Profiles in Irish-American Service / By Brian McCabe
Brian Monaghan walked a beat on Broadway for ten years with the NYPD. Then, like many a Broadway star, he went Hollywood, serving another ten years with the Movie and TV Unit, a special team that was created to assist the entertainment industry in the use of New York City locations for television shows and big budget films. The creation of the MTV Unit ensured that films about NYC could be filmed in NYC and that the attendant jobs and economic benefits would not leave the City. Monaghan’s unique personality made him a natural choice for assignment to the MTV Unit, as he is quite a character himself.
Monaghan is a first-generation Brooklyn boy, the son of two Limerick natives who came to the States in the 1950s. His dad, Seamus, from Newcastle West, is a retired 608 carpenter and his mom, Peggy, from Kilfinny is a retired physical therapist who worked with the Little Sisters of the Poor. Monaghan’s dad was a championship hurler whose Limerick team won the cup at Gaelic Park in 1962. Young Monaghan himself was a Gaelic footballer for the Bay Ridge Irish Rovers. As is common in families like the Monaghans, his five siblings also have had careers in human service, in such areas as education, health and the FDNY. Monaghan’s wife Jen is a teacher, and the couple have two sons, Seamus and Jack.
Monaghan has lived a life not short on ironies: as a kid he worked five summers as a vendor hawking hot dogs in the stands of Yankee Stadium despite being a Mets fan. He was a street cop better known for being able to defuse a situation with a grin and a wisecrack than the exertion of his lawful authority. A stand-up comic, he now performs music, because, he says, "It's way easier, besides, if I feel like a laugh, I throw in some comic banter between songs."
Monaghan began his career with the NYPD on the West Side of Manhattan, patrolling Hell's Kitchen, Times Square and the Theatre District. Assigned to the Midtown North Precinct, he was soon assigned to the Special Day Squad, a team of carefully selected patrolmen who concentrated on the tourist routes of Broadway and its environs. Monaghan had as his steady post Duffy Square, where the famous TKTS booth is located and where he would interact with people from throughout the world as they attempted to get last-minute, discounted seats to Broadway productions. If tickets to the desired show were unavailable, the tourists would at least have had the pleasure of some repartee with a genuine New York Irish cop possessed of a winning way with people. Moving on to the MTV Unit, Monaghan was involved in the productions of some of the most famous blockbuster films of the last 25 years, where he was befriended by teamsters, grips, and celebrities alike.
Monaghan now spends his time playing gigs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and on the shore at Rockaway and Long Beach. He plays an eclectic mix of oldies, current rock and Irish bands such as The Pogues, Saw Doctors and Christy Moore. He has travelled often to Ireland to visit family, and in the summers you will often find him and Jen strolling hand in hand on a local beach, with Monaghan grinning his grin and cracking wise.
It seems that growing up in the Monaghan household in Bay Ridge there was no shortage of Irish sport and music. When did you learn the guitar, and do any of your siblings also entertain?
None of my siblings plays an instrument, and I picked up the guitar at the age of fourteen for the same reason most guys do, to meet girls.
Your career trajectory has taken you from Yankee Stadium through the NYPD and on to a stage. How did you come to be a police officer, was it something you had considered as a kid ?
I didn't really consider policing as a career as a kid, but I had an uncle, Ray Gregory, who was a lieutenant on the job, and he encouraged me to take the test, and mentored me on the way.
How has your police career impacted on your ability to perform or entertain?
Well, when you're a cop in uniform on Broadway, everybody passing is watching everything you do, so you need to be comfortable in front of a crowd and quick on your feet.
You are well regarded among your former colleagues for your sense of humor. Did this aspect of your personality help you through the more difficult experiences attendant to police work?
Without a doubt. I think the ability to find the comedy in the human condition as well as camaraderie are what help most cops get through tough situations.
Considering your personal history and the history of the Irish, do you consider the ability to find humor in difficult situations a particular Irish trait?
Sure, I think the Irish can take a dark situation and find a glimmer of light in there somewhere.
Can you share an experience from your police career that you made you laugh?
Yeah, occasionally while working on a police themed show, a boss from a local precinct would happen by and start giving out to an extra about smoking, or holding an umbrella, or not having the proper uniform or gear. The look on the boss' face when the real cops told him he had just reprimanded an actor . . . priceless.
Would you tell us some of the film productions you worked on?
Analyze This, Analyze That, Sex In The City, Sopranos, all the Law and Order shows, Men In Black, U2 videos, Sesame Street, (don't laugh) and many, many others.
We won't ask you who the worst were, but could you share who you felt were the most genial celebrities you worked with?
Bono was a gentleman to everyone he met, Jerry Orbach, Bon Jovi, and despite all his recent bad ink, Mel Gibson was down to earth and very regular and appreciative of the crew. DeNiro was also a gentleman, but very professional and all business.
Who did you have an easier time relating to, the grips and other workers on film sets, or those on the creative side? Why?
I kind of related to the crew members more, having similar backgrounds as me, many being Irish-American working class guys and girls. Regardless of what any director's vision was, it was the MTV Unit and the crew that enabled him to get his shot.
Do you have any advice for a retired cop trying his hand as a troubadour?
Don't ever play a gig wearing an off-duty weapon -- it scratches the back of your guitar!