By Orla O’Sullivan
Pat Shortt had the audience eating out of his hand – almost literally.
Staying in character as a singing undertaker, the comedian went around at intermission on the sold-out opening night of his show, “Selfie,” handing out the “hang sangwidges” (ham sandwiches, to the uninitiated) that are a mandatory part of the Irish funeral rite.
As one might lovingly skewer a cocktail sausage, another ritual element on such occasions, Shortt treated the Irish to their quirks, and they loved it.
The backhanded compliments and self-deprecation were there; the tendency to preface every other utterance with “Jaysus;” and the particularly rural phenomena of nosiness, tending to repeat banalities as conversational filler and – unlike Shortt – being unable to get to the point.
Mossey Burke, born into a family of undertakers, recounts how, when he was a child, a neighbor called to book a funeral service and before his childhood self could glean that someone was dead, he says, “I’d say I was a solid hour at the door!”
Mossey himself resorts to a real Irishism. “I was never cut out for it [the business of undertaking],” he tells the audience in his whiney, effete refrain and Donald Trump-worthy hair.
He harbors dreams of being a romantic crooner, albeit that his compositions are less than romantic or universal (funeral love song, anyone?) and he is, “very disillusioned with the country and Irish music scene in North Tipperary.” (In reality, Shortt hails from Thurles, Co. Tipperary.)
Performing songs from his album, Mossey recounts tales from his daily existence as an undertaker, such as the funeral where the wrong family was in the church. When he realizes they are there ahead of time, he mercurially switches from nods, pained smiles and obsequiousness towards those in the front row to barking, “Out, out, out!” at them.
The audience is forced to officiate when Shortt designates individuals to bring up flowers or carry the coffin.
Lorraine Turner, head of the Northern Ireland Bureau in New York, squealed when Shortt pulled her from her aisle seat.
This was after Turner’s companion George Heslin, creator of Origin’s 1st Irish theatre festival, stealthily played Judas by raising a hand to identify her.
“Selfie” is one of seven shows competing in this year’s 1st Irish, along with numerous other events at many venues around New York City through Oct. 4.
The audience at the Irish Arts Center loved Mossey so much that Shortt could probably have knitted his way through the second act and still been given the rapturous send-off received.
Mossey barely features in the second act where the main character is a garda—something of a reprise of D’Unbelievables, a sketch Shortt had in the ‘nineties. The thick but pompous policeman reminded me of what I feared I might not like in Shortt’s show: comedy that is too broad, with country fool portrayals I had seen on his many Irish television appearances.
There’s definitely an urban-rural divide in Ireland and I feared Shortt and I were on either side of it. (If you like The Sawdoctors song, “Bailin’ Hay,” the same applies.)
A song such as “Breakfast Roll” received whoops of recognition when Shortt announced it. Yet, the chorus was an obvious, crude pun: “Would you like sauce with that? I would in my roll!”
The garda’s poem “You Can’t Do Dat,” a flying history lesson from Caesar to Hitler, was inspired, but for me, Shortt was best as Mossey. The songs from Mossey’s album “I’ll be The Last Man to Let You Down,” were bawdy but more original, with lyrics such as, “The divil who will is better than the divil who won’t.”
Shortt also shone in his audience interaction and acting displays, such as in the botched funeral scene. His numerous screen and stage credits include playing opposite Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway last year, in “The Cripple of Inishmaan.”
Culchie or jackeen, it’s hard to imagine anyone Irish not enjoying Selfie. Ah ye will, ye will, ye will.
The IAC is at 553 W. 51st St. Manhattan. “Selfie” tickets at (866)811-4111 and festival information at www.1stIrish.org.