“Paddy English man, Paddy Scots man and myself went into a bar...”
A few things you quickly learn when speaking to comedian Fred Cooke: He’s thoroughly lovely to chat to, his comedy doesn’t rely on anyone being the butt of his jokes, and he went to school in St Pat’s. Yes, St Pat’s in Cavan. Okay, so he mightn’t quickly disclose the final thing randomly to just anyone, but since he’s talking to a Cavan newspaper to promote his forthcoming stand-up show in the Cavan Comedy Club, this is a good time to discuss such matters. A Kells lad, Fred attended St Pat’s as a boarder, despite there being quite a distinguished boarding school right on his doorstep.
“We weren’t a posh boarding school,” he clarifies of St Pat’s College, which really needed no clarification.
“Fr Kevin Donohoe said it was cheaper to keep us in there than have us at home,” he recalls of a time in Ireland where such paradoxes would be accepted with a shrug and a ‘right so’. Regardless, someone must have figured out the apparent hole in the math as Fred’s class was the last to have the full five years in boarding before being phased it out. Another quirk of his Cavan days suddenly occurs: “Do you know every week night we had to sit down for three hours and study. I should actually be a doctor right now! I don’t know where I went wrong. What did I do? What did I do for those three hours? It’s beyond me.”
He reckons the teachers would have regarded him as a good kid, neither a trouble maker nor joker of the class. While the school may not have been where Fred discovered his comedic talent, it did help discover another skillset.
“I was very lucky, I had a great five years,” he recalls. “They found the music in me in St Pat’s.”
If boarding in St Pats sounds a little anachronistic, his next step (no, not medicine) was anything but.
“I repeated my Leaving Cert then in an all girls school in Kells – in a convent. I think I went up 170 points. That was the year I learned to be cool around women, because I’d never had that much contact with them prior to that.”
He was one of five boys to repeat in Eureka and remarks: “One became an air hostess and another became a farmer. The other three of us went on to college”
He studied musicology in UCD for four years.
“It was studying the tonality of music through history, and studying history through music, how music changes, and evolves throughout the years – so really from Gregorian chant to contemporary abstract music – the whole lot.”
Few would need an introduction to Fred’s brand of comedy given his stints on Republic of Telly, The Fear and The Tommy Tiernan Show, and then of course he was a semi-finalist on RTÉ One’s Dancing With The Stars in 2019. But for the uninitiated he describes his show as “high energy fun.”
“It’s an escape. It’s definitely an escape from the norm. For one night all you have to do is turn your head off and look at the stage and enjoy it. It’s quite musical in ways, but it’s not like hostage situation music where I pull people into a four-minute song – you don’t have to clap your hands throughout the song,” he assures. “I kind of make fun of musical structures and musical times.”
Okay, so of the things you quickly learn when speaking to Fred Cooke, is that he’s thoroughly lovely, which he actually demonstrated immediately when he seems genuinely appreciative of the call. Sure I was appreciative he answered!
As for the butt of his jokes, there isn’t any, although occasionally he veers into gentle self-deprecation, such as: “I kind of think I look like a wrecked version of Ed Shearon who never got involved in music.”
The Celt observes, approvingly that no one is getting slaughtered in his brand of feelgood comedy.
“If the joke is going to be on anybody it’s going to be me. It’s always been in the first person. It’s like Paddy English man, Paddy Scots man and myself went into a bar. That’s the kind of way that I work as a comedian.”
Of the more cruel side of comedy he opines: “Sometimes I feel, if someone’s intention behind it, is to make people laugh, well that’s not a bad thing – they just got the packaging wrong.
“At the end of the day jokes are work – they are hard work, and I think the hardest jokes to write are the ones that don’t offend and are still hilarious. You have to dig deeper to get those ones.”
Check out the wonderfully charming former St Pat’s student Fred Cooke, with support from Sinead Quinalan, when they play the Cavan Comedy Club in the Imperial Bar, Cavan, this Saturday, December 3. Doors 7.30pm; show 8pm. Tickets via Cavan Comedy Club Instagram or Facebook page.