Portstewart-raised Jimeoin chats to JOANNE SAVAGE about his journey from construction and building sites to stand-up and why he always meets other comedians at filling stations
Jimeoin generally slopes on stage casually in T-shirt, hands in pockets, nonplussed, as you might turn up to a bus-stop, preternaturally at ease as he grabs the mic and attempts to make hundreds of people laugh (which for most people is obviously an insanely daunting task, loaded with the potential for humiliation, booing, slience or, among complete savages,tomato-throwing).
“Ah, that’s just valium,” he quips when I ask him to explain the sangfroid, his voice low, mumbling.
Jimeon is tall and strapping, a former construction worker and all of 47-years-old.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a natural born performer - those cocky natural-performing types are so annoying, aren’t they?”
I nod profusely as he continues, “Nothing’s more annoying than cocksuredness and swagger, right?
“Totally does my head in,” he adds.“But I suppose if I have a few good jokes then I’m confident in the jokes and that gets me up there.”
Jimeon, so named by his Irish mother’s creativity in combining ‘James’ with ‘Eoin’, was born in Lemington Spa, England - what he describes in one show as “this wee island next to Ireland”. The family moved to Portstewart where Jimeoin grew up, attending the local Dominican College and insisting he never distinguished himself as a joker at school.
“I found school really tricky,” he confides “I was a funny mummbler at the back of the class, and I never had a clue what I wanted to do when I grew up.
“I don’t think any of my friends back then would ever have thought I would grow up to be in stand-up. I have one friend in particular who says: “See when I see you up on stage? I just take a pure beamer.”
After leaving school Jimeon became a construction worker in London, then, aged 22, moved to Australia enticed by the sunshine - manual labour would be easier in warmth and light he wagered.
“When I grew up I never really knew what I wanted to do,” he explains. “I certainly knew I didn’t want to work hard.
“I wanted to find something that would be a bit of a laugh...when I first tried stand-up in Australia it felt like a great night out.
One night in a bar in Glebe, Sydney, a friend of his girlfried egged him on to go up and do some stand-up as part of a pub competition. Big Jimeoin duly complied and told three jokes. They went down a storm and a comedian was born on the spot. This was the moment he gave up manual labour and committed himself to humour delivered with devil-may-care nonchalance (playing it straight or appearing indifferent to an audience’s reaction seems a vital technique for the successful comic).
How did he feel after he played that first set in a Sydney bar? “I so felt like a wee dude who had got up on a podium in a nightclub to dance, but I was relieved, at least, that I hadn’t disgraced myself, My mates were killing themselves laughing.”
Jimeoin’s star quickly rose Down Under; in the 1990s he dominated the stand-up circuit there and went on to have his own TV show. But it’s only in more recent times that he’s begun wooing a UK audience.
Since 2005 he’s been a regular at comedy festivals like Edinburgh and he was broughtfurther to the attention of local audiences when he filmed the 2008’s Jimeoin Down Under for BBC NI.
So what are his stand-up shows about? Judging by past performances you could get observations about things like: that weird face people make when they’re about to sneeze; why we tend to ask other people if we should wear a coat: the fabulous way swans spread their wings when landing on water; the fact that people put photos of their families at work to remind them that the hell of work is a lot better than being at home minding the kids; the travails of love. Jimeon even has a mock-song about the ‘sh** that’s in the third drawer’ at home - ashtrays, plastic bags, used plasters, strange hats - and it is brilliantly funny.
“Ach, it’s just jokes” he says, humbly, when asked if his show has any overrarching theme or message.
Is being a stand-up the best job in the whole wide world, knowing the hysterical giggling and eldritch gaggling and other weird noises emitted by those in the throes of glee are the solely the result of your wit and well-timed delivery?
“In some ways yes it’s great because it can be fun, but in other ways no, because there’s a lot of driving and boring routines too.
“I always joke that the only time I see other comedians, apart from at comedy festivals, is at filling stations!”
Jimeoin, Odyssey Arena, Belfast, October 26 and Millennium Forum, Londonderry, December 7.