TWO days in Mullagh is George Casey’s ideal method of relaxing and staying in touch with his roots. Having emigrated to the US in 1970, the West Clare man has made a living on the folk singing circuit and, since 1985, as a full-time comedian. When he spoke to The Clare Champion last week, he was preparing to leave for Copenhagen the following day, where he linked up with the cruise ship company who employ him as their on-board comedian.
Now aged 64, Casey went to primary school in Mullagh and secondary school at St Flannan’s College. He has fond memories of his native village.
“We were right in the square. The church was next door and we had the shop with the petrol pumps and a furniture store,” he explained, adding that his parents were Sonny and Tessie Casey, while George was one of six children. His brother, Michael, still lives in Mullagh.
“In my comedy act in the States, it’s a family of 11 because it’s better for comedy. You’re allowed to embellish things when you’re a comedian and make it worse but I’m in Clare now so I have to tell the truth,” he laughed.
George didn’t sit the Leaving Cert after his mother suffered a stroke.
“Somebody had to come home. I did that for two years and then I went out to America in 1970 on a student visa. I ended up staying there. I went to Chicago first because I had some cousins there. There was a guy from Wales who owned a nightclub. At that time, it was very hard to get into America. You had to have somebody to sponsor you and I had nobody that was first generation American. But he said to me that if I signed a three-year contract and stayed in his nightclub for three years, he’d get me my American citizenship. And he did. I’m still good friends to this day with him,” George said.
Originally a singer, he soon drifted into telling stories and, later, full-time comedy.
“I was into folk music. I even used to play at Dromoland and the One Mile Inn. I used to sing little Irish folk songs and I was good at telling stories. But I realised later that I could write. I could see something and I could make it funny. I always kept it clean. I never use four-letter words and I’m no prude. I can you a dirty joke as good as anybody but there is a time and place for everything,” he maintained, before detailing how he got into comedy.
“I had these nodes in my vocal chords. You’d cut them and you’d be laid up for two months but they kept coming back. I was in pubs with smoke three or four hours a night and I’d start telling stories to save the singing voice. I found out that I was better at that than I could ever be at the singing. And it turned out there was more money in that because for every 1,000 singers, there was one good comedian.”
Now an experienced comedian and working full-time on the cruise ships for the last six years, George has died a few times on stage. It seems to happen to everyone.
“I fell on my ass many, many times. I remember doing a gig for Panasonic in Orlando, Florida. I died a death. You could hear the crickets around the place. I couldn’t see with the lights but I realised eventually that the first 50 tables were full of Japanese people. They hadn’t a clue what I was talking about. I could hear some laughter at the back but I had an attached mike and I couldn’t go down there. It was a lesson I learned. I never went on stage again without a mike that is mobile so I can take off and talk to people. These are small little lessons in life,” he smiled.
Living in Florida with his American wife, Laurie, and their two college-going children, George spends several months per year on cruise ships, sometimes accompanied by his other half.
“You have to guarantee that you’ll do 30 weeks a year. They’ll test you for six months and will send you on every ship around the world to see how you are with different audiences. Australians are my best ratings, for some reason. They love the Irish, Mrs Browne’s Boys and Dave Allen. They love the Irish self-deprecating humour. I always say that the great mystery to Irish comedy is you never know are we making fun of ourselves or fun of you. That’s how clever we are. I have to do two shows when I’m on; which is three hours per week. It’s generally a 1,000-seat theatre and there are two shows, one at 8pm and one at 10pm,” he outlined.
Of course, not everybody laughs at the same joke. Not if the audience is predominantly American.
“Stay away from religion as much as you can. Donald Trump and that, I can’t go near that because it’s so polarised in America with the Democrats and Republicans. If I insult a Bush or I insult a Clinton, I’m going to lose half the room. It’s crazy. That’s just the way they are. The passenger is God. It’s all about economics and money. You’re there to make them happy and not insult anybody.”
He loves what he does and has no notion of retiring and doing things like holidaying on cruise ships.
“I’m more relaxed now. If they speak good English, they’ll get it. We Irish talk so fast but when I step on that stage, I slow down because if you don’t understand the story, there is no laugh at the end for the punchline. I’ve never done drugs but to me it’s my high, when I get out there. It takes me an hour to come down after a show.
“I should retire but I’d like to do another 10 or 15 years. I’m getting paid to go around the world. There is no place I haven’t been. I like Venice. I never get tired of St Mark’s Square. Norway is also lovely. I also love the South Pacific,” the engaging and, yes, funny Mullagh man revealed.
Clare Champion sports editor Seamus Hayes was a classmate of George’s at St Flannan’s. One day a minor exchange of views, also involving the late Eamon O’Loughlin from Ennistymon, culminated dramatically in George receiving a sharp jab of a compass up the arse.
“I know one of them did it,” George insisted. “I’m just not sure which of them.”
With that, he left Ennis for Mullagh before packing his always-on-call suitcase and heading to Scandinavia.