- 16 Jun 08
He was one of the first true trailblazers in Irish comedy. Now, a decade after his death, a host of his friends will gather to pay tribute to Dermot Morgan.
It promises to be a very special, emotion-filled night at Vicar St., not to mention a unique experience in the 2008 comedy calendar. An Audience Without Dermot Morgan will feature a stellar line-up of big comedy names, many of them associated in one way or another with Father Ted. They include Ardal O’Hanlon, Barry Murphy, Kevin Gildea, Joe Rooney, Paul Tylak, Michael Redmond and Dermot Carmody/Morgan Jones (alias The Dermot Morgans on the night!) Musical turns will come from Kila, Chris De Burgh, Barry Devlin and Shay Healy, along with another yet to be revealed “special guest”.
The evening marks the official launch of the Dermot Morgan Foundation, which has been established in recognition of the late comedy legend’s legacy to Irish comedy. The ultimate purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds to create a bursary to help young comedy writers.
“It’s a family initiative and we’re all behind it,” says Dermot’s son, Bobby. “It came about when John Fisher, who was a long-term associate of Dermot, had the idea of setting up a foundation. That was ten years ago and it’s taken us all this time to get it started. Peter Phillips, who was behind Ted-Fest this year came on board as a director which was great. It’s a part-tribute and a part-celebration of Dermot’s memory, with the knock-on effect that it will create this fund. We’re looking at doing it a once a year, so hopefully this will be the first of many.”
Since his untimely death at just 45 years of age Morgan’s reputation has arguably grown in stature, thanks in part to the ongoing success of Father Ted, which is on constant repeat on digital TV as well as being a big DVD seller. How does Bobby feel about his father’s continuing presence on the small screen frozen in time in the years before his death?
“It’s become timeless but the nice thing about Ted is that we can see him when he was in his prime. Personally I find it weird to see him on TV all the time, but I’ll usually have a look at which episode it is and if I haven’t seen it in a while I’ll watch it.”
The much loved and much missed Dermot Morgan, who died just over 10 years ago, was undoubtedly a pioneering figure of Irish comedy at a time when it was a much less appreciated art-form with far fewer outlets for practitioners. While his public persona is well established in the minds of Irish audiences, thanks to Ted and his other successes like Scrap Saturday, less well-known is the fact that Morgan was extremely generous with his time when giving practical help to younger up-and-coming talent. Actor and stand-up comic, Joe Rooney played the rough and ready Father Damo in a classic episode of Father Ted (he currently plays Timmy Higgins in Killinaskully). He remembers Dermot’s kindness when he got the part.
“I didn’t really get to know him at all until I started working on Father Ted,” Rooney says. “We had a whole week of rehearsals in London and right from the start he was very generous to us all. He even bought tickets for a few of us to go and see Chelsea – it was my first English Premiership match. On another night he threw a party for us all in the Hilton.
“Not long after I did Ted, I was running a comedy club in the International Bar and he came along and did a spot. He wanted to try out a bit of new material and was happy to do it in front of just 30 people who couldn’t believe their luck.”
Will Rooney be reviving his infamous rebellious priest at Vicar St. on the night?
“I haven’t really thought about what I’ll be doing but believe it or not, I’ve never done Damo on stage, it’s not really my character. But the night will be great, it’s a fitting tribute to Dermot and the whole idea of raising money for comedy writing is a worthy one. It’s a very hard area to work in – you don’t get paid unless your writing comes to fruition. So you could be going back and forth to working on an idea for ages without any reward. This should be a great help to whoever gets the bursary.”
Full details of the Dermot Morgan Comedy Bursary will be announced by the Foundation on the night and all proceeds from An Audience Without Dermot Morgan will go towards the project. According to Bobby Morgan the selection process is going to be a complicated one, with a number of trustees who will carefully manage the funds raised
All of which brings to mind the thought that Father Ted Crilly himself would be well disposed towards the idea of such a fund-raising event and the tantalising possibility of leaving the proceeds er, “resting in my account”.
“The irony of that hasn’t escaped us,” Bobby Morgan laughs. “It’ll be interesting to see if any of the performers picks up on that theme on the night. As for dad he’d probably think we’re making too much fuss about him but he’d be grateful that the memory of his work is helping others.”