Prior to his headline spot at our October session of the Rolling in the Aisles Comedy Club night John Ryan was happy to share a few insights into the career he believed he was destined to follow.
That career was comedy, but for John it means more than just standing up on stage in front of a boozed up audience. He has used his comedic gifts in many different ways, particularly to try to destigmatise people’s conceptions of mental health. He has covered this issue in his routines for several years but has taken it to a higher lever and his first research paper was published in the Journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Comedy also plays an important role in his Men’s Health project in which he takes a wry look at how men often feel reluctant to visit a GP and not always take their own health issues seriously.
By including these ‘taboo’ subjects in his routines and bringing them to the fore John believes that in addition to getting laughs, not at the subject but people’s own misconceptions, it also serves to educate them about these relevant topical issues. Being second-generation Irish like many who came from that country to settle in England in the mid-20th century, his own parents received a hostile reception yet, years later, the children, as with those from immigrants from other countries, have now become an integral part of the social structure.
He said: “If you can make people laugh, you can make people listen. I hate people who hate, be it those who mistreat people with mental health problems or those who are homophobic or racist.”
John’s path towards becoming a professional comedian stems from early childhood and “the realisation that I’m unemployable at anything else.”
Not quite true as he said: “I went to University and had the mad idea of being a maths teacher. I would happily work with children but could not work in a school so that kind of went away.
“I was brought up in an Irish Family. Basically you had to either do Irish dancing, sing, play the accordion or tell a joke. I wasn’t really left with much choice! Through school I was always able to make people laugh. Most comedians are the odd kid who stood on the edge of the group observing. I was always right in the middle causing the chaos.”
Communication lies at the heart of entertainment and with his own ability to communicate with people on many levels John said he would happily work in an ‘Old Folks Home’ or somewhere similar. Whilst he said “I generally get on better with people under 16 and over 60!” it is not quite true. Audiences at his gigs, which include The Comedy Store and Jongleurs in London, Comedy Clubs plus many other clubs across the UK and beyond, are filled with those aged in-between these two goal posts.
Prior to a gig John likes to do a little research saying that he loves comedy to which he can relate. By reading up about an area for local references he is then able to personalise his act by incorporating those details.
“It keeps it fresh and interesting for me, “he said, not that he needs to gen up a lot before his KAC appearance. “I have a large family in Corby and used to spend holidays there. I probably go every couple of months to see my cousins. I spent many a year at the Catholic club one night with my Aunt and the Rangers club the next with my Uncle. When we were good as a treat we would go to Kettering or Leicester.”
Back then he had no idea he would be revisiting Kettering as a headline act as a professional comedian. Those first steps were taken several years ago in England’s capital city.
He said: “My first paid gig was in Islington in London. As a comic you start out doing gigs for free. I got £25 for being the compere. It was my third ever gig and the regular MC couldn’t make it. The manager asked if any of us had ever MC’d before and I lied and said yes.”
Fortunately for John he was able to deliver on this promise with demand for his services being a constant from thereon in, including television and radio. The under 16’s, (more so the under sixes though not knowingly), being privy to his humour. At one time he was a writer and insert director for that popular children’s TV programme, Teletubbies – and that only came about because life threw up one of those situations that set you off on a different track to the one envisioned.
John said: “I had a great day job as an emergency housing officer and I worked 3x 12 hour shifts a week. I loved it. A new boss decided they wanted us to do 9-5 and as I had small kids this meant I wouldn’t get much time with them. So I took redundancy. I wanted to write for children and someone said do stand up and get a performing CV it will make it easier to get people to look at your writing. So I did a few gigs and met someone who worked at Ragdoll and they looked at my ideas, liked them and said you will do! And that was it, I was working on Teletubbies.”
Since then work has seen him travel far and wide but with relatives who are in the Irish Travellers community John believes it is in his blood and sees it as being the norm. It also provides him with further material.
“I love meeting people and experiencing new countries,” he said, “and in August I was in Egypt and Scotland. I then went to Turkey for a short time and as I landed in Stansted in the morning that very same evening I had a gig on the Isle of Wight. By the end of the year I will have taken 52 flights. My carbon footprint is like a giants. I do it because I am unemployable in any normal capacity as I can neither give nor receive instructions. So ‘have gob will travel’ is the motto.”
Had he the ability to time travel John said he would like to travel back to 1950’s England. Hooked on the Ealing comedies, the films he watches on his tablet when flying rather than the latest blockbuster, he would also like to be there when the social policies of the day were introduced.
He said: “I am fascinated by that post war period, the birth of the NHS, the Welfare State and everything else. What we are experiencing now is the legacy of what was implanted then, and even today, it is still the working class who end up giving things away while the rich are still the rich.”
No doubt that would also give him even more for ammunition for his routines which already mesmerise the audience so much so that at one gig a man knocked a candle over set the tablecloth on fire – nobody moved as they thought it was part of his act!
Asked if there was anything else he would like to add to his list of accomplishments John replied: “I have won awards, made a song, made TV. I have my own radio show and column. I make a podcast. I have had a research paper published. I would love to have a play on Radio 4. I would love to gig at Celtic Park and I would, one day, like to know who nicked the aerial off of my car!”
What more can you say about the man who, in five words, describes himself as – Honest, mischievous, inclusive, caring and loyal – only that you have the opportunity to see for yourself when John comes to the Rolling in the Aisles Comedy Club on October 24.
Tickets for this event are available from Waterstones, High Street, Kettering, by post from Becky at St Andrew’s Church (cheques made payable to “PCC of St Andrew’s Kettering”) to St Andrew’s Vicarage, Lindsay Street, Kettering NN16 8RG