What do you get when you cross three ambitious comedians with a set of deafening power tools and one drunken venue manager too many? The answer, I learned upon talking to Trinity student Matthew Tallon and his colleague James Moran, is B-Side Comedy, the self-proclaimed “most alternative” comedy club in Ireland.
Tallon and Moran, alongside their friend and fellow comedian Kevin Larney, were frustrated by the various issues they faced while performing stand-up comedy shows in venues around Dublin. “We’d turn up and they’d always have some problem that they’d lay on us,” says Tallon. “Like, ‘This time we are doing construction work in your room, so you’re going to be in a basement and there’s also going to be power tools going off upstairs for the entire show’.”
Their performances were frequently marred by the disorganisation, lack of communication, and on occasion, erratic behaviour, of the venue managers with whom they dealt. “One time we turned up, and one of the managers – you know Blink-182? – well he looked like them, but 40 years older. He had white jeans and a Nirvana hoodie on, and was drinking cans and heckling us. He was heckling the group he had booked!,” chuckles Moran, recalling the incident with both humour and a lingering hint of exasperation.
While the farcical problems they regularly contended with on the Dublin comedy circuit could undoubtedly inspire several award-winning stand-up sets, the trio knew that they did not want to continue that way and decided to take a radical step and go it alone. While setting up a comedy club was no easy task, it turned out to be the start of something truly special. B-Side Comedy rose from the ashes of previous disasters, and rapidly became a beloved staple of the city’s comedy scene, taking up residence in The Workman’s Club every second Thursday.
“While the farcical problems they regularly contended with on the Dublin comedy circuit could undoubtedly inspire several award-winning stand-up sets, the trio knew that they did not want to continue that way…”
Upon establishing the club, they revelled in a newfound creative freedom, which allowed them to facilitate raw and rarely represented brands of comedy. According to Tallon, they “felt like there was a gap for a weirder, more curated comedy night, that would have some more of the alternative comedy community represented within a club environment”. Although they are passionate about producing their own comedy, supporting new and unusual talent is something which is integral to B-Side’s identity: “There’s a lot of really absurdist, creative comedians working in Dublin and it’s just cool to have a space for them to all come together.”
I wonder how Tallon, who is a Senior Sophister English Studies student, has managed to co-run such a successful project while still in college. Interestingly, the seeds of what has now become a blossoming career were sown within the walls of Trinity. His journey into the world of comedy happened purely by chance, when he was acting in a production run by DU Players. Upon the request of the play’s director, he agreed to write some lines for his part: “I went home and wrote jokes all night and then I pretended that I improvised them. But they went really well and it felt amazing getting laughs from stuff that I had written.”
Since that fateful night spent scribbling “terrible” jokes, Tallon hasn’t looked back. His passion for comedy, which he describes as “the most important thing” to him, is infectious, and he enthuses about numerous talented comedians, both local and international, throughout our conversation. It comes as no surprise that although he only began performing stand-up relatively recently, he has always had a keen interest in comedy. Moran jokingly theorises that Tallon’s obsession is a result of his parents, who undoubtedly played stand-up comedy recordings to him while he was still in the womb. “It’s in our DNA,” concedes Tallon.
The world of comedy is not always easy to navigate, especially in Ireland. While Tallon wants to pursue a career in comedy, he acknowledges that it is going to be difficult as so few places in the country pay comedians for their work. This is the reason that B-Side is dedicated to supporting their acts in every way that they can: “We make a big effort to make sure that all of our acts get paid something before we’re taking profit, because we think that it’s important.”
“B-Side Comedy rose from the ashes of previous disasters, and rapidly became a beloved staple of the city’s comedy scene, taking up residence in The Workman’s Club every second Thursday.”
However Tallon, unperturbed by the lack of paid gig opportunities, admires those who devote their lives to comedy despite the inevitable obstacles that they will face. While performing in Edinburgh recently, he was enamoured by the lifestyles of many of the comedians he met: “Everybody I was [performing alongside] was basically living out of their car and travelling up and down the UK. They were doing comedy as their job and they were broke, and I would love to be like that.”
The strong rapport between Tallon and Moran is palpable, but despite this the two take significantly different approaches to comedy. Moran claims that Tallon “probably writes the most of any comedian” that he knows. Tallon agrees that writing is integral to his artistic process, and he tries to write for about an hour everyday. “80% of the time it doesn’t even end up being comedy, but I leaf through it over the next few months or so, and tiny little nuggets of ideas will come and they will germinate into jokes,” he explains. But what exactly is it that pushes him to work so painstakingly? His answer is refreshingly honest: “I think I write mostly out of fear that I’ll stop coming up with material.”
Moran, in contrast, takes a more improvisational approach to his work. According to Tallon, “It’s really interesting when you watch James do new material, or even stuff that you’ve seen him do several times, because he has a central idea of what the joke is but then loads of new things will just crop up in the process of him doing it. One of the cool things about live comedy is being able to see a lot of ideas form in real time.”
“Upon establishing the club, they revelled in a newfound creative freedom, which allowed them to facilitate raw and rarely represented brands of comedy.”
If you want to check out the work of B-Side Comedy, they have plenty in store over the next few months. They plan to round up the year with several special edition shows, which are “more thematic” in nature than their other gigs, while they also have some unique, hour-long solo shows in the pipeline. For those who prefer to consume comedy at home, an online podcast special will be released on November 28, which involves several other comedians, such as Aoife O’Connor and James Cadden.
In the intimate setting of The Workman’s Club’s Vintage Room, their regular Thursday gigs are also a great opportunity to experience B-Side Comedy in all of its strange and uproarious glory. While attending one of their recent events, which boasted an eclectic line-up including the impressive Roger O’Sullivan, I was struck by the fact that I had never seen comedy that was anything like this before. Whether you are a stand-up aficionado, or you just like a good laugh, attending a B-Side Comedy show is an ideal way to spend an evening. You’ve got to hand it to them, they pack one hell of a punchline.