Whether you refer to him as co-creator and star of the cult British sitcom Black Books, one of the youngest winners of the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, a multi-BAFTA winner, or simply "the greatest comedian, living or dead" (as did French newspaper Le Monde in 2007), one thing is clear: Dylan Moran is a one-man comedy industry. However, it seems comedy is no laughing matter once you’ve reached the upper echelons of worldwide stardom, as Moran most certainly has.
Best known as the co-creator of iconic British sitcom Black Books, Moran is synonymous in the public imagination with the show's eponymous lead: the drunken, curmudgeonly, occasionally whimsical, second-hand bookstore owner Bernard Black. Therefore, when speaking to him over the phone — he's in Prague, partway through his mammoth 18-month, 143-show world tour and launching his new live show DVD Dylan Moran Off The Hook — the first revelation is just how affable the real Moran is. Despite a terrible, occasionally inaudible connection and the sneaking suspicion that this is but one in a long line of interviews he must sit through today and every day, he is warm and considerate; his speech is rapid and eloquent, pausing sporadically to gather his thoughts, his brogue transforming a quotidian 'um' into a far more charming 'erm'.
His accent aside, Moran couldn’t seem more dissimilar from the bellicose drunkard he portrayed on screen and that the media seem intent on pigeonholing him as. Asked if the mischaracterisation annoys him, Moran laughs before replying: "I really don’t care. It doesn't bother me. You know, people latch on to what's obvious, some character or presentation or something, and they tend to run with it."
"Time is short — I understand, people need to stick labels on things," he adds dryly. So if the labels aren’t accurate, just who is the real Dylan Moran? We had a chat with the multifaceted star to find out.
THE CONSUMMATE PROFESSIONAL
As his prolific touring schedule might suggest, professional comedy is a draining business, and Moran is candid about the reality of life on the road. "You don't just go and do three shows and then take a few days off, then do another show and take a day off," he says. "It's a discipline. You’ve got turn up everyday, you've got to make sure you're in working order... trundle yourself off to the theatre, do the show as well as you possibly can, try to keep yourself interested by doing new things — and then do it the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day."
THE INTUITIVE ARTIST
Having won the most prestigious award in live comedy, Moran later dismissed the Perrier Comedy Award as "a load of media rubbish". This disillusionment with the media and its inability to comprehend the creative process is a recurring theme for Moran. "The thing is, journalists ask questions from the outside, to 'describe what it's like on the inside'," he explains. "If I could describe what it was like on the inside, I'd have to be outside the experience, which would mean I could no longer do it. Do you know what I’m saying?”
"So I'm trying to preserve the necessary ignorance to allow me to carry on doing it, because if I start overanalysing it — or I start interrogate the fairy that's collaborating with me inside my head to make this stuff happen — if I ask too many questions about where we're going or what we're doing, the fairy is not going to talk to me anymore."
THE RELUCTANT COUNTRY BOY
Growing up in rural County Meath, northwest of Dublin, Moran remembers his childhood as bucolic but bittersweet. "Well, you know, it's not a bad place to grow up — you're in the countryside, you're a kid, and you're out in the street. You're running around, you're off on your bike to get up to some mischief." But the appeal of rural living didn't last too long. "You get to be a teenager and you want more of what the city has to offer, so you start getting a bit impatient to get out."
Living proof, Moran was 16 when he left school and, having made good his escape, he took out the Perrier Award just eight years later. Two incredibly successful decades on, does he ever feel he'll return to quiet country life? "I have no idea yet, I certainly don't feel it at the moment. I’m moving around a lot like, you know, I don't really have time to have an ear of corn between my teeth as I gaze out over the fields."
THE RESPONSIBLE FATHER
A lack of time is not just due to Moran’s gruelling work schedule, but also the pressures of raising two young children. Reflecting on how fatherhood has affected his comedy, Moran says it's a pretty fundamental alteration to your worldview. "It makes you place a different stock, or value, on everything. You might've been more attracted to what was noisy or loud or fun or eye-catching, short-term value, before you were a father, and then you start thinking obviously more in terms of consequence and enduring value when you have a child.”
THE AMBIVALENT SCREEN STAR
The notion of enduring value is a complicated one for any artist. How do you simultaneously remain relevant and preserve a legacy? Despite being most widely remembered for Black Books, Moran seems to feel no immediate compulsion to return to the small screen. "When time allows I'll write another television show, or I'll write a screenplay, or I'll write something else," he says. "But at the moment, I have to restrict my energies to what I'm doing right now, which is miles and miles of road."
In the meantime, Moran has been racking up a series of supporting roles in independent feature films, such as Shaun of the Dead, Run Fatboy Run, and a particularly nuanced performance as a disillusioned millionaire plagued by his complicity in the Eurozone collapse in Michael McDonagh's critically-acclaimed Calvary. So, what's next? "I don't know what I'm going to make and it won't be a tour for a while because, obviously, you can only do this every now and again, because it does tend to fray the edges. So I’ll make something that I can make at home."
So perhaps more iconic British television is in the offing? "In the future, yes. I will do some more [television], sure, in the future."