“IT’S busier than ever though I’ve less to do,” says comedian William Caulfield, who, having finished a run of panto at the Millennium Forum in Londonderry - he was the bewigged and wisecracking dame in Snow White - is preparing his new stand-up show ahead of a short tour of the province.
Lurgan-born Caulfield, who gets much comedy mileage out of being Northern Irish, and of sending up Northern Irish ways, believes there is cruelty at the heart of the Ulster sense of humour.
“I don’t mean cruel as in drowning a kitten,” he clarifies, thankfully: “I mean cruel in that here we always appreciate the kind of humour where someone is the butt of the joke.
“For me on stage I usually try to make myself the butt of the joke.”
Though he may be adept at sending up himself, the star of Our William and erstwhile imitator of Jimmy Young’s comedic style is also pretty good at sending up others. At past shows he has slagged off members of the audience so much that he felt obliged to present two of them with boxes of Ferrero Rocher at the end. One reviewer has even described him as “grand master of the put-down” and a purveyor of “winningly withering banter”.
Last year’s show looked at the Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, gags about Daniel O’Donnell and the comedian’s Aunt Fanny, doctor’s visits and the quirks and foibles of Northern Irish places and faces, the language and the traditions, anecdotes about Big Ian and what exactly is distinctive about hailing from Ballymena or Portadown or Lurgan or Kilkeel or Coleraine.
His brand of observational comedy has moments of gentle whimsy set between scathing trajectories of barbed but hopefully humorous talk and in the new show he moves from straightforward stand-up to playing characters popularised on his BBC TV and radio shows. The panoply of alter egos includes Lily O’condria, an ageing hypochondriac, as the name would suggest; Ballymena man Willie on a day trip to Belfast and looking to get himself a wife; Sammy the schoolboy, who says what he likes with the carefree innocence of youth; trade unionist Billy Hulk who loves nothing better than setting up standing committees; and a handful of others.
Regular listeners to his radio series will be able to identify these characters during what he calls his ‘ensemble’ second half.
Asked to describe his material he keeps his definition broad and inclusive: “It’s my unique take on things here. It’s Northern Ireland from an insider’s vantage point.
“It’s nothing to do with the Troubles because I left them behind me a long time ago. This is about modern Northern Ireland, modern Belfast, things that happen in everyday life. These days we don’t get our bags searched going into Marks & Spencer anymore so it seems wrong to harp on those themes now.”
Once William gets up there and gets the first nerve-wracking show over him he finds his stand-up an “absolute joy” to do.
“There’s that intimacy of exchange between a comedian and his/her audience - there’s nothing else like it,” he beams.
“I can lift people out of the February blues if they’re feeling them,” he adds. “I’ll blow your blues away.”
:: William Caulfield’s Busy Backstage Tour will be performed at the following venues: February 8, Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen; February 9, Old Courthouse Antrim; February 15, Millennium Forum, Londonderry; February 24, Grand Opera House, Belfast; March 9, Marketplace Theatre, Armagh.