Dylan Moran. Image courtesy of Andy Hollingworth.
Dylan Moran walks out onto the Largo stage in Los Angeles to Richter-scale applause and says, "I get so tired of that. It's just like walking into my own kitchen."
The Irish comedian, actor and writer delivers a set so white-hot that a woman in the second row is convulsed with laughter and breathing dangerously, her wheezes registering somewhere between a natural disaster and a fatality.
It seems that watching Dylan Moran live is the most exhilarating experience one can have without a strong combination of narcotics and a pole vault.
At the mere suggestion that the sold-out show is nearly over, the entire audience whines like a class of six-year-old adults being sent to bed early. And then they rise for a standing ovation. Dylan Moran is on the second leg of his North American Tour, Yeah, Yeah, now coming to ten cities, and this was only day two.
Called "the greatest comedian living or dead" by the French newspaper, Le Monde, Moran's BAFTA award-winning BBC series, Black Books, which he co-wrote and starred in, is now available on Netflix. Moran has also starred in the hit films Shaun of the Dead, Run Fatboy Run, Notting Hill and will soon be seen in John Michael McDonagh's upcoming film, Calvary, alongside Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) and Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter, In Bruges)
For those of us in the 50 states who are hungry for international devices on which to play Moran's stand-up DVDs, and we are legion, it looks like luck has finally found us. Moran is currently developing an American television pilot for ABC.
The title of Dylan Moran's current show, Yeah, Yeah, comes from a 1950's lecture on language by Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin. Austin noted that while a double negative amounts to a positive, never does a double positive amount to a negative. From the back of the audience, Columbia professor Sidney Morgenbesser muttered a dismissive, ''Yeah, yeah.''
On the phone with Moran his first day back in L.A., the comedian and his interviewer are both sick with a head cold. But the sound of Moran's brogue telling a joke he learned in Romania could make just about anyone feel better.
(Given the NyQuil-induced haze of both participants, this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)
Moran: I'm sorry if I sound like I'm at the bottom of a well, I've got some kind of cold.
Ellis: I do too. We can do a bass-baritone duet together. I feel like this is the first and last time that I'll be able to call an American hotel and ask for you by name. Next time you'll have a literary alias like Hedda Gabler or Sasquatch.
Moran: I just feel like a piece of mail that's never going to get to its final destination. [Laughter] I've been in so many countries in the last couple of weeks. It's been great, but I'm still re-pixelating.
Ellis: You've recently had sold out shows in Estonia. What does it take to have a hit in The East?
Moran: The East is very mysterious to Westerners. Even post-Cold War, it's still an unknown entity. When you see Easterners represented in Hollywood movies, the men tend to have some very elaborate scarring from their left eye all the way down their body across the furniture of their apartment and out the door, and the women are always ethereally beautiful and distant, saying, "I can't talk about it," before running away and disappearing into a forest. [Laughter] Estonia is an interesting case because they invented Skype. It kind of makes sense because it's such an isolated territory: "We need to talk to somebody, please!" [Laughter] They're almost on the edge of their seats wanting to know what someone from the West thinks of them, because they are still finding their way in modern Europe and in the world.
Ellis: You are the first professional English-speaking comedian to do stand-up in Russia. How did the idea of an Eastern European tour come about?
Moran: I have always had a fascination for that particular region. It's hard to explain why, but it's true. Ever since I was little, I was interested to know why we didn't see very much of or speak to our European cousins.
Their national narrative is very important to all of them because they had a lot of very similar experiences if they were all within the Soviet bloc. And then there are the amazing individual stories. Look at Prague: the velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic. The whole world watched that story. And then Latvia and Estonia caused a singing revolution by forming a human chain 373 miles long of everybody holding hands and singing. Such an incredibly moving idea, that they are affecting political change by doing this. And then 300,000 people end up singing in Tallinn, the capital. I mean, that's a hell of a way to do it. That's got a lot of style!"
Ellis: Absolutely. You're Irish, but you live in Edinburgh, Scotland. How did that happen?
Moran: My wife's from there. That's an easy one to answer: Find a woman.
Ellis: You married at a fairly young age. Do Europeans marry earlier than Americans on the East or West Coast?
Moran: I don't know, Americans are funny. I was talking to a man who was driving me from the airport yesterday, nice guy, who had been married four times. If that isn't proof positive of the eternal American optimism... I don't know what is!
Ellis: Word on the street is that you're developing a new pilot for ABC. True?
Moran: It's in the works. I talked today with ABC. I'm very engaged and interested, it's something I've been looking into for a while. I can tell you that it's connected to the media and news. I've always been a big consumer of American journalism over the years and had an interest in the history of it and of the press in America; how it has changed. I found it hilariously, to my mind, partisan. I mean, obviously everyone knows about Fox News, and makes jokes about it. And then you have your New Yorker, lefty-liberals and the heartland states and so on. Watching them cat-calling and barking at each other, it's not really politics at all, it's infantile. And of course, there's a version of it in Britain as well. I think what happens as you get older is that you get less interested in domestic politics because you become familiar with it. You've seen how it works. But I'm still trying to figure out the American system.
Ellis: Me too. [Laughter] You, of course, spent many years on British Television with Black Books. Have you noticed any limitations with American television in terms of the language you can use or situations that may be deemed too risqué?
Moran: I'm not at that point yet, but it's just a question of what is possible. I think that things are changing because America is having a renaissance of long-form TV. Everyone acknowledges that it's amongst the finest stuff in the world, no question.
Ellis: Many feel that television has eclipsed film at this point...
Moran: Film is knocking itself out right now, jamming more and more explosions between the ever-dwindling sections of dialogue. It's not working. My son is 11. We'll go and see some Hollywood blockbuster where buildings are liquefying and people are being atomized every other minute and helicopters are crashing into each other and he just looks at me and says, "Oh, God." He's so weary of it! How many times do you need to see one of these things?
Ellis: Even though none of your shows are ever identical, if you're going on stage every night, some of the material might become overly familiar. How do you keep yourself engaged in the middle of a tour?
Moran: You have to be a pro. These people have come out of their homes and traveled to be there, whether it's from Cleveland or from Warsaw. And I have enormous respect for that.
Ellis: Your drawings are often projected onto the stage behind you during your sets, and have become a kind of backdrop for your comedy. Tell me about them.
Moran: I've got to do some more. I haven't had time. I'm drawing as I'm speaking to you.
Ellis: You are? What are you drawing?
Moran: I'm drawing... I draw hundreds and hundreds of pictures of sort of gnarly looking men, so I don't know what that tells you. People who look like... they're waiting for a sandwich that's never going to come. [Laughter] I don't know what's wrong with me.
Phone Conversation Drawing courtesy of Dylan Moran.
Ellis: Highly discerning French people have called you the "greatest comedian, alive or dead." When you hear that, what does it mean?
Moran: It means that they just woke up feeling especially French that day. [Laughter]
Ellis: It has been said that comedy is tragedy plus time, and that great comedy comes from great sadness. Do you find this to be true?
Moran: So you have to think: "Well, okay. We have the Greek Comedies. But I don't know that the Greeks found that they were particularly successful." [Laughter] I actually am serious. I have a pet theory that comedy doesn't work in Mediterranean environments, because if you have the sunshine and the sounds of Isthmia, you don't need to laugh. You feel pretty good anyway. And if you look at the British tradition of sex farces and so on, some other cultures didn't have them because they were more relaxed about sex. Britain is very neurotic, so they have all of this highly developed comedy.
Ellis: In my research I came across a site called "Dylan Moran Sexual Frustration". Have you heard about this?
Moran: I have no idea what that is, but it sounds quite frightening.
Ellis: It's a group of young women who feel ashamed of their romantic feelings for you because they have boyfriends.
Moran: Well, I'm delighted to make as many people feel ashamed as possible. [Laughter] There's probably a site like that for everybody. I've heard Newt Gingrich has his own as well.
Ellis: [Laughter] Actually, this appeared to be the first of-
Moran: The first of this particular phenomenon? Shame... Drenched... Lust... [Laughter] Shame is one of the greatest aphrodisiacs in the world, anyway, built into religion. Look at how madly the Catholic structures and people in Italy are always having affairs, with Venetian blinds and stockings, drinking tiny drinks, and then ignoring each other with heavy sad silences. [Laughter] You know, it's part of the furniture, shame.
Ellis: Are Catholics having better sex than everyone else?
Moran: Well, they feel much more judged about it, so it's far more exciting... God is the really sad voyeur at the window.
Dylan Moran has kicked off the second leg of his North American tour, Yeah, Yeah, with two sold-out shows in L.A. and continues to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Austin, Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh.
To buy tickets, visit here.
This post has been updated from a previously published version.