Dara Ó Bri­ain


The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - Spencer Bright

Dara Ó Bri­ain is a very re­luc­tant celebrity. In fact, he doesn’t even like the word. ‘ Celebrity is the op­po­site of great­ness — you don’t nec­es­sar i ly achieve it but it is thrust upon you,’ he says. ‘You say­ing I’m a celebrity: what does that mean? If you’re on the tele­vi­sion, you can say that and it means noth­ing. It doesn’t mean any­one is cel­e­brated, like the root of the word. It’s just some­body we may have heard of.’

Ó Bri­ain mixes science and hu­mour on TV shows like his Science Club — the cur­rent se­ries is run­ning on BBC2 on Thurs­day nights — his School Of Hard Sums and Stargaz­ing with Pro­fes­sor Brian Cox, and has built a suc­cess­ful ca­reer on the strengths of his twin tal­ents: his brain and his wit. That he’s smart no one can doubt — he is Ó Bri­ain the brain, one of the clever­est peo­ple on TV — and he’s achieved suc­cess with­out trav­el­ling down the dreaded celebrity route.

Nor can any­one chal­lenge his claim to be funny, as demon­strated on his me­an­der­ing, in­sight­ful com­edy stand-up rou­tines and his ap­pear­ances on the ubiq­ui­tous Mock The Week. And as the host of The Ap­pren­tice: You’re Fired, which re­cently fin­ished its ninth se­ries, he would never make jokes at the ex­pense of Alan Sugar’s lat­est hap­less vic­tim. ‘For me it’s a per­sonal choice that I don’t do red-car­pet walk-throughs or am pic­tured in my “lovely home,”’ he says.

He re­fuses, too, to talk about his sur­geon wife, Su­san, or their two young chil­dren. ‘I sup­pose I could have been eight per cent bet­ter-known if I’d opened my­self up to that. I might have had eight per cent more work,’ he says. ‘Equally, if I’d at some point cho­sen a name that was slightly eas­ier to tran­scribe, then maybe I would be 17 per cent bet­ter off. But there comes a point where it’s too late to be­come “Dazzy B”; too late to change into some­body else, be­cause then it looks too much like a con­trivance.’

He’s not about to get a hair trans­plant ei­ther or have his teeth turned into tomb­stones. ‘I ac­tu­ally have a bad bite,’ he says, pulling down his lower lip to re­veal wonky gnash­ers. I have to have that cor­rected at some point, but un­for­tu­nately I can’t get it done now be­cause it looks like van­ity.’

Re­fus­ing to dumb down is one of Bray- born Ó Bri­ain’s most ap­peal­ing traits. When he ap­peared as a stand-up on BBC1’s Live At The Apollo, he re­fused to go along with a re­quest to sin­gle out fel­low celebri­ties in the au­di­ence. ‘I don’t care if there is some­body from The Only Way Is Es­sex there,’ he says. ‘And there are panel shows where they want you to make jokes about “Ry­lan”, or who­ever.’ I’m sur­prised he knows who last year’s X Fac­tor con­tes­tant Ry­lan Clark is. ‘Yes, but that’s all I know about him. Was he good? Or was he bad? That’s some­thing else! Nei­ther do I have a Vic­to­ria Beck­ham joke. That stuff doesn’t in­trigue me. What does is be­ing the con­duc­tor of a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween four or five peo­ple, whether it’s for some­thing as silly as some­body be­ing turfed out of The Ap­pren­tice on week one, or three sci­en­tists talk­ing.’

Ó Bri­ain loves science and al­ways ex­pected to be­come a sci­en­tist grow­ing up in Wick­low. It took him a while to ad­mit to him­self he’d cho­sen an­other path. ‘Three years into do­ing gigs, I de­cided to con­cen­trate fully on it. [He’d cer­tainly put in the hard yards as a novice stand- up, once driv­ing from Dublin to Done­gal to per­form in front of an au­di­ence of just six peo­ple.] But even then I wasn’t will­ing to think I was a co­me­dian. It was seven years be­fore I re­alised, “Ac­tu­ally, this is my ca­reer.” The 16-year-old me would have been as­ton­ished that’s what I ended up do­ing.’ But not to­tally dis­ap­pointed. ‘If that 16-year-old was aware of my work, he’d prob­a­bly think. “Oh yes, I like that com­edy show and that science show,”’ he con­cedes. ‘And pos­si­bly, “You’re a bit naff,” or, “How hideously bald you are.”’

Ó Bri­ain is not one of the com­edy scene’s nat­u­ral bruis­ers, but nei­ther is he all sweet­ness and light, on or off- stage. ‘Are there times when I’m in a ratty mood? Yes. I have pet hates and can be quite a pain in the back­side, like any­one. I’m not a game-show host with a per­ma­nent tan and a fake smile. I get ratty and an­gry about stuff on stage. I’m rel­a­tively nor­mal, I think. What I don’t want to cre­ate is an in­sin­cere kind of bon­homie. So if peo­ple come up to me at the wrong time and ask for a photo, when I’m clearly jug­gling a num­ber of chil­dren at a shop­ping cen­tre, then if I say, “No!” they should get that I mean it.’

His in­ter­est in per­form­ing was sparked by his trade union­ist fa­ther. ‘He used to run carol

ser­vices where he was the MC. He was very charm­ing in front of an au­di­ence. I saw him get laughs, and be at ease in front of a crowd, and I re­mem­ber think­ing: that’s a good skill.’

Dara spoke Ir­ish at home and at­tended a gael­choláiste, Coláiste Eoin, in Boot­er­stown, Co. Dublin — some­thing he re­grets is not pos­si­ble for his own chil­dren grow­ing up in Eng­land. ‘I will never be able to give my chil­dren that ed­u­ca­tion,’ he says, ‘but I would hope one of the main things they get from ed­u­ca­tion is the en­joy­ment of a good ar­gu­ment.’

Ar­gu­ing is some­thing he loved, as a lead­ing light in the Lit­er­ary and His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety at Univer­sity Col­lege Dublin, where he stud­ied maths and the­o­ret­i­cal physics.

I imag­ine it’s pretty in­tim­i­dat­ing be­ing at the wrong end of an ar­gu­ment with him. He got into one re­cently with the School Of Hard Sums pro­duc­ers, who wanted the Dave show to be recorded in front of a stu­dio au­di­ence. ‘ I threw my only hissy fit — I would like to think — in my broad­cast­ing ca­reer. I had to ex­plain that this isn’t a com­edy show. If I know there is an au­di­ence, my instinct is to try and keep them en­ter­tained. But I also have to work things out on sheets and sheets of pa­per to get an an­swer. It’s bad en­ter­tain­ment for a stu­dio au­di­ence.

‘My favourite mo­ment so far on Science Club was when a de­bate about re- cloning an­i­mals off the host DNA of ex­tinct an­i­mals [which all three sci­en­tists said would be a ter­ri­ble idea] turned into a Juras­sic Park-type chat about how ex­cit­ing it was.

‘It’s dif­fer­ent when I write rou­tines about science for my live shows,’ he con­tin­ues. ‘I will def­i­nitely try to cal­i­brate those to ex­plain suf­fi­ciently to a gen­eral au­di­ence the point I am mak­ing, and that is an in­ter­est­ing process in it­self: how much in­for­ma­tion you have to give peo­ple. I hope peo­ple will put up with a cer­tain amount of nerdi­ness in re­turn for mis­ad­ven­ture and whimsy. The magic oc­curs when some­thing I have writ­ten in a room on my own turns into some­thing funny when it is per­formed.

‘Peo­ple think we choose to be a cer­tain type of co­me­dian, like Frankie Boyle chooses to be con­tro­ver­sial,’ he con­cludes. ‘But that’s just the com­edy voice he has. I could no more write Jimmy Carr’s jokes than Jimmy Carr could write my long ridicu­lous sto­ries. You are given the voice and you use the voice you are given.’

Dara Ó Bri­ain’s Science Club is on Thurs­day night at 12.20am on BBC2; Mock The Week is on Thurs­days at 10pm on BBC2

Op­po­site page: Dara with his Mock The Week col­leagues (l-r), Chris Ad­di­son, Hugh Dennis and Andy Par­sons

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