FOR Cork funnywoman Sinéad Quinlan, comedy is about laughing at modest, everyday things, like an awkward interaction with a shopkeeper.
“My comedy is about real innocent topics, like buying food in a chipper,” she says. “Very basic things that everyone can relate to, you know?”
Sinéad, 26, from Carrignavar, calls herself ‘The Queen of Random’ on Instagram, and she randomly stepped into the realm of comedy.
A fitness enthusiast, she was discovered by two members of the comedy trio The Hardy Bucks while speaking at a health and fitness event in Cork.
“I was just talking about stepping into your power, but there was also a sense of comedy,” she says.
“They told me, ‘You seem very comfortable on stage and you’re actually funny. Do you want to try stand-up?’”
Stephen Kelly of the Hardy Bucks says that watching Sinéad’s speech, he immediately realised that the young woman had a knack and a fondness for stand-up.
“You could tell she wanted to explore the humour more than the event would do it justice,” he recalls.
Stephen says they stayed in contact with Sinéad, and next time they were performing in Cork, at the city’s Wonky Donkey Comedy Club, they asked her to open for them.
There, she was spotted by another seasoned Cork comic, Cornelius Patrick O’Sullivan, who runs Cork’s Comedy Club (COCO).
“She was excellent and had the crowd in raptures,” Cornelius recalls.
Cornelius asked Sinéad to come to his club’s open-mic night, where the young woman’s father decided to film her set.
During her COCO routine, Sinéad talked about buying corned beef for the first time and how her Cork accent amplified as she struggled to order. Her proud father filmed it all with a smile.
A few days later, Sinéad’s father saw an advertisement about an RTÉ competition for discovering fresh Irish comedy talent. Called ‘Stand up and be Funny’, it was organised by the Ray D’Arcy Show. Amateur comics could send a short clip of their set to see if they could qualify to enter.
“My dad saw in the paper, the ad for the Ray D’Arcy thing. He was like, ‘You should enter that,’ and I was like ‘But, I’ve only done two gigs,’” Sinead says.
However, she decided to listen to her father and “give it a go”.
A few weeks later, she beat four men and a female comic at City Limits Cork, in front of Ray D’Arcy and distinguished Limerick comic, Karl Spain.
The Cork woman is now officially Munster’s queen of comedy, and will represent the South West in the show’s national finale tomorrow week, on December 7. She will also play a gig at Cork’s City Limits comedy club tonight (Monday, December 2).
Sinéad, who works as a social worker at Cork’s Simon Community, says she is looking forward to the competition’s finale, but making people laugh matters to her the most.
“If you’re enjoying yourself on stage, people will enjoy you too, but if you’re nervous, the audience can pick up on that.
“And, for me, it’s all about making people laugh,” she says.
Brian Coughlan, City Limits founder and owner, admires Sinéad’s clean and modest style of comedy, saying people come to his club to relax after a long week of hard work, and “they want to relate to the material”.
“John and Mary work hard all week, they want to come to the club and have fun,” he says.
Brian says he often feels dismayed listening to some “crude” or “adult” jokes, as some comics feel compelled to write such material.
“Sinéad was the first comic I saw that wasn’t trying to be crude. She was herself, there is something very natural about her,” Brian says. “She won the competition fair and square.”
Stand-up comedy, especially the club scene, has been traditionally dominated by men. Female comics often struggle to find their way into the mainstream. At this year’s Electric Picnic, for example, only six women were booked to perform on the main comedy stage, while more than 20 male comics gigged at the Laois-based festival.
Sinéad hopes that by watching her compete and do her stand-up, funny Cork women will feel encouraged and inspired to pursue their own comedy dreams.
“It shouldn’t matter if you’re a woman or you’re black or white, your talent should be all that matters at the end of the day,” she says. “I like to encourage women to try stand-up comedy. I like to think the best person always wins.”
Cornelius says, as the manager of the COCO, he has observed “a dearth of female comics, particularly in Cork”.
“One or two funny women are working in the circuit, so hopefully, Sinéad will inspire a new crop to make us laugh,” he says. “Here’s hoping she makes it to the very top.”
Sinéad, who is also an amateur actor and singer, says her main focus is to avoid getting discouraged by things like audiences’ cold reactions to a joke.
“I think sometimes you actually learn from bad nights, so you go back and rewrite the punchline and make it better,” she says.
“But it can be very hard not to take it personally because it’s your own material, but what can you do, beside trying your best?”
‘Stand up and be Funny’s final stand-off will air on the Ray D’Arcy show on RTÉ One. The winner will be crowned as Ireland’s queen or king of comedy and gets to work on a comedy pilot with RTÉ.
To follow Sinéad’s stand-up journey see https://www.instagram.com/social_sinead/.
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