High-tech

‘Internet comedians are just kind of like bedroom comedians’

“I relish any opportunity to talk about myself,” says Tony Cantwell. The young comedian has plenty to discuss. As well as producing two episodes of his popular Tony Cantwell’s Hit Show podcast a week, he’s also busy writing a screenplay, and preparing for his upcoming March run of stand-up shows in Vicar Street. “It’s hectic, at the moment everything I’m doing feels like I’m cramming last minute for the test.”

Cantwell grew up in the Dublin suburb of Marino, going on to study business and arts management in IADT. About his college experience he says: “I was drawn to creative people, even just the look of them around campus, and just kind of wanted to be in their orbit. I thought I could work in the arts without actually creating my own stuff, because I don’t think I had the confidence that I could do that.”

After college he moved to London. “I was moving from job to job, drifting around. I was happy because at least I was in London, it was a cut above doing the same thing in Dublin. I was working in a call centre, which was kind of this valley of lost souls. It was full of musicians, people who loved the arts and even a few comedians. That was my introduction, it was there I started doing this comedy night nearly every week.”

‘It was only after four years of stand-up that I realized I had to say some of this stuff out loud to myself before going on-stage’

He struggled with stand-up initially, finding to his surprise that how wacky or edgy the humor was counted for less than practice and repetition. “I thought you could just go out there and just be weird. I’d go out and just say the most bizarre thing I could think of, but soon you realize you’re not being clever.

“It was only after four years of stand-up that I realized I had to say some of this stuff out loud to myself before going on-stage. I would literally stroll onto the stage and the sum total of my material would be the words ‘shit’, ‘the days’, and ‘piss’ scrawled on my hand,” he says, laughing.

Eventually Cantwell gave up on stand-up, but soon after he started posting online short comedy skits. Hilarious characters emerged, such as “Your Ma’s Mate” and “Ploon”. “I remember my mam got me and my brother iPads for Christmas, I think it was the first device with a camera I had, and I was just messing around with filters, making little sketches and posting them on my Facebook profile.”

At this point he had landed a great sales job in London, and comedy was nothing more than a hobby. “I was just having such giddy fun with it and putting out stuff for the craic, so there was no pressure,” he says.

The sketches began to be sent around through group chats and private messages. “I got a message from someone who said my videos had been recorded off the screen and sent to them. I was amazed.” He decided to make a public Facebook page to share his videos publicly. “On Facebook, you were either labeled a business, a personal profile or a fanpage. Can you imagine the embarrassment in Ireland, having a fanpage, for all my fans?”

Viral video

The big break came when one of his videos, “Meanwhile in Clongowes”, went viral. “I started getting invited to comedy gigs in Dublin. I was even asked by Joe.ie if I’d be interested in doing comedy stuff for them. At this point I didn’t take it very seriously though, I wasn’t gonna give up my sales job.”

When listening to his stories and podcasts, one gets the sense nobody finds what he’s saying funnier than the man himself. That childlike excitement suffuses all his comedy

After his wife landed her dream job at home, Cantwell moved back to Dublin. He continued with his sales job remotely but was made redundant after two months. “After getting sacked, they gave me a severance of three months’ wage and I thought, ‘I don’t have to go to another job, I can give this comedy thing a shot.”

Cantwell is enjoying his success: “If I could grab my 17-year-old self and tell him what people pay me to do for a living, he’d explode, he’d take my hand off.”

Cantwell’s comedy revels in the absurd. When listening to his stories and podcasts, one gets the sense nobody finds what he’s saying funnier than the man himself. That childlike excitement suffuses all his comedic output, making it a joy. “That’s why I am, and probably will be, for the rest of my life, kind of a niche comedian, because I’m only really gonna do what I find funny,” he says. “It’s not always clear what people find funny but it’s always clear what I find funny, and if I don’t find it funny I don’t put it out.”

Does he still get any nerves before getting on stage? “I used to have a drink before. But as soon as you get out and get the first laugh, you’re fine. I always forget just how much better the jokes are when you’re in front of a crowd. You say them to yourself in the mirror before the show, but you forget how much energy you get, it’s a nuclear reactor of craic, you can just feed off that.

“Having said that, for the couple of days before a show, I’m a hollowed-out mess of a man, like I’m an absentee father and husband. My one-year-old helps me with that now, because he doesn’t know or care about any show that I have coming up, he just wants to get picked up, or eat, or go swimming. That distracted me from the suffering I thought I had to go through.

“I have this constant desire to suffer, to feel like it was hard work. Because my job at the end of the day isn’t in a coal mine, I’m not on my feet all day, I’m not doing anything really hard, so I often find times to punish myself and suffer.”

Are the online platforms like Instagram and TikTok responsible for a new breed of comedians, shyer than those with the bravado required to cut their teeth in comedy clubs and live gigs? “I think if someone already has an audience now, the best thing for their confidence is to perform for that audience, and to not do anything that might hinder their confidence.

“There’s some people who are natural performers, who can go to a wake and have everyone laughing, but there are some people who won’t be able to do that, and who are best at making video sketches.

‘bedroom comedians’

“I was doing a thing with four or five other mainly online comedians recently, and someone jokingly asked us who was the biggest asshole of the group. The thing that internet comedians are just kind of like bedroom comedians, they haven’t come out with a big swinging dick. Everyone around the room was thinking, ‘I’m the worst one here.’”

He adds: “You compare that to some comedy clubs, where I understand you have to get the bravado and you have to just harden yourself and you have to feel like you’re the best. I always felt at odds with that. I’m not really as confident as that.”

Though he’s busy with a variety of live events, Tony’s main source of income is his podcast. A “surprisingly large” proportion of listeners subscribe through Patreon, providing a welcome regular income. “I really like the 1,000 True Fans idea, I think of my listeners as my employers,” he says.

The idea of ​​“1,000 True Fans” he refers to is that in the current era of the internet, artists and content creators can subsist with the support of as few as 1,000 “true” fans, who each spend an average of $100 annually on the content or merchandise produced by their favorite artists. This enables artists to produce more niche offerings than were ever possible through mass media.

“As far as I’m concerned I have my thousand, and I think they really like what I do. And I’m excited to keep changing what I put out, keeping it fun. That kind of scale might not be as sexy, you might not be trending on Twitter, but I find it much more gratifying.”

‘Before I came back from London I think I’d only been to three counties,’ Cantwell says, laughing. ‘So I don’t think I get Ireland’

Does he think his humor is specific to the tastes of Irish audiences? “I don’t think so. I never did ‘Irish’ jokes when I was in London, I never thought I got Irish humour. I still don’t think I get Irish humor. Before I came back from London I think I’d only been to three counties,” Cantwell says, laughing. “So I don’t think I get Ireland, but a lot of my characters are drawn from specific mannerisms of people around me. I guess Irish people might be best able to identify with them.”

Is TV on the cards? “When I moved back from London and I started thinking about doing stand-up and being a comedian, my goal was to win a Golden Globe for best comedy TV show, I was writing that everywhere. I’d still love to do that. I’m actually writing a TV show at the moment that’s got some promise, kind of supernatural-themed.

“Having said that, I have the most incredible quality of life at the moment and I don’t want to compromise that. If I could grab my 17-year-old self and tell him what people pay me to do for a living, he’d explode, he’d take my hand off. I’m very grateful for what I’d have. I don’t want to compromise that. Unless they offer me a load of money. I’ll sell out in a second.”

Tony Cantwell’s national tour begins at Westport Theater on February 25th.

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