We caught up with Ardal to find out how one of Ireland’s up-and-coming comedians became Craggy Island’s most lovable and gormless priest.
Tell us a little about how became a comic? I studied BA Communication Studies in Dublin City University. Because it was a very new course there was a kind of giddy atmosphere in that faculty at the time. Myself and a bunch of lads joined the debating club with the intention of undermining the whole thing by making nonsense speeches. There was no great agenda or plan. After university there wasn’t a lot of options for someone with a Communications degree. Some friends and I didn’t want to grow up and get proper jobs, so we started a comedy club in Dublin.
So when did you realise that you could make a career out of comedy? I was just doing bits and pieces of comedy in Dublin from 1989 to 1994. By then I had got the hang of it and I had a decent 20 minute comedy routine under my belt. In 1994 I moved to London, which was the centre of the comedy universe at the time. I spent a year travelling up and down the country, performing in clubs. It was a very exciting time.
And how you got the part in Father Ted? About a year after moving to London, I got the call asking me to go for an audition for Father Ted. The writers thought the character of Father Dougal might suit me, which looking back, is probably a bit worrying! I went along to the audition with very few expectations. About a month later I was called back for a second audition and at that stage Dermot Morgan (Fr Ted) was already on board. I was thrilled to get the part, but I thought that it was very unlikely that this show would take off in Britain. We thought it would be something to pass the time for a couple of months. We imagined that it would be aired in the middle of the night and nobody would ever watch it. When it came out in Ireland, people didn’t respond to it in any great way at first. It was only towards the end of the first series that we realised that something was actually happening. People were beginning to tune in.
Which is your favourite episode? There are so many different bits of Father Ted that I like, it is really hard to pick. I always liked the milk float episode. It was a lot of fun to record. I also loved the Eurovision episode. I loved the actual music video of the song. I would really like to make a compilation of my favourite bits of Father Ted some time.
Did starring in Father Ted open many doors for you? It really did. Everything took off after that. I had been doing very well as a stand up comic already, but that was the limit of my ambition at the time. I enjoyed going to festivals around the world and didn’t realise how many comedy festivals there actually were until I started doing stand-up.
There were a lot of comedians who went on to do well off the back of Father Ted… Father Ted was groundbreaking in a way because the writers were happy to use comedians instead of actors. That was brave, because it isn’t necessarily true that comedians make good actors. We did three series of Father Ted over four years, but it only took about three months of the year to record. So in-between recording I was either trying to write my novel, or continuing to do stand-up shows. Father Ted really opened doors for me in terms of television work as I got a lot of offers after it ended. I ended up doing five series of My Hero for BBC and well as some other television work for ITV.
Tell me a bit about what you are working on at the moment? I am working on a sitcom for the BBC. I will be involved in both a writing and an acting role. I will also be writing a new play this year as well, so I am locked up in the attic at the moment trying to meet deadlines.