Interview: Sunderland comedian Danny Doyle

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Danny Doyle

“You’ve gotta laugh otherwise you’ll be depressed all the time. It can’t be a coincidence that some of the biggest comedy names have come from areas which are economically depressed.”

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon and local comedian Danny Doyle is discussing his career over a flat white in Sunderland’s Holmeside Coffee.

His voice has a strong Mackem edge to it, something he is clearly proud of. Throughout the afternoon he reiterates his fondness for his hometown.

“I’m proud to be from Sunderland, I love the place. I always will be proud of Sunderland,” he states.

Despite this evident love for the city, he argues that the “economic depression” in the North East has produced the need for comedy.

“We’ve always been economically depressed. The only things we have up here have traditionally been the football teams, which is why you have Newcastle and Sunderland so passionate about their teams, and you develop a sense of humour about how grim life is,” he says.

The dad-of-two adds that humour in the North East tends to differ from the rest of the country, with people taking the mick out of themselves a lot more.

“It’s sort of a self-defence mechanism. Like before you get your jokes in, see if you can better these,” he adds.

His own pathway into comedy was born out of a prank. The self-proclaimed joker of the group had his name entered to an open mic night by his friends while at university in 2001. His friends expected him to refuse to go on stage but the funny man decided to go through with it.

“I got up and did five minutes. I died on my backside. I got a few laughs and thought you know what? I wouldn’t mind doing this, with a bit of time to prepare,” he explains. The joker returned a couple of weeks later and caught the comedy bug.

It becomes apparent over the course of the afternoon that Danny, 34, is quick to downplay his talent and often jokes about his “rubbish” act. It looks like he is conforming to the self-defence mechanism he previously mentioned. However, when questioned about it, he claims he is just being realistic.

“I’m under no illusions. I’m not well-known. If you went outside now and asked them, ‘who’s Danny Doyle?’ they’d respond with, ‘he directed Train Spotting, didn’t he?’

“It would be nice to be more well-known, it would be. Anyone who says they’re in comedy and they don’t want to be known, it’s bullsh*t.

“But you’ve got to be realistic. It’s a very competitive industry.”

It’s so competitive in fact, Danny balances his act with a full-time job, the nature of which he prefers not to disclose. He admits he’s had to turn gigs down due to his work responsibilities but that the key is finding a middle ground between the two.

“I’d love to do the comedy full-time but I’ve got a family too, so I’ve got to fit them in somewhere you know?” he adds.

Danny credits his family and his wife in particular for him re-joining the comedy circuit in mid-2012. Before that, he had been on a four-year hiatus from 2006 to 2010. From there he did sporadic gigs until the birth of his first child. It was at this time he looked to re-join the comedy circuit more permanently, jesting that his wife was sick of him cracking bad jokes all the time.

“My wife has said, whatever it takes, she will support me. I think basically my wife is under the impression that it is better that I’m out telling other people my bad jokes than telling her them,” the comic beams. It is obvious he is extremely proud of his family.

His re-entry into comedy happened through open mic nights, similar to his first stint in comedy. The dad says that open mics are the best way to ease into field and has advised budding comedians to listen to any advice given to them. He states that comedy is a “learning curve” and that there will be criticism along the way.

Despite his previous hiatus, Danny says he can’t imagine quitting comedy in the future, branding it “addictive”.

“It’s something of a release for us. You can get up on the stage and do what you want or say what you want,” he explains.

The conversation turns to the future of comedy in the area. He appears adamant that it is going to continue to be a healthy industry. He does, however, express hope that Sunderland will “develop” to provide more opportunities for comedians.

“It pains me to say it because I’m actually from Sunderland and I grew up here but there’s a small town mentality. It could be so much more,” he states.

He credits the 2013 Sunderland Comedy Festival as a step in the right direction.

“It was a break from the usual we’re going to open a new bar, we’re going to open a new club. To see something that was benefitting your home city as well, it’s been a long time since we had something like that. It was disappointing that it hasn’t continued on.”

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