Derek Richards can offer some advice about Irish pubs.
It’s simple. When people walk into an Irish place and see bartenders mixing an appletini, they should get out — just run. Existence of any fruity cocktails means the bar has failed the Irish authenticity test.
“You go into an Irish pub and you sit there with a shot of Jameson,” said Richards, a comedian who knows Irish jokes, stories and whiskeys. “You can hear the most funny, politically incorrect jokes. You can’t help but laugh at them.”
Irish Comedy Tour
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $30
MORE INFO: www.theirishcomedytour.com
WHEN: March 14-17
WHERE: GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $75, $65
MORE INFO: www.tonylovestina.com/finnegans
The Irish Tenors
WHEN: March 15
WHERE: Proctors Mainstage, 432 State St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $65-$20
MORE INFO: www.theirishtenorsmusic.com
Richards and friends Mike McCarthy and Derrick Keane are hoping people at the GE Theatre at Proctors can’t help but laugh tonight. Their show, the Irish Comedy Tour, begins at 7:30 p.m.
The show is the first of three Irish-themed shows this month at the Schenectady theater complex, as the Capital Region prepares for St. Patrick’s Day. “Finnegan’s Farewell” — which will bring an Irish priest, eulogies, sing-alongs and a missing corpse to the GE Theater at Proctors stage — will be in town Thursday through St. Patrick’s Day.
The Irish Tenors — Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan — will perform Friday, March 15, on the Proctors Mainstage. The guys will wear dark suits and green ties and do their “Let’s Celebrate Ireland” show.
All in good fun
Richards has been a stand-up comedian since 1993 and been with the Irish Comedy Tour since its inception in 2006. “It’s like an Irish pub and a comedy show in a food processor,” Richards said.
Keane will play guitar and act as master of ceremonies. Damon Leibert will be on the fiddle. Richards and fellow stand-up Mike McCarthy will be on joke and story detail.
Richards, who grew up in Detroit, takes inspiration from a grandfather born in Ireland. Grandpa also knew how to tell stories, and he told them in a way that never offended anyone.
“After the show, we’ll see people who are German, Italian, Greek, and they’ll say, ‘Our grandfathers said the same things,’ ” Richards said.
Richards believes the best comedians are people who live life, bring funny scenes from their lives to the stage and make audience participation fun. He added that his best material comes from a colorful family: “When I come home, I sit in a corner and bring a notebook,” Richards said.
He’s glad to tell a joke inspired by the Irish and their legendary love of beer.
“The classic joke is: Three guys walk into a bar, a Frenchman, an Irishman and a Scotsman,” Richards said. “They each order a Guinness, and right at that time, a fly falls into each one of the beers.
“The Frenchman, disgusted, pushes his beer back and says, ‘I’m not going to take it.’ The Scotsman pulls the fly out and drinks the beer. The Irishman pulls out the fly, holds him over the glass and says ‘Spit it out!’ ”
Schenectady will say hello to the “Farewell” on Thursday. The show features four professional actors — plus amateur actors chosen from around the Capital Region.
“It’s an interactive show,” said Chuck Santoro, who created it along with Kevin Alexander. “It’s about this Irish family and coming together and remembering the father of the family. There’s a lot of singing, dancing, Irish step dancing and Irish food. Those who are Irish love it, but we’re finding more and more people who are not Irish are coming and having just as good a time.”
Santoro, who directs the show, believes “Finnegan’s Farewell” works because the Irish are so passionate about their culture. It also works, he said, because so many people become interested in Irish culture during the middle of March.
“I think everyone wants to be Irish this time of year,” Santoro said. “On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is caught up in the fervor. They can wear green and they can become Irish for the day.”
The play is not an exact copy of the famous Irish story and song “Finnegan’s Wake,” in which Tim Finnegan falls from a ladder, is believed dead and taken to his wake. There’s a fight, and contents from a broken whiskey bottle revive him.
“We’ve fleshed it out,” Santoro said. “Our family is much bigger and a little more modern. We have a Jewish lawyer and an African-American tap dancer. That’s the other thing — it’s about cultures. There are a lot of stereotypes when it comes to culture and I think this show breaks them down.”
More than 30 people are in the cast, including Richard Harte as Paddy Finnegan and Patricia Van Tassel as Mrs. Finnegan. Faces in the play change, and so do the words.
“This was written with New York in mind,” Santoro said. “The Finnegans were from Queens. We change it, depending on the community. Now, the Finnegans are going to be from Schenectady; we’ll even throw in names of people from the town.”
Sounds of old country
Anthony Kearns of the Tenors has been on stage somewhere in March for the past 15 years.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve remembered a good Patrick’s Day, and I yearn for it,” he said just before a recent rehearsal for a show in Easton, Pa. “I’d like to spend a day somewhere and just enjoy a parade.”
The alternative is OK, too. Kearns knows why Irish music is so popular as winter fades into spring.
“It’s leading up to St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “The month of March is the Irish month, and there are so many people in America who are associated with the Irish and the celebration. People are traveling from home, from Europe, coming over to join their friends in the U.S. for St. Patrick’s Day and the various parades. It’s a popular month for the Irish, for anyone who can bang a drum or sing a song or whistle a tune.”
The drums and tunes are welcome around March 17, Kearns said — partly for St. Patrick’s Day and partly for the arrival of warm spring breezes.
“It’s a long winter, and the winters seem to be getting longer,” Kearns said. “I know from Ireland it’s been cold and wet since October — it’s a long spell to be dark and gloomy. You need some brightness and sunshine, you need that Vitamin D, that spring in the step. Then you can use the opportunity to celebrate and have these parades and festivals for St. Patrick’s Day.”
Kearns is happy to sing songs such as “Hail Glorious St. Patrick” during the Tenors’ show and equally glad to be singing old favorites like “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and “Danny Boy.”
“They’re what people want to hear, especially this time of year,” Kearns said. “Give the people what they want, that’s the bottom line.”
Sharing in the fun
Kearns believes the music remains popular because the songs and stories have been around for generations and carried to many countries.
“We’re a nation of people who have dispersed themselves to the four corners of the earth,” he said. “When you carry that music abroad, it touches a lot of people because you know the Irish have multiplied and mixed well wherever they’ve gone. There are generations of Irish, American Irish, Canadian Irish.”
The generations are happy to share St. Patrick’s Day with people who like to pretend they’re Irish during the middle of March. Kearns knows the saying that everyone’s Irish on March 17.
“That’s OK,” he said. “They’re allowed for one day; we’ll give them a free pass. I think it’s great we all join in and have a good, long laugh. Everyone gets home in once piece and then there’s no harm done.”