Things With Dylan Moran In…that aren’t Black Books or Shaun of the Dead. He’s an Irish comedian and actor I’ve been following for ages, as I love his quirkiness and I love his vagueness, as well as his flights of weird fancy. He made his mark over here in the UK with Black Books (with Bill Bailey and Tamsin Grieg) which is marvellous; and also his appearance as an arsehole boyfriend famously torn to pieces, in Shaun of the Dead. So here I’ll ramble about some other stuff he’s done, less well known, as well as the controversial recent film, Calvary (2014).
- Good Vibrations (2012)
(This film made me sniffle. We can dispose of Dylan Moran immediately, as he was hardly in it and had very little to say - the one line that he had that did make me laugh was: “I don’t want that sort of carry on in here”, in a wonderful prissy voice. Nope. This film was not a Dylan Moran film, he was just in it; but I’m very glad that this idea of a post for Things With Dylan Moran In, a good excuse to watch loads of TV, got me to this film.
Never have I seen such an uplifting film with these elements in it before: Punk, Belfast, the IRA, the RUC, the bombings, shootings, beatings and the terrible daily ongoing mind-grinding brutality of the whole thing. When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing punk wasn’t born right there; it’s not surprising it took off right then and there. I’d never heard of Terri Hooley. I’m amazed that he managed to make music such a binder in this area at this time. What an incredibly brave person. I had no idea this was where Fergal Sharkey started, or that all those band members from Rudi and the Outcasts ended up in Thin Lizzy or Wings…I just did not know about any of this! I love learning new things and I am happy that today brought me someone who said get lost to sectarianism and taking sides and just wanted to play music. He comes off as incredibly naïve, and yet because of it, got things done that other people - and I suspect that friend of his worrying about money was meant to be the rest of us, with our practical attitudes - just wouldn’t have thought doable. I can’t believe this little bit of good history is true - this is why the news is so rubbish; only the bad stuff, the despair – they do not show us that “victory doesn’t always look like others think it does” as Terri’s dad said to him - this man and his music accomplished so much in a small way, in a bloody awful period for the people living there.
Such a hopeful film. You can stand up to bullies. You can stand up for something you want to believe in: something like the power of art, music, words, to unite us rather than divide us. I was most impressed. Can you tell?!)
- Dylan Moran Stand Up –
Yeah Yeah (2011)
(I’m a great fan of stand up. You can really drink in someone’s mind, or persona. It’s weird, as I’m watching these gigs backwards, because I’d previously seen the earlier ones and wondered what his newer work was like as I’d not yet seen it, so suddenly…he’s aged. No idea why I was surprised, I’ve not seen him for a few years and he’s changed his outfit a bit and his hair has grey.
This is one of the best things about Dylan Moran: he embraces however he is at the time. I remember the last gig I saw he was beginning to talk about age, but now, he’s got it perfectly – he echoed so many of my own thoughts, but better, more bitter, more accepting, funnier [obviously]. He referred to the Voices that plague myself and Fry, and mocked them: “Why do you want breakfast again today, you fat fuck? You had breakfast yesterday?” Followed by the competing voice that just wants “More Jam! More Jam! Put it in your pocket and run off to the toilet and eat it there! No one will see!” He kills the paranoia with absurdity. Only the Irish do language this way. He sums up the voices: “it’s just age”, he says, waving his hand vaguely. It doesn’t matter. It just happens to us. Don’t take it seriously, is what that hand is saying.
He gets both more accurate and more distantly philosophical, and appears - so artfully – to be both bored and half cut in his performances [I’m privately convinced he IS definitely this grumpy, but also much more sober]. It was lovely just watching him meander about, demanding cake.
I took issue with him though. He managed to do the hand gesture of dismissal over the whole of feminism with one joke. Which of course pissed me off. He mentions equal pay, equal rights, this and that, this and that, and then says we could have had all of that if we females weren’t…basically…so bitchy to each other. Illustrated by an anecdote of he and a woman listening to a story about an inspirational woman, and he turning to the female and gushing with praise about how wonderful the accomplishments of the woman were; his female companion just says: “yeah, but her calves are kinda chunky”. “THAT”, he says, pointing at the audience smugly, playfully – “that’s the fucking thing, there”.
You know why that pissed me off?? Cos it’s so 100% true. We women are our own worst enemies. And the face he pulled after he did that joke, the look of ‘I’ve nailed you, ha’ and the hand of dismissal…GRRRRRRRR….Thing is, yes, he is totally right, we don’t help ourselves at all with that stupid behaviour; we’re brought up to care for others [mostly men and children, not ourselves or other women] and compete with others [women]. We’re brought up to be a bit schizo…cos of the culture we’re in. All of us, everywhere, are products of our time and place and culture. Some of us blend right in; some of us are behind times, and some of us seem light years ahead - the pioneers, the inventors, the Harvey Milks etc. Some of us stand outside and watch and analyse, some of us find the pressure crushing, feeling stuck inside and not fitting. We can’t all be perfect feminists – and his joke was accurate with no background, no explanation. It dismissed feminism with no history, or understanding of [groans as I am about to say this], no understanding of being a woman. Ok sorry about that. True though. And he touches on it, cleverly. This is the way some humour works: it’s funny cos it’s true; but sometimes it manages to do a universal truth, to cut through all bullshit - and other times, it cuts through half the bullshit, derails the issue and blames the underdog for his predicament without context. Victim blaming;though I don’t want to take the role of victim, that’s annoying. That’s lazy jokes though; that’s how Bernard Manning works. Yeah, I didn’t like that joke.
But I loved the rest of the gig. I loved the way he opened with words to the effect of: “hello hello….[pause] oh I don’t know…There’s too much…of everything. And not enough, you know?” Could he be in my head any more? I loved his delineations of political stances [lefties are boring and have no friends as they are the voice of conscience; righties look at anything and just say with great honesty: ‘do we fuck it or eat it’, and Liberals have no purpose as they are neither one thing nor the other]. The way he sums up nationalities seen through English eyes. Why women wear tiny little dresses to go clubbing: it’s all about winter. How belief in science has ignorantly replaced belief in religion; we understand neither. I won’t give away anymore of the jokes - go and watch it. He is clever, and sometimes mean – but I can’t deny he’s spot on, and I laughed all through this - even at the bit I got cross with.)
- Dylan Moran – What It Is
(This was recorded in Sydney, so has lots of references to locations and manners of the Australians. I found it funny he spent most of the show demanding cake - and by the later show Yeah Yeah, that I watched earlier, just to be awkward, someone had fed him some, which he joyfully eats on stage while still talking.
Some excellent jokes about the recession and its morbidity and boringness; a lovely aside about religion “a formalised panic about death” fought off by camp gold hats - “I prayed very hard then the fairy came, good for you, have a biscuit”. He decides we need God as an idea because as children we had our parents to notice and validate us; as adults we need an idea that big and all encompassing, so we invented God, to miss us when we’re gone, keep an eye on us - it all rang scarily true. A sad joke about small beans…
Some lovely political observation - the scariness of actually believing in a politician, hence Obama gets nothing done because we all watch him with starry eyes and say, “no, you do it! You are Super Jesus!” and give up any personal responsibility.
I really don’t want to keep quoting the jokes, as it must be very annoying to be a performer, spending what must be ages composing all this, then some thoughtless blogger comes along and summarises years of work and says all the punchlines, badly no less, etc. Sorry. They are just such good jokes, delivered so well, and with such thought behind them, and such excellent use of language and imagery [if I was a teacher he’d get an A+], that I want to pass them on. I want you to go and rent or buy the DVD. But you’ll be disappointed if I’ve ruined it for you by telling you all the jokes. So I’ll stop. This gig is well-paced, it’s clever, its bang on as usual, and it’s worth watching. Off you go.)
- A Film With Me In It
(A series of beautifully unlikely household accidents, 5 of them, kill a dog, a brother, a landlord, a girlfriend and a policewoman. Everyone in the house who isn’t Dylan Moran [out of work writer, drinker, better on the horses], and Mark Doherty [likeable loser type, also out of work actor]. Because this amount of accidents can only be considered farce and doesn’t work as a plot for film or real life [says Dylan], they start to try and come up with other scenarios to explain the accidents so it doesn’t look like they killed everybody. This is so simple, and so funny. It also reminds me that this is the second thing I have seen where Keith Allen ends up dead and his body is a problem; a weird niche for anyone to be in, actingwise.
Two of my favourite lines - which you probably need to see in context to appreciate properly:
“This isn’t a lie! It’s the new truth! Right?”
“I borrowed these trousers. Mine are covered with forensics.”
The film has a stupid ending [even though it involves Jonathan Rhys Myers], but other than that, is a lovely little character based farce, as Dylan Moran’s character says. When you think about it, it could have been an Ealing comedy - the delicious little set ups to the house accidents [like living in our house where the landlady fixes nothing], and the unlikely but inevitable deaths as a result of disrepair. Or a Hammer horror from the old days, say: ‘The House That Ate People’. Why haven’t I seen Mark Doherty in more things? And why hasn’t he written more things? He wrote this, and it was very funny. Recommended.)
- Dylan Moran: Like,
(I know I’ve seen this gig before, but for some reason I just can’t remember it properly. There was one joke that was just so funny in his telling of it that I have to spoiler it for you here - don’t worry, my rendition of it is so banal, his is much better!
He was talking about different kinds of imperialism in the past, and now. The English, he nods indulgently at the audience, tended to go about to foreign places and simply be horribly rude and superior - ‘hey! You, you and you! We’re having tiffin here, fuck off! Go and get water’. Whereas today, the Americans…he imagines a country where lots of Americans have just turned up and started to buy everything and do things their way with no words to the people of the country. Some people of that country get together and come to a place to have a meeting and discuss this cultural imperialism. As they talk intently, the Americans appear, and quietly, oh so quietly, build a Starbucks round the meeting, and bring them drinks. Before the people know it, they are addicted to macchiatos and tall skinny soymilk lattes with sugarfree hazelnut syrup [that was my drink there]. Imperialism: accomplished. He told it so baldly, and smoothly…I was barking with laughter.
There were many good truisms in this gig. As I go backward and backward in the gigs, I see how much more animated he used to be - never as mad as Ross Noble or Lee Evans, never that sort of physical comedy; just more animated. Now, in the most recent available gig, it was as if I were watching him have tea from far across a room: still as relevant as ever, wiser and both more mellow and sharper. Also, back in 2006, proving it was another world, he smoked on stage. It’s so weird to see that now…)
- Calvary (2014)
(This is going to be a hard review to write because I have to say, this was a very good film, but I hated it, really hated it. I’ll try and explain.
It was about a good man, a priest, in Ireland, trying his best in a community that I am not exaggerating, hated his guts, for all the wrongs the Catholic Church had ever perpetrated on their country and themselves. The film starts when he is hearing confessions, and someone comes to tell him graphically how they were abused by a priest all their childhood; a priest now dead, so no justice was or can be done, personally. Brendan Gleeson, playing the good priest – and magnificently too – doesn’t know what to say, he is horrified but also, you can tell, deeply depressed himself about the state of his life, his faith, the Church, the country, the people he has to deal with. His reaction is quiet. The confessee then goes on to say he will take his pound of revenge/justice flesh from Brendan Gleeson. “I’ll kill a good priest”, he says. He gives Gleeson a week to set his house in order, and then he will kill him. That’s quite a premise to start a film with.
But then…you go with Gleeson through his week. You meet all the people he has to deal with. They are all [with the exception of his suicidal daughter, gained from before he was a priest], horrible people – filled with anger, and bitterness and hatred, all focussed on Gleeson, as the representative of the Church. The only two other Church characters you see, are a daft priest a little a la Father Ted-ish, in his naivety and prissiness; and a Cardinal who will take responsibility for nothing, and help no one, while sitting in his plush apartments.
The characters are all exceedingly well done - haven’t seen Aiden Gillen spit such venom for a while, for example; Chris O’Dowd has never been so funny and so sad. They all feel real, they are all different, they all have perfectly plausible axes to grind against the Church, and after an hour of them bullying and mocking poor Gleeson [he’s mistaken for a paedophile at one point, after an innocent conversation with a girl child], I just wanted the film to end. It was depressing the hell out of me.
It was billed as a very powerful black comedy, and while it did have some very funny lines [e.g. Chris O’Dowd on his nymphomaniac wife, who acts out sexually at all times due to a horrible Church influenced childhood, he says: ‘I think she’s bipolar, or lactose intolerant…one of the two’, as if these are equal things, with equal results], it was by no means a comedy. O’Dowd burns down the priest’s Church - everybody seems quite happy about it, joking and watching raptly; someone kills the priest’s dog [the point at which I genuinely started to hate the film, as I don’t do animal or child cruelty in anything I watch – though they did make good hay of the point of crying over a dog as opposed to crying over children victims of priestly paedophilia, later, a very good point].
I was going to describe all the characters here, as they were all well painted. But I won’t, I’ll leave it to you to go and watch. I’ll stay with Dylan Moran’s character. He was interestingly cast as the rich ex-banker who has bought up the big house down the road. Nothing means anything to him. He pisses on his exquisitely expensive paintings [literally, and as Gleeson says, ‘people like you have pissed over everything else’], and he makes donations of vast amounts of money to the Church for guilt he imagines he should have over his part in the mess of Ireland’s finances. The arrogance and sad disaffectedness of this totally unpleasant character, his weakness and lostness, is done brilliantly by Moran. I hated his character, and I’m sure I was sposed to.
The thing is, I just finished watching the BBC comedy series Rev, which has some similarities to the aims of this film, vaguely. The vicar in Rev is utterly decent, human and irrelevant, there’s no respect for him anymore, but he tries his best – at the end he loses his church and resigns his job, yet he kept his faith [just about] and there is a palpable feeling of hope, of a nebulous but real kind. Here, in Calvary [obviously aptly named], Gleeson is a good man, suffering personally for all the Church has ever done wrong to everybody everywhere - the Missions are mentioned several times too, the Church abroad. At the end, bad things happen [not to spoiler]. There is also a glimmer of hope at the end, but it’s a glimmer, that’s all, and it doesn’t feel like it makes up for the rest of the film, filled as it is with vitriol and such such bitterness. I see why this is.
The C of E over here in England, is, unless it revivifies itself in some way very soon, so increasingly irrelevant and neutered, as to not be a threat to anyone; as the priest who does Thought for the Day on Radio 4 – himself mocked in Rev as media whore - said in a review of same programme, we English, since the Civil War, prefer our clergy sweet and neutered and ineffectual; because we associate muscular and strong clergy with a wealth of bloodshed and strife. The C of E are…dying, in my opinion [please note, no angry comments – just my opinion, brought up amongst C of E, and more evangelical and scary strains of Christianity], unless something changes this, and I’m not sure what that would be. Whereas the Catholic Church and its empire are not yet dead – they are still powerful, still extremely wealthy while some of their best populated countries live in squalor, and still not properly apologising for all the paedophilia past and present.
THAT’S why this film is SO ANGRY - because the war still rages, the damage is still being done. I read somewhere that this film was atheist criticism of the Church, just propaganda. It doesn’t NEED to be, the sins of the Church are great enough that anyone can find evidence of them just by googling respectable news sites – and I don’t think it is atheist propoganda – what it is, is a howl and a kicking from a whole section of a whole country at an institution it feels has betrayed them in the worst, multiple, ways. This is previous believers feeling horribly let down and angry and unsatisfied with the response from someone who was supposed to be trusted and reliable, to protect them…and who didn’t. And even the good ones stood by. That’s why the end of this film had to happen. And why the whole film feels so horribly soul destroying to watch. Such damage. Such anger. Not that funny, really.
Brendan Gleeson was great, Dylan Moran was great. But I won’t be watching this again in a hurry.)
 I went back and watched that section of the show again to make sure I had the gist right. I didn’t have the same strong reaction to it I had the first time, which was interesting. I also didn’t see him putting as much venom into it as I read the first time I watched. Which means he doubly got up my nose there, because he was doubly right, that’s a real sore spot for Feminist BlackberryJuniper. Aren’t reactions fascinating?