year’s Rubberbandits’ Guide to 1916. A series of explainers, the show takes on overarching social and philosophical issues, from the nature of reality itself, to addressing Ireland’s changing attitudes to sex. It does so while taking in the spectrum of the Bandits’ self-created universe; the boys take slightly off-kilter advice from puppet odd couple Beckett and Joyce, and are witness to the ongoing self-inflicted suffering of the Trout of No Craic. But rather than an exercise in injokes, the Bandits cast their net out wide in balancing comedy and comment. The Irish pub/nightclub is recast as Attenborough-esque point of observation; reality stars sit befuddled as the pair test their perceptions of reality; and the early internet is characterised as a pond, replete with various dodgy activity in the reeds and pirated Metallica C.D.s floating at the surface.

The duo have dealt with RTÉ before in different capacities, but the question is, how different was it to get a show as far-reaching as Rubberbandits’ Guide to RTÉ, getting stuff green-lit, etc.? “We had complete creative control with the show. That’s the only conditions we’d work under. We know exactly what we want to do and how to do it, we rarely need outside help. At this stage, we’ve proven ourselves internationally enough for RTÉ to fuck off and leave us to our own devices. That’s what we did.”

An underrated aspect of the Guides has been the soundtrack – metal veterans Deftones, Nigerian synth-funk maestro William Onyeabor and vaporwave figurehead Macintosh Plus feature prominently, among others. Who managed to sneak those past RTÉ’s music department? “We had full creative control. RTÉ is great for music, in fairness, they have a blanket licence on everything except The Beatles. I’m a huge music fan, obviously. I love how a piece of music can change the tone of a scene on TV. We also knew that there were no plans for a DVD release, which would have meant losing the music in favour of library tracks, so we went mad with tunes. Picked some savage stuff for it. Samuel Beckett shooting James Joyce in the head while he’s listening to Deftones is what the TV license fee was made for.”

Another major piece of the Bandits’ year was providing ITV’s comedy contest show Almost Impossible Gameshow with play-by-play commentary and colour analysis. Blindboy addresses the subject of any concerns from producers unaccustomed to the duo, as to their voices, senses of humour, etc., while breaching how MTV been to deal with, for the American adaptation. “The UK version was great craic, we got to be very subversive with our humour for that. The American one that’s showing on MTV at the moment is a pile of shit, I won’t even watch it. We just did it to earn a few quid. The type of thing we were going for just doesn’t work with Yanks.”

But more so than any professional aspect of the duo’s body of work, the defining aspect of the year for the Bandits has to have been their increased visibility in Irish media, pertaining to mental health and the crisis we have at present. It’s a topic that official Ireland stayed silent on for a very long time before public discourse finally necessitated that discussion. Blindboy talks about how that has changed, and the Bandits’ role in that discussion, looking back on the last 12 months in particular. “We view ourselves as socially engaged artists. We view art, not just as a way to affect social change. The mental health crisis in Ireland is something that affects ourselves and all of our friends. So fuck that, if no one else was going to talk about it, then we would. None of the stuff that I say about mental health is novel or original, I’m just regurgitating what I’ve read from psychology books. We should be asking why our politicians aren’t informed on this stuff, rather than focusing on why I am.”

The other question pertaining to the topic is the now-hackneyed assertion that “the man with the bag on his face makes more sense than the man in the suit”. Boatclub and Chrome have utilised the lines between comedy and commentary expertly, but what further role does Blindboy see for artistic practice in Ireland as a tool of discourse and change, given the relative lack of support from officialdom, and where does he see the discussion going? “I think, with the internet, artists don’t need any support to get their stuff out there. To earn a living they might need support, but to create change, all you need is a message and the Internet.”

Boatclub and Chrome have been practicing artists from a very young age, and they’ve changed medium with the times, turning juvenile scutting into a fully-fledged, ‘dole-queue Dada’ artistic school of thought. But where next for Gas Cuntism? “We haven’t a clue, that’s half the craic. We’re both fairly handy visual artists. I can paint, and Mr. Chrome can sculpt. I’d say we might give that a lash. But there’s still loads to be done with music, theatre and writing.”

After selling out their first date on the 22nd of this month, the boys are playing St. Luke’s for a newly-announced second show on the 21st. After the big year it’s been, what can we expect from the live show this time around? “Two apes from Limerick wearing plastic bags on their heads, singing a load of songs about greyhounds, and a shower of eejits from Cork in the audience loving it.” And as an arguable career year comes to a close behind them, Blindboy is to the point about what further to expect from the Rubberbandits in 2017. “I’m writing a book and we’ll have a lash at a musical.”

Your writer and Blindboy have spoken before about Cork, before their Everyman performance of musical Continental Fistfight, and his feelings on the city. Blindboy further considers his relationship with the real capital, through the prism of his own home city. “Cork is class, it has the feeling of Limerick about it. But ye’ve a better buzz and ye have yere shit together. It’s like watching an older brother get a mortgage, while we’re still smoking rollies and combing our pubes.”

As our interview time draws to a close, one question remains to be asked, and that’s the plight of the Bandits’ close associate (and Salmon of Knowledge relative) the Trout of No Craic. Seemingly mired in his own ever-worsening misery, he reached his nadir during the Guides series, engaging in sexist & transphobic outbursts, and letting his various urges destroy his relationships. Blindboy, with a heaving sigh, simply proffers: “He’s trapped in the prison of his own negativity. The key to his escape is compassion, but he’s too busy sucking boobs for that.”

The Rubberbandits play St. Luke’s on the 21st of December, with CCCahoots in support. Tickets €25 from uticket.ie.

Andrew Maxwell: Au Contraire

Ahead of taking his new show to the Opera House on the 13th of October, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with comedian Andrew Maxwell on his beginnings, the psychology of comedy, The Panel and the stories behind the cult show’s guests…

Andrew Maxwell’s new show tours this autumn, a brand-new show entitled Yo Contraire. The Dublin comedian and MTV voiceover artist is in his typical good form, as he negotiates a mad dash of phone calls and radio appearances of a Monday morning. “Thank you for being there to help me flog this show”, he chuckles as the conversation opens up ahead of his appearance at the Opera House on the 13th of October. It’s been nearly twenty-five years now, since he first ventured onto the stage in Dublin for a comedy night ran at Dublin outpost The International by fellow stand-up breakout Ardal O’Hanlon. Maxwell explores how the game has changed in his time, and how he feels about it now. “When stand-up in Ireland started, y’know, with Ardal and Mr. Trellis, at Vicar Street and before that, the International, it was a hobby! None of the lads who started that scene thought it would become ‘a job’, let alone turn into national tours and comedy festivals like the Galway Comedy Festival or the Cork Comedy Festival, or the Cat Laughs in Kilkenny. None of us thought this would be a job, or an industry, or anything. Y’know? They were just doing it because they were mildly touched! Just really wanted an outlet for the weirdness, y’know?”

Outlets for oddball tendencies aside, Maxwell went hither and over between Ireland and overseas, doing stand-up and various UK television appearance for a few years thereafter. Comedy is a craft like any other, requiring fine-tuning and experience to better oneself, and time spent gigging around the world early on sharpened his wits for differing houses, and what stories to tell in a routine. “Absolutely, it’s vital. Y’know, when I first started working in the States, I thought ‘well, y’know, I’m Irish, I’m in New York, they’ll know things. The cultural and economic capital of America, they’ll get it’. They knew nothing, dude! They knew nothing about Ireland, or Irish things. U2? Never heard of ’em. Y’know, the cops are all Irish? No. They knew nothing about leprechauns! So, whether you’re in the States, or Canada, or across Europe, or wherever, you’re talking about the craft side of it, it’s excellent to step out of where you’re from, ’cause only then, you realise – half your punchlines are references, that everyone in the room can take for granted. So it’s really good for taking all of that… ammunition, as it were. Find jokes that are about you, that are instantaneously relatable. Don’t talk about Dublin, don’t talk about being Irish, talk about you.”

Stand-up and nightlife are invariably tied in, and as an aside, Maxwell dispenses a little more wisdom regards different audiences in different markets, and in doing so provides some insight into his gift for reading and adapting audiences, as well as his study of comedic psychology. “American comedy clubs have a two-drink minimum, dude. On the way in, you pay in, plus you must drink two alcoholic drinks, or they will throw you out. So the audience is more likely to be caffeinated than drunk. So, they’re more alert. A drunk audience is happy with two punchlines in 30 seconds, a caffeinated audience needs three. You can see that if you ever watch any American stand-ups. The density of material in a Louis CK routine, or a Bill Burr routine is more than a British or Irish comedian would need to do. It’s interesting to watch and to work to an American coffee crowd, rather than an Irish booze crowd”.

Irish comedy fans know Maxwell best from his time on RTE discussion show the Panel, the flagship of Network Two’s Monday comedy offering throughout the early 2000s. Occurring right at the crest of the Irish stand-up wave and lasting toward the end of the boom, The Panel played host to a wide and varied procession of regulars and guests. Maxwell recalls the period fondly. “The reason why The Panel worked, was because we didn’t feel like we were doing a TV show. Most of the time, a TV show is pretty stilted, there’s a lot of recording breaks, ‘sorry, can we do that again?’, whereas The Panel worked because the producer, Seamus Cassidy, just let us roll. A lot of panel-format TV shows can be a bit stilted because they literally are. ‘Let’s do that again, let’s repeat this’. Effectively trying to edit it in real time, yeah? Whereas Seamus had the patience to go ‘look, I’m gonna let ye go at it for two hours, except for commercial breaks. Nothing would be said twice, we’d just run and run and run, and then he’d take on the Herculean task of getting up at eight the next morning and editing it into a show. And delivering it by lunchtime. He was willing to dig out all those golden interactions and improvisations between all of us.”

But improvisation and starpower aside, Maxwell insists that the show’s success was down to the camaraderie between the cast. “The Panel, unlike pretty much any other panel-format show I’ve done, in the UK, Canada, Australia and such, just wasn’t like being on telly, it was just me and a bunch of friends I would have been having fun with anyway in the pub, and someone else had the entire burden of turning it into a TV show. We were really good mates, we’d go out together on the town afterward, the nonsense would just continue.”

Many of Maxwell’s exchanges with guests and regulars are still fondly recalled by the show’s loyal viewership, and form some of the highlights of the show’s run, remaining in circulation as uploaded by Cassidy and other fans of the show to YouTube and in other formats. He comments on the parade of humanity that went past him in those seats. “By the time we’d been improvising and ripping the crap out of each other for forty-five minutes, by the time the guests came out you’d be spent (laughs). Sometimes some of the guests were blind drunk… we had some weird guests. Some of them may have tried to talk down to us… Shane Ross, he was really obnoxious and self-righteous, he had no sense of humour. He felt he was above the whole thing, clearly someone had put him up to doing it. He looked terrible for it. Eamon Gilmore came on, the height of Gilmoremania. I kinda nailed him over weed-smoking, but he was still a good sport. Patrick Bergin, he was pretty good. We asked him what was the secret of showbiz, and he looked us dead in the eye and said ‘don’t turn down anything, never read a script’. That’s really honest. The only one I really didn’t like was Max Clifford. I just knew he was a wrong’un. This guy instantly came out and bragged about how he could blackmail you into doing anything he wanted. He was the biggest Svengali in tabloid media, he could make or break ya, he was bragging he could bury a story and drag up all the dirt on you. He was proud of that. Even at the time I thought he was a bad, bad guy. He was proud that he could coerce people through shame to do his bidding. So when it turned out that he was convicted for being an actual sex offender, I was not surprised in any way. He was only one where I was like, ‘I’d never want to be in a room with you again’”.

Before we can get to his work with MTV’s Ex on the Beach, which he briefly summarises as “a mucky delight that lifts people out of their Tuesday slump”, or his work on the current stand-up scene, including his comedy festival in the Austrian Alps, Altitude, happening this December, he’s whisked away by his PR person for some more radio shots. But he parts on a Cork story later in the day via email to end the interview on a lighter note. “Last time I was in Cork, myself and my mate Dave went out to Blarney and pretended to nick coins out of the Wishing Steam by the castle,to the amusement of the locals, and abject horror of the American tourists… no wishes were stolen.”