McKeever’s magic: Why Nuala is laughing through middle age

Writer and performer Nuala McKeever  PIC:Pacemaker
Writer and performer Nuala McKeever PIC:Pacemaker

Local comic Nuala McKeever is about to tour with her new show about the joys and sorrows of middle age, Letting Go or Losing It

“Should you just lie down and take it? (At least that does make your stomach look flatter),” she continues, “Or should we all just stand up and laugh?”

McKeever is certainly determined to do the latter and finishes her opening patter with a hearty chuckle as we chat over coffee at the Lyric Theatre where the show will open on November 7.

“I’m trying to transform the awful into the awfully funny with some measure of wit and compassion. I hope I’ve succeeded. I’m not just talking about the problems facing women though, men will relate to this stuff too, and I’ve put on the flyer that this show will appeal to both genders as well as those who identify as neither. I’m staying inclusive.”

I ask about her career aims. “Lots of money and minimal effort,” she quips. McKeever is sharp, never misses a beat and in person is naturally funny. You sense that working in entertainment is ideal for her rambunctious temperament. She comes across as strong-willed, supremely confident and formidible. Her large blue eyes have a distinctively playful twinkle. You sense she’d be the life and soul of the party. She’s like Northern Ireland’s stateswoman of comedy.

The comedy scene in Northern Ireland is tremendously male dominated, for reasons that are unclear, since it is patently untrue that women aren’t as funny as men. Nuala is one of a handful of female standups working locally today. She has a unique confidence to deliver gag after gag; that takes bravery before an audience and McKeever is definitely thick-skinned.

“I’m not the only one [in comedy here]. My friend Theresa Livingstone does funny songs and she’s brilliant and another friend of mine Heather is giving it a go. But it would be great to see more women in local comedy.

“You know OK we have Michelle and Arlene and Theresa May but we still live in a patriarchy.”

She admits that as a student living in shared accommodation she was always the one making her group of flatmates laugh.

“I’m just silly,” she says.

Nuala first performed the new show at the Open House Festival in Bangor in August and it sold out twice. “It did go down a bomb,” she affirms. “They love me in Bangor for some reason. I just walk out and they all start laughing.

“I hope that people will relate to my observations about getting older and have a good laugh about it, because what else can you do?”

“One woman came to me after the show and said that she felt she had made a new friend. I says to her, “back off, creep!” No, seriously, it’s lovely when people find a sense of kinship with you because of what you are saying. I was very touched by how well the show was received.

“I basically enjoy talking about how absurd life is and I use my own life as material and people like it when you’re talking about universal themes because they feel ‘Oh, that’s happened to me, I get that’.

“One of the things I get a lot of mileage out of is talking about the whole disjuncture between what you’re thinking in your head and what you actually say. I mean, thank God we don’t all have thought bubbles above our heads that show everyone what we are really thinking or we’d all be in trouble like in that film where the guy loses the ability to lie. ‘Oh so-and-so’s son got a first class degree? (He was always a bit thick). ‘You’re going on holiday for three weeks to the Bahamas?’ (B****. I’m such a failure.’)”

She talks about how performing can be a total ‘joy’ when she is up there on stage and in full flow; but it feels like “stepping off a cliff” and when things go awry it’s like “you plummet to the ground with a resounding thump and everyone watching you.

“I love when things are going well and you feel you can start to ad-lib or riff around a theme. With this show I talk a lot about how as you approach middle-age your body goes to pot and the menopause makes you hot and sweaty and wet and yet dry in other situations, and sometimes when you sneeze it feels like half your bladder is falling out and you’re basically incontinent.”

Nuala confides that she would love to have somebody in her life to make her laugh. The performer lost her former partner Mick Moloney, founder of Belfast Commmunity Circus School, when he passed away in 2013.

“I really miss having that. If I feel lonely it’s not necessarily about marriage or the big things, it’s more I just want that belly-laugh and that person to share it with. I’ve had a few people in my life who have given me that. They say laughter is the best medicine but I suppose not if you need a heart operation,” she deadpans. “It won’t cure a heart attack. But if there’s anyone out there who thinks they’re funny enough to date me, I’m ready and waiting baby!”

Letting Go or Losing It by Nuala McKeever, Lyric Theatre Belfast, November 7-11. Visit lyrictheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 02890 381081.