The Monthly interviews local comedian and Voicebox organiser Marcus Keeley – Part 1

How did you get interested in comedy?

When I was very young, maybe 8-9 years old, I watched “Bottom” and later “The Young Ones”. I think these shows might be called Punk Comedy, and those were the TV shows which caught my attention. I liked the slapstick element of those shows; I loved Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson. It appeared to me to break the mould of what you might normally see on television. It seemed also that this was quite strange and ground-breaking.

Later on I watched Vic and Bob (Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer) I liked the variety aspect of their show and the wildness of what they were doing. I wasn’t interested too much in sitcom’s, sketch shows or even stand-up comedy; it was more the surreal comedy shows that I gravitated towards.

My interest in stand-up comedy came at a much later stage.

How did you go from being interested in comedy to becoming a performer?

I attended a poetry event in the John Hewitt Bar; I was very young, about 16 or 17 years old so I couldn’t get a drink at the bar. It was Colin Dardis’ “Make Yourself Heard” and that went on to be a regular event in the Safehouse Arts Space.
After attending the event, I started to write poetry,  it was heartfelt and probably more artistic than comedic; I found out relatively quickly that it wasn’t quite the direction I really wanted to go down.

I would go along to perform at the poetry open mics and over time I started to add in funny lines and I would talk to the audience and aim to be funny. If there was an influence on my writing it might have been Rik Mayall’s poetry in The Young Ones; the People’s Poet material.

I was performing at Bookfinders, The Safehouse and the John Hewitt Bar. At that time I was watching people like Gerard McKeown and Séamus Fox; they were local poets who wrote humorous material and they were genuinely funny, but they were still regarded as poets.

I was always looking to break free from any imposed structures and so I felt after a while that I was fraudulently taking part in the poetry scene because while I was accepted and the responses towards my material were good I really wanted to do something different.

I was writing far less in an artistic way and spending more time talking to the audience and aiming to be funny. That was around 2006 and 2007.

At this stage did you think through the direction you wanted to move in?

Yes. I was always trying to assess what it was I wanted to do and I gravitated towards comedy; I saw Paul Currie run a comedy show in the Black Box. I’m pretty sure that was the first local comedy show I went to see. I met people like Graeme Watson and Liam Watson, local comedians and promoters) who were setting up the Pavilion Comedy Club. Around this time maybe 2007, I met people like Paddy McGaughey, a local comedian, as well.

This was the beginning of the setting up of a new comedy infrastructure which was separate from events like the Empire Comedy Club which was much more mainstream for want of a better description.
In mid 2007 I decided to run my own comedy event.

Even though there wasn’t much comedy around at that time, I decided I wanted to run an “alternative” comedy event.

What were the parameters for a comedian’s material to be considered “alternative”?

My starting point was to provide a space for people who wanted to move away from Troubles based comedy, or comedy based on the sectarian divide. Basically, people could perform at Voicebox comedy if they had material which fitted with that orientation. The rules were, “you can do whatever you want as long as it was intended to be funny and it wasn’t Troubles based.”

The Voicebox comedy night started in 2007. In the first few years, it cultivated local comedians like Graeme Watson, Liam Watson, Paddy McGaughey, George Quinn, Lauren Kerr, Ruaidhrí Ward and Lorcan McGrane. There was a period when I had moved to Norwich to attend university, actually I met Lorcan McGrane there and we worked together in Norwich, but after a year I returned to Belfast and kept the Voicebox event going. It was at this point in 2008 where the monthly shows started in earnest.

Part 2 of this interview can be found here
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