After a string of sold-out shows, west Belfast comedian Paddy Raff is already a well-established name on the local comedy circuit, just a year after he first began uploading skits of himself as pompous BT9 bon viveur and unmitigated snob ‘Nigel’, who likes to make fun of the lower classes, behave like a general cretin and quaff Chateauneuf-de-pape. Flamboyantly bewigged, with a sweater round his shoulders and geekish glasses, Paddy is hilarious as his toffee-nosed alter ego touting on neighbours using hose pipes in summer (who does that?); or trying some Buckfast for the first time: “I’m getting notes of a Holylands house party and I’ve never been to one”, while his mate Jarlath suddenly feels like he’s overcome with the “urge to pick a fight with a doorman”, while Meredith notes that drinking Bucky is basically “BT9 suicide”; or there is Nigel sneering at Belfast’s much celebrated Christmas Market - “Do you really want to queue for an ostrich panini in the rain?....If the DUP get their way with Brexit, next year will just be an open air food bank!”
For his current show ‘Paddy and Nigel Act Their Postcodes’, which has already enjoyed sold out nights at the MAC, the Limelight, the Nerve Centre in Londonderry and the Ulster Hall, Raff - himself a BT11 man - alternates between funny songs played on his guitar, turbo-quick banter on all manner of topics from his granny’s tendency to cover his granddad’s Ulster fry with ‘the goodness’ of all the remaining oil on the pan, his daughter’s hilarious volte-face from tantrum tears to beaming smile when offered an ice lolly, and finding alternative lyrics to rework Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl to give it a more local spin, to then performing in character as Nigel, sharing his bemusement at those not privileged enough to be part of his exclusive BT9 set - in velveteen jacket and trendy slacks he’s a ‘Bravo tango niner’ to his core, or so he imagines! ‘Act your postcode,” is Nigel’s preferred catchphrase.
Due to popular demand Paddy, 35, has secured another date at the Ulster Hall for his show on August 10 and the comic says he is “gobsmacked” by the level of popularity he is now enjoying, so soon after deciding to make comedy his chosen career path.
After working in call centres and being made redundant to become a full-time session musician over the past decade, Paddy was larking about online when he realised he had hit comedy gold, his songs and sketches soon going viral. Raff is a standout internet sensation.
“The character of Nigel started with a Snapchat filter. This to me looked like some kind’ve posh dude, the mullet, the aviator glasses and moustache. Luckily it was one you could replicate easily as a lot of the filters are quite contorted.
“At the time I didn’t think it would be a recurring character but people really responded to it, they were like ‘you gotta do more with that posh guy’, I just kept going back to it, it’s a pure fluke how it came about.
“The first sketch I did of Nigel was one of him touting on his neighbour for filling up his paddling pool during the hose pipe ban and I couldn’t believe it when it went viral.
“I did my first standup set last March. It all kicked off online with a few comedy songs I did, Stacy’s Ma (‘Stacy’s Ma has ‘gone and joined the ‘Ra’) and Broadway Girl (about a girl from west Belfast who falls in love with a guy from Rathcoole) and it became massive on Facebook.
“Then people kept messaging me asking where I was playing next and I’d maybe only booked an open mic slot for a few weeks time. I soon realised I’d need to get my own gigs.
“I decided to take a bit of a leap and put on my own show. That was last July. I’m a musician and I played in function bands for the last 12 years so I was already quite used to being on stage.
“My second gig was sold out at the Foundry on the Dublin Road and that was the first time I debuted Nigel on stage. Being up there as a comedy character is a lot easier than being up there as yourself.
“It all spiralled from there and I’ve just been booking shows since. I find writing the Nigel character stuff very easy because I’ve been around so many Nigels growing up. I went straight into work after school and was training people in call centres and I met a few people who helped me shape that character so a lot of people I used to work with are getting slagged and others are saying ‘you based that character on him!’ or whatever. In truth, there’s a lot of people I’ve met through work and social circles and just life experience where I’ve kind of noticed how they pronounced things differently or had certain mannerisms and I took it from there. I just think ‘What’s the posh way to say this?’”
Paddy names Scottish standup Billy Connolly as one of his biggest comedy inspirations.
“I love the way he tells stories and uses his life experience. I do some fictional stuff, storytelling, stuff that’s off the wall, but I also use my own experiences to create comedy and people seem to like it which I’m very grateful for.
“Like Billy I enjoy going off on mad tangents and then coming back and tying the whole thing together.
“I also like Bill Bailey. I love how he mixes music with comedy. I love Stewart Lee and Russell Brand too, and Bernie Mac. A mixed bag of comedians.”
Paddy, who is married and dad to Ronan and Clara, is glad his comedy holds a “mirror to the whole idea of social class. People who are so-called ‘middle class’ are just as up for having the hand taken out of them as anyone else and they love coming along to the shows. I hope people don’t think I have a chip on my shoulder or anything like that. I think I’m taking some of the tropes and things middle class people get up to in a way that allows them to laugh at it, along with everybody else. I like to think the satire is done in the right way. If there’s a message it’s that there are plenty of Nigels out there and keep your eye out for them!”
- Paddy & Nigel Act Their Postcodes, the Ulster Hall, Belfast, August 10. Tickets available from the Ulster Hall box office and Ticketmaster. Visit www.ulsterhall.co.uk or www.ticketmaster.ie.