There was a kind of joy­ful chaos to it all

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The Time of My Life is a weekly col­umn about a mo­ment that changed some­one’s life – for the bet­ter or the worse.

The venue was the Hub on Dublin’s Eus­tace Street, whose sub­ter­ranean room gave up the odours of the an­cient sew­ers below. The date was De­cem­ber 5th, 2003, and the oc­ca­sion was the very first Le­viathan po­lit­i­cal cabaret fea­tur­ing a con­found­ing line- up that in­cluded Ron­nie Drew, Sue Collins, Der­mot Car­mody, Eoghan Har­ris, Des Bishop, Pat Rab­bitte and John Wa­ters.

My friend and men­tor, Richard Cook, co- founder of the Cat Laughs Com­edy Fes­ti­val, which I’d worked on for years at that stage, in­tro­duced me to De­clan McGona­gle at the City Arts Cen­tre which was then con­duct­ing the Civil Arts In­quiry and look­ing for new ideas for pub­lic en­gage­ment in the city.

There used to be a class of Ir­ish pub which banned all talk of pol­i­tics and re­li­gion. I never saw the ap­peal of these dull spots and al­ways looked for places where sharp and deep ar­gu­ments could con­tinue to­wards the dawn. My idea was to see if we could put po­lit­i­cal de­bate in a con­text where peo­ple would en­gage with and be fired up by it as part of a night’s en­ter­tain­ment. Ron­nie sang songs of the work­ing man and woman; Sue Collins was her most bril­liant Carmel; Des rapped about Dev; Pat Rab­bitte was hi­lar­i­ous about the Fianna Fáil’s con­fer­ence in Strokestown; as was Der­mot; and Eoghan Har­ris and John Wa­ters were the re­ac­tionary Statler and Wal­dorf of the show as they con­versed be­tween two fac­ing arm­chairs. There was heck­ling and hi­lar­ity and a prom­i­nent na­tional news­pa­per colum­nist was ( tem­po­rar­ily) ejected for be­ing too drunk and un­ruly. There was a kind of joy­ful chaos to it all.

Fur­ther edi­tions of Le­viathan fol­lowed hosted by, var­i­ously, Dara Ó Bri­ain, Ea­mon Dun­phy and ul­ti­mately David McWil­liams, and the for­mat was fine- tuned and de­vel­oped to present our au­di­ence with speak­ers who, in many cases we hoped, chal­lenged their think­ing, their re­ceived wis­dom, their suite of ideas. We moved from the Hub, through the Spiegel­tent, to Craw­daddy at POD and be­yond to Elec­tric Pic­nic where Le­viathan has formed the core of the MindField arena since 2006.

Le­viathan has hosted, among oth­ers, Naomi Klein, Robert Fisk, An­jem Choudary, Peter Man­del­son, Florence Welch, Irvine Welsh, Jon Snow, Alas­tair Camp­bell, Saul Wil­liams, Kate Tem­pest, Bob Geldof and dozens of min­is­ters, politi­cians, journalists and com­men­ta­tors. I’m de­lighted to bring the ethos and the fun of Le­viathan to the Li­brary of Progress at Body& Soul later this month, where we’ll be cel­e­brat­ing all that is good about hu­man cu­rios­ity, the sci­en­tific method and crit­i­cal think­ing at a time in his­tory when it’s never been more im­por­tant. And, on that week­end, I will think back fondly of Ron­nie Drew ar­riv­ing in a taxi, curs­ing and straight off the stage of a panto in he was per­form­ing . . . in the Olympia . . . ex­actly 150 me­tres away.

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