Tony Cantwell breaks out from the internet

Ryan Carrick

Despite Storm Ciara battering the west coast, a crowd packed out the Town Hall Theatre in Galway braved the elements to see one of the biggest emerging Irish comedians, Tony Cantwell. The audience assembled at the bar before being called into the auditorium for the first for a line of shows titled “Pure Grá”.

The audience assembled at the bar before being called into the auditorium for the first for a line of shows titled “Pure Grá”.

Tony made a name for himself by posting videos to Facebook since 2015 but broke onto the scene in a major way in 2016 with the iconic video titled “Soft Drink”, in which he plays a lad from Clongowes telling his mates that he will nip out in the Punto to get the gang some soft drinks.

Since then, he has embodied several different characters from across Irish society including “your ma’s mate”, a Homer Simpson/typical Irish dad mash-up and the Dublin Frenchman. Tony has racked up over five million views on his videos online.

Although still in its infancy, his stand-up career has been just as successful with the “Softboy” show in 2018 and “LIVE Feed” in 2019, both of which sold out. Tony has performed at the Edinburgh and Dublin Fringe Festivals and many times for Cherry Comedy.

In his gigs, he has found ways to effectively amalgamate elements of his online comedy with traditional stand-up. He has also started a weekly podcast called “Tony Cantwell’s Shitshow”.

Fellow comedian Martin Angolo supported Tony, and will do so for the run of the tour, getting the crowd nice and warmed up with a rake of puns and jokes, while claiming he was only there to “prove Tony has a black friend.” Tony then graced the stage, welcomed by an eruption of cheers and applause.

He kicked off with an interactive exercise that involved singing along to football chants that he had conjured up using the tunes of popular songs, a segment that followers of his Instagram would be familiar with. For example, he sang a chant about Liverpool footballer Takumi Minamino to the tune of ABBA’s “Mamma Mia”. Then he moved on to using the names of people in the audience.

The rest of the show consisted of a trip down memory lane in a structure that was aligned with the religious rites those who were raised Catholic would have experienced.

Tony made a point of comparing the penance that is dished out in Confession today to what it was when he made his First Holy Confession. As it turns out, sins like talking back to your Mam and throwing a water balloon at a neighbour who isn’t allowed to get wet because they’re about to get their picture taken, were much more serious offenses 20 years ago than they are now, in the eyes of a priest.

From discussing how he dealt with his parents’ divorce and the benefits of bidets to performing a rap he wrote about camogie players when he was 13, this show proves that there is room for surreal, silly (but very clever) comedy in Ireland.

The gig is a model for internet comedians looking to successfully make the transition to stand-up comedy. Despite a hiccup or two, “Pure Grá” is a hilarious journey through Tony’s childhood and early adulthood and an accurate representation of Irish society.

Ryan Carrick 

Image Credit: Aviary Talent