My accidental comedy career

EMMA CONNOLLY catches up with stand-up comedian, Cork woman, Sinead Quinlan, from Carrignavar, to talk about Covid, The Den and her plans for the future
My accidental comedy career

Comedian Sinead Quinlan from Carrignavar.

A YOUNG Cork comedian has seen her career sky-rocket over the past few months, despite not being able to perform a single stage gig due to Covid.

Sinead Quinlan won the heart of the nation as the roving reporter in The Den when it returned to our screens late last year, and she’s also the brains behind the RTÉ player mini series called Seriously Sinead?

But the 27-year-old from Carrignavar (which she describes as ‘a small village that randomly has an outdoor swimming pool’) describes her foray into comedy as completely accidental.

She has a BA in English and History; a Higher Diploma in Social Policy and a Masters Degree in Social Work from UCC, but after graduating from her Masters she wanted to try different things out before settling into a 9-5 job.

Sinead Quinlan also wrote a pilot for the RTE Player called 'Seriously Sinead', which she worked on with the authors of Ah My God, What a Complete Aisling.
Sinead Quinlan also wrote a pilot for the RTE Player called 'Seriously Sinead', which she worked on with the authors of Ah My God, What a Complete Aisling.

“I said I would try stand-up once, as a kind of bucket list thing. I was coming on Instagram stories telling funny stories but that was my only experience really.

“Another bucket list thing was to speak at a wellness event and I was invited to speak at an event hosted by FitGuru.ie in the Everyman Theatre in June, 2019. The Hardy Bucks were the MCs and they saw my talk, which was about things I had learned on the Masters, but with a comedy element.

“I spoke to them about wanting to try out comedy and they said I had great potential and invited me to be their opening act next time they were in Cork. Before I knew it they gave me a call. That was in October and it’s only in hindsight I realise how insane it was to do my first ever gig in a professional comedy club with zero experience whatsoever.”

FINDING HER COMIC VOICE

She went down a storm with the audience, which gave her the taste for more, and after that her dad saw that Ray Darcy was running a competition for new comedy talent called Stand Up and Be Funny.

“I had only done two gigs at that point, but I got through to the Munster final, then I ended up winning that and before I knew it I was on live TV, and that was only my seventh gig,” she recalls.

Sinead, at a stand-up comedy gig, which she misses doing, due to the pandemic.
Sinead, at a stand-up comedy gig, which she misses doing, due to the pandemic.

At the time she was due to emigrate to Australia, which she put on hold, but the fact she went on to win the competition outright, on live TV, made that bitter pill easier to swallow. So far, so fast!

“So, before I knew it really I was entrenched in the comedy scene and doing something I really loved.

“Part of the prize for winning the Ray Darcy competition was an opportunity to write a pilot for the RTÉ Player. There were no guarantees that it would go further than that.

“I’ve always loved writing and its something I’ve done all my life. I couldn’t believe what an opportunity I was given and wrote the best pilot I could. I had no expectations and just enjoyed writing it. There was so much creative freedom. It was whatever I wanted it to be.

“I wrote the pilot during the first lockdown and it really kept me going because all the gigs were gone. We got it filmed just before the next lockdown so I feel very grateful to have gotten it done.

“It’s called Seriously Sinéad? (a phrase used by my parents all my life) and is based on me, but an exaggerated version of me. A caricature of myself basically.

“A lot of it is based on real life events and some is made up but that’s the beauty of comedy, you never know what’s true and what’s not.

“Its fun, light-hearted and a bit mad at times.

“There are four main themes, figuring out how to get stand up back in my life, my love life, tackling my social awkwardness and tackling my fears. All while experiencing a global pandemic.”

Co-authors of the best-selling Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling series, Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, worked on the pilot with her, and RTÉ loved it so much they turned it into a four-part series and even gave it two TV slots.

“Its very rare for a player series to be given a TV slot so, fingers crossed, I might be able to make more.”

TAKING PART IN THE DEN

Next up for Sinead in her year of years, was appearing on her favourite childhood show, The Den. How did that come about?

“They just asked me to do it and I said yes — I actually thought it was a trick question at first I couldn’t believe it! I suppose I already had met Ray Darcy and he knew my style of comedy. They had this role of roving reporter and thought I would be a great fit.

“I felt so privileged to be asked as The Den is such an iconic show and to be able to take part in a show already so loved was incredible. I wanted to add to it as best I could while still very much being myself. I enjoyed every second of it and I think that came across.

Sinead Quinlan with her colleagues on The Den.
Sinead Quinlan with her colleagues on The Den.

“I think the most amazing part of it returning was not only for nostalgia purposes for those who would have watched it but now there’s a whole new generation who got to fall in love with it.”

Covid (and, she jokes, perhaps budget!) meant as a roving reporter she didn’t actually get to go anywhere!

“I was actually in the studio with them. I travelled up from Cork every Sunday morning and it was a running joke that I was going to all these different places when it was just me and a green screen.

“Every time the lads said ‘Come in, Sinéad!’, they would look to their right and were actually looking directly at me.”

She admits to be a little star struck when meeting Dustin and Zig and Zag: “They were my childhood heroes and are now also my adulthood heroes. Everyone working on The Den made me feel so welcome and were an absolute pleasure to work with.

“You could tell everyone on The Den team was so happy to be working on it.”

For now, Sinead is continuing with some online gigs and with her writing.

“All gigs being cancelled was of course understandable, but was devastating for everyone. I think we are all just doing the best we can with whatever work we can get.

“I think most people have moved online now. I do a few online gigs now. They are not as bad as I first thought but nothing beats performing in front of a live audience. That silence when you close the laptop after a gig is deafening. Hopefully live entertainment can come back soon.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Living in Cork city with two friends, Sinéad worked as a support worker for Cork Simon for four years. She has one brother, Éamon, an electrician, mom is Sheila, an accountant technician, and dad is Eddie, a psychiatric nurse.

“We’ve a very musical family. We can all sing and play instruments,” said Sinead, who honestly admits to feeling loneliness during Covid.

“I do enjoy my own company but not this much, its not healthy. That and hugs, I didn’t realise how much I loved hugs until they were gone. It’s the basic things I miss like sitting in a coffee shop with a book.”

Sinead says she hopes to travel when things get back to normal, after Covid-19.
Sinead says she hopes to travel when things get back to normal, after Covid-19.

But she insists she’s very much a ‘glass half full person’.

“The career I was just getting started in was basically wiped overnight, but instead of lamenting I just looked at other avenues.

“The comedy clubs have been closed for almost a full year. When you’re a creative person you need to focus that energy somewhere, for me it was writing.

“For others it was a podcast or something, but finding something to funnel that energy into was so important. I’m more adaptive and resilient than I thought.”

When ‘normality’ resumes, what’s her plan?

“Travelling, for sure! There are so many places to see in the world and I’ll never take being able to get on a plane for granted again.

“Other than that, I just want to get developing my craft. It’s such early days for me. The main plan is to keep creating, keep laughing, and keep giving everything my absolute all.”

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