The eyes of the world are glued to our televisions as we watch on in horror at the unprovoked and unjustifiable Russian invasion of Ukraine…
Russian artillery and airstrikes have reduced areas of Ukrainian cities to rubble. The number of lives irreparably damaged and the number of those who have had to flee their home in search of refuge is growing by the day.
Over the past few weeks, the Irish people have rallied behind the people of Ukraine. Protests outside the Russian Embassy in Dublin, collections across schools all over the country and on The Late Late Show have shown the willingness of the Irish people to stand behind the people of Ukraine.
At 8 pm on Sunday the 20th of March, some of Ireland’s finest comedians will be performing in the National Opera House in Wexford town. Renowned comedians such as Des Bishop, Deirdre O’Kane, Emma Doran, Neil Delamere and Rory’s Stories will be performing on the night.
We caught up with author, comedian and social media sensation Rory O’Connor or Rory’s Stories as he is more commonly known, ahead of his performance on Sunday night.
Rory’s witty and hilarious sketches often provide insights into the comedic side of Irish life. Rory’s courage and openness surrounding mental health has also been widely praised. He has authored, The Rory’s Stories Guide to the GAA, The Rory’s Stories Guide to Irish Life and Rory’s Story, My unexpected journey to self-belief.
We asked Rory about his feelings on the current situation in Ukraine:
“It’s terrible, the whole world is thinking about them at the minute and everyone is worrying. You just don’t know what’s around the corner – you think you have problems until you hear the likes of that.”
Rory stated that he’s glad to be “able to do anything, any gesture you can at all, to support the cause over there”. He described the gig as being “a great idea to go ahead with” and cheerfully informed us “from what I hear it’s pretty much sold out”.
The show on Sunday is very eagerly anticipated by many people. Some of Ireland’s most prominent comedians will be gracing the stage in the National Opera House. Rory gave us his thoughts on the gig:
“I’m looking forward to it! I haven’t done a whole lot of stand up since the pandemic, but I’m just finalising dates for a big tour in September and October. I’ve just been very busy; I do a lot of talks in schools and I’m writing another book at the minute as well so I’m busy with that. I’m starting to work on a bit of material for the show and I’m looking forward to getting back out there and having a bit of craic again.”
He told us that he had never worked with any of the other comedians that will be performing on the night, he stated:
“To be honest with you, I haven’t even met any of them before, so I’m looking forward to chatting with them – that’s a good part of this as well; getting to mingle again with different people.”
Although Rory is now among the most recognisable comedians in Ireland, he informed us that he has actually seen very few comedians live:
“I’ve been to see very few comedians live. It just never used to be a thing to go and see them. One of the few comedians I’ve ever seen was Des Bishop, it was about maybe 15 years ago when I saw him. I actually thought he was very good – so he’s one of the two or three comedians I’ve ever seen live, believe it or not. It’ll be cool to meet Des now and tell him he’s the first comedian I ever saw live.”
It all started back in 2013 for Rory O’Connor. Starting with just a little blog, his rise has been meteoric since then:
“It started back with a blog in 2013 and then I set up the Facebook page in 2014. I started to do sketches on the GAA and different characters in GAA clubs – that was kind of a good foundation. At the minute everyone is doing videos on TikTok, but back then there wasn’t really anyone doing much. It was an open market, so I just started banging out as many videos as I could on the GAA.”
“I then expanded it to normal Irish culture and relationships, building sites and stuff like that. That’s how it kind of started, with a passion for comedy sketches,” Rory told Wexford Weekly.
He praised the timeless qualities of his older sketches as being “a bit like Father Ted in a way, that kind of comedy will never get old. There are young lads in my daughter’s class now, who were only toddlers when I made the videos first, and now, they all watch them. The comedy doesn’t get old; the dirty GAA corner-back and the cocky corner-forward are still the same in any generation.”
Rory gained significant notoriety over the lockdown period. He released many humorous observations into the intricacies of life in lockdown. Although Rory’s lockdown sketches became a regular feature on everyone’s social media feed, he told us “I didn’t have any intention of doing so many”. For a comedian like Rory, lockdown made him ask “will there even be any live comedy anymore”.
Rory described a very positive reaction to these lockdown sketches:
“With all content, you get a bit of negativity but with these, there seemed to be no negativity, it was all positive. I probably did put myself under a bit of pressure because the way I was looking at it, we were in crisis mode. The doctors and nurses were working harder than they probably ever have before with Covid.”
“On paper, my job is to make people laugh, so I just kind of felt that I needed to push out a lot of comedy content. So, I was just horsing out the videos, there was a stage when I was doing three a day which is mad when you think about it now. It was good to have the platform to be able to bring people a bit of laughter during those scary times.”
As well as being an accomplished comedian Rory is also a published author although he notes “it’s something that I certainly wouldn’t have been labelled with when I was in school. I’m currently working on the fourth book at the minute which, again, is hard to believe, but I enjoy writing”. Rory commented on his accessible and direct style of writing when he stated “there’d be no words in my books that you won’t understand, they’re very simple, easy-to-read books. Anyone from 10 years of age to 80 could read the book.”
Rory told us about his new book which will be “looking back on the lockdown”. It will be discussing “the madness that went on”, Rory went on to say that over the lockdown we “definitely lost our minds a little bit without a doubt”. Rory described it as a “good Christmas book for people to look back on the crazy days and have a bit of a laugh.”
Throughout his time in comedy, Rory has not shied away from heavier topics and has always been an open and strong speaker on mental health. We asked Rory what inspired him to share his story:
“Just because I struggled with addiction, mainly gambling. I, for a long time, just felt that I wasn’t good enough. I was one of those that struggled with school and didn’t really get much out of it – it kind of planted a seed in my head that I wasn’t smart or I wasn’t intelligent. In education, back then, if you weren’t good at spelling or maths, you were kind of labelled a bit of a dunce.”
“The real inspiration for writing the book was to prove that limitations are only in your mind. I hit a very dark place in 2013, I like to share my story in the hope that it can help others. That’s why I suppose Rory’s Stories’ social media is very much based around mental health and mental health awareness sketches. I think it’s important that I’m honest with people who follow me about my own experience.”
Rory described his performances in Vicar Street as being the highlight of his career in comedy. He described the experience as being “very cool” and took pride in being able to say he performed and headlined in the same venue as the likes of Tommy Tiernan and Christy Moore whose pictures were displayed in the green room.
He described it as “a nice moment, because for anyone in comedy, selling out your own show at Vicar Street is a bucket list thing”. He also spoke on how the “universal language” of GAA has led to him to perform in “every corner of the world”.
Rory hopes that “when this pandemic heads fully into the distance and Mr. Putin has quietened down, we will be able to get going again overseas”.
Rory became one of the standout participants in the celebrity edition of Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week, an RTÉ series in which celebrities were put through their paces on the army ranger training course by the revered Drill Sergeants. Rory’s determination and honesty won him the respect of the viewers. Rory reflected on the experience and told us:
“That was crazy, it’s difficult to describe how hard it was, that was a once in a lifetime experience to push yourself to the limit and find out a lot about yourself. The way I was associated with mental health and the fact that that came out on the show, I was able to show people that I am what I preach – what you see is what you get.”
“The real person will always come out of you when you’re broken physically and mentally. It was a great experience and I was lucky to be able to do it with a lot of really solid people. Would I do it again? I’m not too sure to be honest, but I definitely gained a lot from it. Mentally I feel a lot stronger from doing it – it was an absolutely bonkers experience.”
The Drill Sergeants may have seemed terrifying to the audience at home, but Rory informed us:
“They’re grand in real life, that’s just part of their job; the bad language and intimidation to break you and try to put you under pressure so that you’ll quit.”
“Getting respect from the likes of Ray Goggins and Ger Reidy means a lot, they don’t give you credit unless you earn it,” he stated.
Rory prides himself on his authenticity.
Speaking to Wexford Weekly, he said:
“Being who I am has gotten me this far with Rory’s Stories. You often hear of people changing, but nah, not me. You either like me or you don’t and that’s fine but I’m not going to change to please people – that’s what I preach. I give talks to companies and schools about being yourself, I can’t preach that and then go off and pretend I’m someone I’m not.”
Looking ahead to Sunday night Rory said it will “be great to at least say we did something for the cause” and said with the wide range of performers “there’ll be some bit of comedy for everyone, you’ll certainly get a laugh at one stage or another”.
You can see Rory performing on Sunday at the National Opera House at Stand Up for Ukraine at 8 pm. Tickets cost €25.00 with all proceeds going to the Irish Red Cross Ukraine Appeal.
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