With Red Nose Day dawning on Friday, comedian Patrick Monahan tells PETER BARRON why it’s more important than ever to stand-up to the doom and gloom and make people laugh

EVER since he landed at Teesside Airport as a little boy, Patrick Monahan has been using the power of laughter to deal with adversity.

With an Iranian mother and Irish father, Patrick was always going to be different as he started a new life in Redcar, on the North-East coast.

“When you get to school, you have to find something you’re good at – football or fighting or whatever,” he says. “I was quite small, wasn’t that good at football, and I quickly realised there was no way I was going to be able fight all those people – so I made them laugh instead.”

Decades later, having built a successful career as a stand-up comedian, Patrick is still using laughter to fight back during tough times.

Like everyone in the arts, the pandemic has been hard for those on the stand-up comedy circuit, but Patrick has survived by adapting – reaching new audiences and discovering new material through online shows.

“You can either let the doom and gloom get to you and give up, or you can find a way to make it work,” he says.

Patrick has been making comedy work for him throughout his life, which began when he was born in the Iranian city of Ahvaz. His father was an Irish migrant, who’d gone looking for work in the oilfields. His mother was Iranian, and Patrick was the youngest of three children.

In 1979, with Iraq about to invade Iran, westerners had to flee. Eventually, the family made it to Amsterdam and flew into Teesside, where Patrick’s father had found a job at the steelworks.

Patrick was just four at the time and, a year later, started at St Dominics Roman Catholic Primary School, in Redcar, before moving up to Sacred Heart Comprehensive.

“There was a real grittiness about Redcar, and there was no immigration back then. They didn’t know anyone outside Redcar, so I was definitely different,” he says.

“To other kids, our house was bonkers because it was such a mix – my dad being Irish and my mum talking like a character out of ‘Allo ‘Allo. To us, it was normal but, to everyone else, it was a madhouse, and I suppose it inspired humour.

“Back then, I’d never have put myself on stage to be funny but, if I was pushed into a corner, I could turn it on.

“I didn’t really know what comedy was, but my Dad would put Dave Allen on the TV, and he was amazing. He was just a bloke talking and I thought I’d like to do that.”

At 18, Patrick went to college in Liverpool to embark on a foundation course in business and marketing and, while he was there, he gained a bit of experience on a local radio station, called Shout FM.

Three years later, he moved to London, where his brother was living, and plucked up the courage to try his hand at open mic nights at comedy clubs.

“The first one was in a pub in Islington, with about 20 people, and the stage was just a pallet right by the door. It was so badly organised that when someone opened the door, it hit the stage,” he laughs.

Patrick asked the compere to let him do a spot and was told to do his best to keep going for at least three minutes. “I started talking and, before I knew it, the compere was waving at me because I’d already done seven and a half minutes. I knew from then on it was something I wanted to do.”

From that inauspicious start, he spent five years doing as many open mics as possible, trying to find his comedy voice, and taking advice from more experienced comedians. His first paid gig was in a Soho club in 2003, when a share of the bucket collection came to £3.27, and he turned fully professional two years later.

These days, Patrick is a multi-award-winning, familiar face on the comedy scene, and was in the middle of an international tour when the lockdown was announced and venues started closing.

“The lockdown’s had a massive impact on all kinds of performers and, unlike some other professions, there’s been no furlough or anything like that,” he says. “It could have been horrific, but comedians tend to be optimistic. Not everyone can be Billy Connolly or Robin Williams, but you just have to keep adapting."

The answer was to start performing via Zoom, and it suited Patrick’s conversational style so well that he’s ended up doing as many shows online as he was scheduled to do in person. Fans can buy a ticket for one of his Zoom shows every Wednesday at 7.15pm, and there’s a Facebook Live set at 7pm every Saturday.

“The virtual shows have even added a new dimension because it’s like having a window into people’s homes and you can draw material from that,” he explains.

“People’s names are on the screen, which also helps. When you’re doing a live show, you can only usually see the first couple of rows anyway. Before last year, I’d never even heard of Zoom but the lockdown has given us all a chance to reset and learn new things.”

As a comedian who enjoys banter, he’s also happy for the audience to unmute themselves to create as much atmosphere as possible. That said, he’s looking forward to going back on the road as soon as restrictions are lifted, with one of his first live shows planned for The Forum, in Darlington, on May 25.

“It’s been a strange time, but you just have to keep looking on the bright side,” he adds. “We can all look for happiness or sadness, and I’ve always looked for happiness.”

From landing in the North-East as a frightened four-year-old immigrant, to keeping spirits up during lockdown, it’s an outlook on life that has served Patrick Monahan well.

MY star of last week was teaching assistant Chris Dowie, who welcomed her Year 6 pupils back to North Ormesby Academy by knitting them all Shrek beanie hats.

Mrs Dowie spent 70 hours, making 34 beanies, and it was a pleasure to write the story for The Northern Echo.

Within an hour, an email had landed from Shrek’s Adventure attraction, in London. “We have been so impressed we've invited the class to come to meet the real Shrek when we re-open after Covid,” it said.

Bet the kids are ogre the moon.

The Northern Echo:

A FINAL thought. Following the controversy over the way the Metropolitan Police responded to Saturday's mass vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, Home Secretary Priti Patel called for "a full report".

Why do politicians always call for a "full report" whenever something serious occurs? They're hardly likely to call for an incomplete one, are they?