“They might be an embarrassing rock dinosaur, but they’re our embarrassing rock dinosaur.” Andrew O’Neill is talking, in quite passionate terms about mainstream culture’s reaction to Metallica’s upcoming Glastonbury headline show. “You know, I can take the piss out of my family, but when someone from outside does it it’s like ‘Fucking watch it mate!” It’s a typically on the money quote from a man who is defined by two things; being very funny and being a committed metal head.
If you’ve been to a festival and wandered over to the comedy stage at any point in the last half a decade the chances are you’ve seen O’Neill’s warped brand of comedy that is alternative in every sense of the word. He’s referred to himself as ‘The Converge of comedy’ many times in the past, but Watain’s Erik Danielsson as played by Spike Milligan is a closer fit. It seems like a no-brainer that O’Neill would tackle the subject of heavy metal in more depth as he does in new show Andrew O’Neill’s History Of Heavy Metal. Not that it came to him easily.
“I was just sat on a train coming back from a gig and it popped into my head and I actually went ‘DUUUUUUUUUHHHHH’ to myself. People must have thought I was mentally ill. It takes every aspect of the genre from the birth of rock ‘n’ roll up to the present day. Which is quite a challenge in an hour. I’ve found doing previews that I’m having to get so many facts in that I’m choosing to leave out the jokes!” He laughs.
This patently is bollocks. O’Neill possesses what those in ‘the biz’ would call funny bones, an ability to read out the phone book and make you giggle. But tackling a subject so close to him has come with a unique set of challenges. He talks of an unwillingness to “sell out on metal”, if you think this is going to be a show laughing at metal then think again. “I absolutely didn’t want to resort to laughing at people’s clothes or the ridiculous excesses of metal. Because I fucking love it. Black metal, which is my favourite subgenre, was born out of Norwegians being sick of jocks getting into death metal and going ‘Right, well we’re going to dress and act in a way that you’ll hate’ and that’s what I love about it. When people tell me that they don’t like the aesthetics of black metal I just say ‘Well it isn’t for you then is it. Fuck off.’ That’s the attitude I took into writing this show. It’s about how much I love all that stuff, I’m in no way sniggering at it.”
But, as a jobbing club comic playing to many punters who are unfamiliar with metal, surely some compromise has to be made?
“Oh this show is for everyone. I wanted my mum to be able to come and see it and find it funny AND learn something as well. She came to see it and I was quizzing her afterwards ‘Okay, what’s the difference between death metal and black metal?’ and she told me!”
O’Neill intends to tour the show after its run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe with a full band. Again, this is something he’s all too familiar with, as a stalwart of many hardcore bands in his pre-stand up years and a current member of The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. “When I started doing stand up I would just walk into a venue and not have to load up any equipment. It was great. But I was getting my guitar and amp out of the car before a preview of the show the other day and I suddenly went ‘Where did it all go wrong!” he laughs. “But I cut my teeth on the underground circuit and, as I say in the show, this is as good a time for music as any. Yeah I don’t like Avenged Sevenfold or Linkin Park but there are so many great underground bands at the moment like Kremated and… oh I just heard Acme the other day. You’ll love that band.”
Andrew O’Neill; funny man and underground music connoisseur … and he’s our funny man and underground music connoisseur.
See Andrew O’Neill’s History Of Heavy Metal at The Pleasance: Jack Dome during The Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 30th July – 24th August. For tickets visit www.pleasance.co.uk.