Comedy: The mourning after the nights before

Owen O'Neill recently made the front pages of national newspapers. But, unlike your usual publicity-hungry stand-up, he wasn't very happy about it. His show, "Off My Face", about the destructive effect of alcoholism, had just been pulled from the Manchester Irish Arts Festival, allegedly under pressure from their sponsors, Guinness.

"I was really pissed off," O'Neill sighs. "After all, I've drunk enough of their product over the years. It should be payback time. Guinness saw it was a show about alcoholism and thought 'negative'. But in Edinburgh, six people came up to me after the show and said, 'I have a drink problem and that's the first time I've been able to laugh at it. You've given me the courage to do something about it'. That was brilliant."

A man with a family history of drink problems, O'Neill admits that thanks to his alcoholism, "I was quite mad for a number of years. I hit rock bottom when I realised I was going to lose my family. My three-year-old son was beginning to get frightened of me. He wouldn't come in to see me because of the stink of drink. I thought, 'I'm putting this kid through what I've gone through'.

"I also got sick of waking up in the morning and not knowing where I'd been or who I'd insulted. I once had a blackout for three days. I began drinking with pounds 300 on a Friday night in Fulham and woke up on a beach in Brighton on Monday morning with no shoes, socks or money, and bruised from head to foot. I've never found out how I got there. I could easily have woken up in a police station and been told 'you've killed someone'. 'Really? I can't remember'. That was scarey stuff and the moment I realised it was time to knock the drinking on the head."

These experiences have been turned into a brutally honest show which often teeters on the tightrope between comedy and tragedy. Indeed, O'Neill recalls that "people said, 'you can't lay this on people, it's not fair'. At first I thought maybe they were right, before realising that it made me laugh, so to hell with them."

If you can believe it, the show could have been even heavier. "I only scratched the surface. I held back. There was much much worse in real life, but if I put it in the show it would have been too dark for the audience."

There was a time when "Off My Face" would have been too dark for O'Neill, too. "It would have been painful if I'd written it in the first year after giving up drinking. But now I haven't drunk for seven years, and I feel completely detached from it. I'm writing about someone else, I was a very different person then. When I wrote it, I wanted to make sure I was definitely off the drink. I didn't want to go on tour with this show and start drinking again."

Own O'Neill's 'Off My Face' is at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London WC1 (0171 388 8822) from Wed to Sat

COMEDY EXTRA

It takes a bold - or perhaps foolhardy - performer to riff on just one subject for a whole hour. Phill Jupitus is one of the few stand- ups who could pull it off. "Ready Jedi Go" is his inspired ramble on the theme of Star Wars. The Essex man makes a pilgrimage home to the Basildon Towngate Theatre (01268 531343) on Thursday

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
News
Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey
peopleBut who comes top of the wish list?
News
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, right, with Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds in Newtown, Powys, as part of her tour in support of the party’s female candidates
general electionNick Clegg's wife has impressed during the campaign
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living