Deirdre O'Kane will be a special guest at Comedy Fest, presented by CraicFest, in the Wolfhound, Astoria, Queens, New York City, on May 11.

Stand-up star

“I’ll just get your mother, love.”

The father in Deirdre O’Kane’s stand-up routines is affectionately remembered. 

But there are silences as he tries to figure out what’s been said and how to respond. He usually doesn’t know what’s going on with the females in his family, their joys and pain, or where they are at a given time or what they’re doing.

During that phone call received from a daughter in boarding school doing the Leaving Cert (news to him), his wife couldn’t be found. He said, “She must be at the hairdresser’s.”

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In reality, in O’Kane’s version, her mother was barefoot on a retreat in Lough Derg for the fourth consecutive year, and praying for good exam results for her children and also for money.

And the theme would continue into adulthood. In a routine of a few years back, the comic envisioned the relaxed working day of her spouse built around breaks for coffee and lunch and conversations with other adults, and she contrasted it with her own life.

“When I talked about the stay-at-home mum and the loneliness and how hard it was, that was a moment,” O’Kane said. Her description of her hospital experience having her first child was another. The comic uses her life as material, but when it pushes past some invisible boundary or taboo that might be a cause for discussion, it’s a “moment.”

“Women have not been heard. We’ve been watching men do comedy all of our lives,” she said. “That stuff was never really covered from a female perspective. It’s hard to believe really. I’m not talking about a long time ago.”

The goal is to entertain, of course, and to provide some escape. O’Kane’s last tour “Demented” was called a “tonic” by the Irish Independent and a “positive, slick, sparkling show.”

As for her new show in 2024, there won’t be a town in Ireland that won’t see it, the Drogheda native promised. In addition, O’Kane usually does London for a week, and this time she plans to “test the water” beyond the capital in Britain and in the U.S., knowing that she has a considerable international following via Instagram, YouTube and various media outlets.

The comic will bring a preview of the new show (the full version will be 75 minutes) on May 11 to the] Wolfhound, Astoria, Queens, where she will be supported by Yumi Kay and Craig Geraghy, as part of Comedy Fest presented by CraicFest (rsvp at].

The Independent’s writer began that review, “It’s such a pleasure to go into a large theatre space [the 1,200-seat Olympia, which was full] and see a confident Irish woman owning the stage, with nothing more than her wit and a smart red trouser suit.” 

O’Kane declared on Instagram in response, “My first Irish review for my standup ever, after 25 years!”

But the standup comic and actor has had a high profile in recent times as a celebrity contestant in “Dancing with the Stars,” as a participant in the Graham Norton-hosted “Last One Laughing Ireland” (Amazon Prime), as the star of “The Deirdre O’Kane Show” (Sky Comedy), as the presenter of RTE Radio One’s “Deirdre O’Kane Talks Funny” and, a six-time nominee herself, as a regular host of the annual IFTA Film & Drama Awards.

The beginning in stand-up comedy was a “Road to Damascus moment” in Kilkenny at the Cat Laughs, an annual international festival. She was there assisting somebody doing a TV show and had access to the performances.  

“I was blown away by the art form immediately,” remembered O’Kane, who’d been building an acting career since her school days. “I found it attractive that there weren’t that many rules. You could do what you wanted, pretty much. 

“And so could they. So could the audience,” she said. “Theater has a very specific etiquette. And it’s quite a privileged arena. It’s quite a middle-class thing, I think. Stand-up is much more raw.”

“Anyway, I watched it for that weekend. The penny dropped: ‘I think I could do that.’ And I started writing on the way home in the car, literally. 

“I wasn’t driving obviously,” she added, with a laugh.

“I went back and played that festival a year later. So, it was a very fast turnaround.”

“Comedy is way more intense, you’re on your own,” she continued. “Theatre is a team sport, unless you’re doing a one-woman show. It’s a team sport that’s rehearsed for a month from 9 to 5 before you go in front of an audience. It’s finely tuned, finely honed, you’ve got a lot of help around you, and generally speaking you’re not the writer.

“You’re everything when you’re a stand-up – a writer and a performer and the responsibility remains with you. If you die on your arse, it’s your fault,” she said.

O’Kane had been used to going on stage, and knew also how to project and hold a room. She had those “technical skills” that meant she didn’t make the “rookie mistakes” that she still sees beginners make.

“It didn’t decrease the terror,” she recalled about stand-up comedy. “The 10 years’ experience [as an actor] didn’t take away from my fear.”

Likewise, there’s been little crossover in terms of bringing her stand-up experience in the other direction, although she believes that at one point it helped her decide to take on a one-woman show at the Druid.

“They’re very different art forms. You’re talking directly to the audience [in standup], you’re engaging with the audience.”

O’Kane cited Tommy Tiernan as “one of my biggest influences.”

She said, “We’re storytellers, not every comic is a storyteller. We go into quite a long, detailed story. That’s a very particular style. That's something I always wanted to do.

“There are so many influences. It’s hard to single people out,” she said. “Another is Owen O’Neill, an incredible storyteller. Now, he crossed the line between one-man shows and standup, probably because he had a bit of emotion. I quite like comics who give a bit of themselves. I think that’s what appeals to me. Comics who are honest. That’s why I love Dave Chappelle so much. A little bit of truth in there. There’s always ‘here’s a bit of me’ and I love that.”

When she was ready to throw in the towel, she revealed, “I would go to watch Tommy and always be inspired.”

O’Kane continued, “There are many times when I wanted to leave because it was rough being the only woman on the scene. I didn’t quite understand it at the time. It was subconscious. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get that it was a difficult environment. I was very fond of all my colleagues, still am, but when you’re the only anything, it’s a disadvantage.”

She did eventually quit. She said she did comedy for 10 years, then left it for 10 years and six years ago returned to the mic.

“So, this is a second bite of the cherry,” the comic said. “This time I’m more in control of what I’m doing and I think I understand it better."

O’Kane said with another laugh,“I’m certainly more driven to get it right.” 

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