In the past few years, London-based chuckle merchant Carl Donnelly has found himself at the sharp end of the UK comedy scene. As well as some high-profile TV appearances, he’s also been recognised at the most prestigious awards shows in comedy, bagging a nomination for Best Breakthrough Act at last year’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards (essentially the Oscars for funny people) and picking up the Best Newcomer gong at the hugely respected Chortle Awards in 2007.
Carl is currently in town to share his endearing observations and lion-esque haircut with the good folk of Abu Dhabi.
What’s been your darkest moment on stage?
I’ve done gigs all over the world, but the toughest one ever was in Glasgow. Within five minutes of going onstage, the entire crowd decided they hated me. They aired their dislike of me as a Londoner, so I decided to take that as sort of a challenge to see how much I could rile them up, so I challenged them to boo me off. They had a good go at it, then one of them tried to take my shoes off. I managed to last 20 minutes, though, so fulfilled my contractual agreement. They wasted more energy than me.
What’s the worst thing anyone in the press has said about you?
I’ve been quite lucky with the reviews. I’d rather get a really bad review than really vague praise. It annoys me more when someone just says, ‘yeah, he’s all right’, than when they say they hate my guts. My favourite negative quote I’ve ever had is when I was closing a gig, and they gave a really good review to all the other acts, and then it said, ‘The headline act, Carl Donnelly, was not a let-down as such.’ That opening line is one of my favourite quotes.
What sort of things should people expect from your Abu Dhabi show?
I imagine I’ll be having a bit of banter, chatting to the crowd. I usually just tell stories about how embarrassing my life is. Like the time I went to an Alicia Keys concert, which ends horrifically, with me getting caught with a stool sample in my bag. Most of my stories start normally and end very strangely.
Who are your comedy heroes?
Growing up it was Dave Allen. My family is Irish, and he’s the greatest Irish storyteller of his day, so I grew up watching him, which probably affects the way I do stand-up now. I don’t really do quick bits. It’s more longer stories. But more recently, [I’ve been into] a guy called Mitch Hedberg, an American comic who died of a heroin overdose a couple of years ago. He was just really silly, which really struck a chord with me. When I first started out I used to be quite rude and edgy, just because I didn’t know any better. Then, when I heard him, I realised you could just be really silly; you’re allowed to be a bit looser.
Who is the most interesting person you follow on Twitter?
My favourite is a comedian called Joe Wilkinson, who goes by the name gillinghamjoe on Twitter. He’s the funniest person on there. It’s complete nonsense – none of his tweets make any sense, but they’re hilarious. Twitter’s a hard thing to do well. I went through a phase of doing quite good ones. But recently I’ve hardly done any. I’m struggling!
What’s the worst joke you’ve ever told?
One of the worst ever was about Stevie Wonder, when he presented one of the awards at the Oscars. So I did a thing about how they had to do it in Braille for him, and how funny it would be if the Braille had got messed up and when he opened it, it just said ‘apples’ or something.
Have you reached the stage yet where people have started recognising you?
Yeah, a bit, which is slightly weird. I got followed around a shoe shop in Wimbledon recently. These two teenage girls were following me and my wife. It was really awkward. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d come up and said something, but they just constantly kept about six feet away, which made it really sinister.
See Carl Donnelly at The Laughter Factory, 9pm, November 23. Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi (02 621 0000). Tickets Dhs115, www.timeouttickets.com.