CONAL Gallen is a qualified pig farm manager.
There’s a fact you probably weren’t expecting to read.
The Ballybofey comic picked up the qualification while studying at an agricultural college in Monaghan.
Not that he ever had any intention of pursuing a career in farming.
“I don’t know why I did it, it probably seemed the easiest of all the things to do,” he said following the launch of his new show, Knot Again, in which he plays the long-suffering housewife Betty Head.
“The one thing I did learn was that I didn’t want to be a pig farm manager. If it taught me anything it was that I was in the wrong game.”
Very far from the wrong game as it turned out as years later Conal Gallen continues to be one of Ireland’s most in-demand comedians. Sell-out crowds regularly flock to theatres and townhalls to enjoy his brand of slapstick and farcical humour.
His journey to the stage started with boarding school in Blackrock where he spent six years. He completed his Leaving Cert at 16, having repeated first year because he “didn’t understand it the first time”.
His first role was in a school show in 1966, a pageant to mark 50 years since the Easter Rising.
“I played the part of a girl and here I am all these years later playing the part of a woman. A psychiatrist would have fun with that,” he said.
While it was his initial public performance, it was not the spark that lit the showbusiness touchpaper – he was only nine or ten years old at the time.
That happened when he went one evening to collect a friend from his local amateur dramatics group, the Butt Drama Circle. When someone failed to show the director threw the script to the newcomer.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“I read this part thinking it would get us away quicker and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
On the dole and struggling financially, Conalsuggested to close pal Cormac Scully that they start up a two-piece band, The Odd Couple.
“We didn’t do it because we thought we were any good but because there was worse than us at it.”
The Odd Couple quickly found a cult following and even enjoyed a minor hit with ‘My Uncle is a TD’. It sparked a run of 59 nights on the trot performing in pubs and clubs.
A decision by Conal to try his hand in America led to The Odd Couple’s amicable demise. Hardly had he unpacked but he was home again, having spent all of a week in the United States.
“I had a wife and two young children and I got so homesick,” he said.
“I came home after a week and it was the best thing I ever did because from that I started out on my own and I’ve been on the professional comedy circuit since 1987.”
He readily admits that what he does is “old hat”. But, all things being circular, in an era of alternative comedy where so many use their platform to send up politics and the establishment, old hat has become new hat. Again. If that makes sense.
“My main inspiration and I saw him Baker’s Corner in Killygordon, was Brendan Grace.
“I was enthralled by him standing there with the guitar around his neck. He entertained for two hours and I remember thinking to myself, I would love to do that. I did it and Brendan and I became good friends.”
Just as Brendan Grace enjoyed chart success, so too has Conal Gallen, most notably with the annoyingly infectious Horse It Into Ya Cynthia.
“Like everything, it just happened,” he said of how the song came about.
“I was doing a show in Castlebar and I had arranged to meet some friends before hand. We were having a chat when I said I needed to go and get ready.
“There were two sisters there, Evelyn and Sarah Walsh and one said to the other, ‘C’mon, horse it into ya Cynthia’.
“Obviously I had heard ‘horse it into ya’ before but I’d never heard the ‘Cynthia’. I practically had the song written before I got home.
“I toyed about with various lyrics, ‘you’re the vinegar on my chips’ and so on but I eventually settled on ‘you’re the onions in my burger’. It just took off from there.”
Knot Again features Conal’s son, Rory, who has been with him since the age of 12. It is their sixth show together as actors and writing partners. Away from the stage – which he rarely seems to be – Conal Gallen has various other balls in the air.
“I’m working on an album of original songs and I’ve another album of original comedy coming out.
“I’ve brought out a new book, The Murphy’s – Banged Up Abroad and I have a children’s book out, Wee Dan’s Big Adventure. I’m also working on a book of jokes for children.
“It never stops, we’re on the go all the time, but I love it. My work is my social life, I love going and I love coming back.”
Knot Again hits the stage of An Grianán Theatre tomorrow (Friday) before reaching the Strule in Omagh on Saturday night.
It moves to Strabane’s Alley Theatre on November 5. For all dates go to www.conalgallen.net.
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