As a weaned housewife many years ago, I was told that I never had to worry about entertaining the people of Cork: they only want to talk about themselves. The truth of this advice must be part of the success – which could be called roaring if it were not spoken in sotto voce – of Patrick FitzPatrick’s pseudonym as Reggie, a personality who will soon be jumping the camera ravine at the stage, in sotto voce and all.
Perhaps that’s not too big of a leap: In one form or another, FitzPatrick has been performing for several years now, merging his expanded – and socially exaggerated – column on Ask Audrey’s agony to a series airing on Red FM in which Reggie was a minor character among others in his scripts.
“I know people like Reggie,” FitzPatrick says now. “And I know Cork City really well and its different languages. I know there’s a good side and a bad side of Rochestown Road, but my characters are universal, the pretensions are the same everywhere. After a short pause, he adds that “the GAA plays a big part in the scripts, really.”
As we meet at the city’s Metropole Hotel, it seems too ironic to be plausible that this very model of urban legend of the Cork woman running down the street shouting that “my son the engineer is drowning !” should actually be an engineer.
Writing gags for Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday night TV show was the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. That’s how I learned to crack a joke
It’s an irony that FitzPatrick appreciates; the mill of his comedy is always ready to grind. It’s no big surprise, then, that when his quirky radio commentary in studio sessions was upended by Covid, he took his phone and research to the South Mall, still Cork’s legal and business epicenter, bristling with brass plates. Where else for a man commenting on his exclusive residence on Blackrock Road who has little to say about Limerick, a city that allows plumbers to play rugby? Or who recognizes that one of the passions of his otherwise seemingly orderly life is a campaign to keep ‘the Norries’ who live on the north side of the river (itself sometimes called the moat) from entering the south marina? Or who will reflect on Roy Keane’s influence on the Cork accent and also wonder why the people of Passage West always want to advertise where they’re from: ‘Guilt, I guess.
It has not always been so. An engineer, after all. Then raised in Kinsale, educated first at Presentation Brothers’ College (Pres to the Cork cognoscenti), graduated from UCC, then spent 14 years in Dublin, where the Cork Mafia mantle fell on FitzPatrick’s shoulders thanks to the encouragement of journalist and broadcaster Brendan O’Connor, who introduced him to the potential of journalism. And a career in jokes.
“He kept me going, even though it was a bit of Celtic tiger madness to make this change from IT. But writing gags for O’Connor’s Saturday night TV show was the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. That’s how I learned to land a joke, and it really paid off in terms of Reggie.
Oh, Regie. Reggie of the whispered slander from his multimillion-dollar mansion in the stunning suburb will be alive and well on the Everyman stage for three weeks in April. Everyman artistic director Sophie Motley agrees it’s a long stint for a one-man show. And isn’t meeting your heroes always a risk? Could the move from screen to stage deflate the impact of a character so successful on Twitter that he’s, as they say, “gone viral”?
“No, I think working with Pat Kiernan, it was condensed into something larger than life,” says Motley. “After all, he has been a performer for years. I think people will want to come and see this person who has helped so many of us get through the past two years. There’s something intriguing and exciting about it. And it also shows how, by being totally local, you can be national and even international at the same time. People all over the world are listening to Reggie – and now he’s been taken to another realm.
Motley’s strong confidence is bolstered not only by the fact of very strong early ticket sales, but by pairing FitzPatrick and Corcadorca’s Kiernan, thus, she believes, surrounding Reggie with experience, tools, techniques and magic from incredibly talented people. People like Irene O’Mara, lecturer and vocal coach at MTU Cork School of Music, who face the challenge of tone and rhythm presented by an auditorium to a performer whose style is a confidential nuance.
As surnames are too common, Reggie does not allow one; nor can he find “the slightest crack” in religion or politics. He’s too devout to talk about sex (even though there was that Maureen in Kerry), but somehow he seems to be here, so alludingly he’s almost gone before you can. laugh, like with the woman doing “this amazing thing with her tongue – very open-minded”. Or with the reminder that trust is so important when you’re cheating on your wife.
Facebook is a bit of a Turner’s Cross for him and, to be honest, he’d rather lick the rue de Cappoquin than let a Norrie into the Royal Cork Yacht Club. For added social complexity, the North Side includes Montenotte and Sunday’s Well, but these ancient merchant elites cannot lessen Reggie’s disdain.
The narrative fluidity of his obscenities has the laid-back ease of arguing with the guys, though he assures me he only uses the toned down versions. “I try to avoid any real meanness. Either way, the Norries always win. It’s not really a pejorative term and basically they don’t care what anyone says about them They get the jobs.
With friends who share his patois, he is assured of double or quadruple nicknames and titles, although Seán Mac Seán Mac O’Shea O’Shea is surely the product of his parents’ decision to bind him forever to the tradition of grandfather of Patrick FitzPatrick? No, he said, “It’s a Kerry thing, I just rehearsed it.”
He’s what he hears, but that masks the more thoughtful personality that has found a Cork quirk to hone a resonant point of view in asides. an oblique sentence, a raised eyebrow, a question. He wonders what the internet has to offer posterity, it’s unclear how he’ll age, and the challenge for him is to do something more substantial.
He’s also not trying to get anyone’s attention. Reggie’s clips are just two minutes long, there’s no commitment – share it, move on. “And there are no consequences, really. Kind of like Boris Johnson, this fake sincerity. What’s really weird is that Reggie is basically talking to himself.
“It’s a very Cork context,” he admits, “but then Cork people are everywhere”
The impression is often that of some delicious gossip drawn from a life close to the complacency of Cork. “It’s a very Cork context,” he admits, “but Cork people are everywhere.” And everywhere there is flesh for his scalpel; that localities have their own hilarity was brought to light with the pandemic restrictions prohibiting travel outside county lines.
Kilmallock, he thinks. “To mention a place has a great resonance, especially for the Irish. And it’s true, in a way, I’m also aiming for the kind of thing Dame Edna does, finding the right punchline. Some words sound funnier than others. Kanturk lands better, somehow.
This countryside town hinterland is cropped for Ask Audrey in the Irish Examiner, for which FitzPatrick also writes parenting advice and TV reviews. There have also been books but of these several staples of his career so far, Reggie has been the most profitable, “relatively speaking”. So far, this career has led to going on stage. “I wanted to do it live, and theater PR Jean Kearney put me in touch with Everyman and Sophie and from there to Pat Kiernan, a director with great pedigree.”
In rehearsal at Ballymaloe’s Grain Store, the performance is designed to have a purpose. There’s been quite a bit of rewriting and refinement: “It’s not just me going out with a mic, there’s a flow. As to where this will lead, I don’t know, except working with people who know what they’re doing is the way to go now. Wherever it is. As always, the conversation ends with a question, reminding me of Reggie’s invitation to his friends to pick a town in Kerry they’d like to see move to Cork: “But you’d be wasting your time now offering Listowel.”
An Evening with Reggie opens at The Everyman Cork on April 2