TEESSIDE’S Patrick Monahan admits he’s excited about becoming the first comedian to look for laughs in pantomime as Darlington’s mainstream theatre enters the Hippodrome era.

“It was a great venue as the Civic and now it’s been rejuvenated it’s nice to be part of a show that makes sure the floor’s safe and the ceiling stays up. Some places I’ve been to have told me I’m the first, but they haven’t checked the mic and then dust and a couple of doves fly out the speaker when you start talking,” jokes Monahan.

The stand-up with Iranian-Irish roots is delighted to be taking on Snow White, his longest panto run so far... and so near to Middlesbrough, Redcar and Stokesley where he grew up.

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“I’m also returning on Friday, January 26, with my own show. So I’ll only be away from the Hippodrome for a week and it’s a bit of a double-whammy and a bit different because I usually finish up my tours in the North-East,” he says.

The biggest challenge Monahan faces is becoming the Henchman to Darlington Zoe Birkett’s Wicked Queen, even if he doesn’t take being booed too seriously. “I’m one of the friendliest, non-controversial comedians you’ll ever meet, so when I first started doing panto I thought I’d be playing a nice, friendly Buttons-style character. Now I think that playing a baddie can be quite fun. It’s like taking a month off from being a nice, happy stand-up and being part of making the kids anxious. I can’t totally be serious and that kind of baddie, so I’ll be 50 per cent baddies and 50 per cent me. It will be quite fun and the guys from Qudos (the North Yorkshire-based producers) have told me that they’re leaving a bit open for me to put my material in,” says Monahan.

He’s glad of this opportunity because he feels it will make his performance more natural and real life. “Some scripts seem to come from 130 years ago, but this is one is modern and fresh. These days, entertainment for many is watching six or seven clips on the internet. Thirty years ago the audience’s concentration span was longer, but we always gave to remember that a good 50 per cent of those watching are adults and they want to be entertained as well,” says Monahan.

As for playing alongside West End and touring star Birkett, the comic says he’s going to enjoy being her right-hand man. “There could be worse things in panto than that. She’s a really good singer and I’m a really bad one. I’m hoping there will be a comedy duet for us because Zoe’s got some really big numbers and it would be fun to let me loose on one and put a bit of the old Monahan magic on it. I also love the fact that I’m Herman the Henchman, which doesn’t sound like a Teessider with Irish roots,” he says.

In his early days on the comedy circuit, Monahan was under the impression that comedians did panto “when they were on the way down, having had a great career but were now thinking of retiring. Now it’s the opposite and loads of great comics are telling me, ‘You’ve got to do panto because it’s something to do between tours’. I did one in Worthing last year that was brilliant because I got to play Captain Hook.”

He’s expecting his Redcar relatives to be joining the Darlington audience and a couple of his cousins have got children who are the ideal age for attending their first panto.

“I won’t mind getting booed by them... it’ll be like the first performances I did as a comic and people told me what they thought,” Monahan jokes.

The only criticism online of the comic is that he “runs the red light” by taking time on stage from other acts. “That was the days when I was doing the club circuit and now I mainly tour and stay on as long as I want. Back then, I think it was my fault because I never used to wear a watch and just enjoyed myself so much. All I used to do was read the room, see if they were happy and came off when people started wandering to the toilets. People normally did 20 to 25 minutes, but I’d come on and do 40 to 45,” he says.

Monahan was born in Iran, where his Irish father met his Iranian mother, but the family moved to Teesside in the 1980s thanks to a job offer at Redcar’s steelworks.

“My dad lived and worked there for years and then we moved to Stokesley. After that I went to Liverpool to start my career. My parents are getting on a bit now and have retired. My mum’s English still isn’t great and doesn’t really know what panto is, but they are coming to see me. I remember my dad coming along to a show and he watched a bit and then had a power nap. All my shows are about my life and what’s been happening and my background growing up.

“I have talked on stage about my parents meeting and I remember doing Middlesbrough Town Hall and my parents were at the back. I pointed them out and people sitting around them were laughing, but they loved it. In Iran, they don’t have stand-up at all and my mum didn’t understand what it was. I told her I went to pubs and clubs and she asked me, ‘Why do you want to stand in a pub?’ I think both of them were quite worried when I started. My dad told me that he thinks I have a tough job, but people who drive trucks have it much tougher. I think that truck-driving is a scary job and I’d be terrified about doing it, but my dad worried about me standing on stage and talking. The worst thing for me is that someone doesn’t get the punchline. If someone driving a truck makes a mistake then people can die or things can blow up.

“He said to me, ‘But what if they don’t get your jokes?’ and I told him, ‘Well, I just move on to other stuff and I just keep going’.”

Monahan thinks that most comedians have a comedy connection through their background, pointing out that people like Michael McIntyre and Jack Whitehall have family links to entertainment.

“In my case, I just kind of decided to go for it and panto is such a British thing that I’m really looking to the time when I have my own kids.”

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarf runs from Saturday, December 9 to Sunday, January 14.

Box Office; 01325-405405 or darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk

  • Patrick Monahan’s Rewind Selector 90s is in the Hullabaloo Theatre, next-door to the Hippodrome, on Friday, January 26.