Once upon a time
Better known for his stand-up, this year comedian Patrick Monahan is putting his storytelling talent to work in a show for the whole family.
If cultural background counts for anything in the world of children’s entertainment, then Patrick Monahan is well qualified. From his Irish mother he inherits the gift of the gab. From his Iranian father he inherits the storytelling tradition of the 1001 Nights. And from his own upbringing in north-east England, he brings a special kind of Geordie charm.
All of which could explain why, in addition to performing his adult stand-up set, Cowboys and Iranians, trading on his regular TV appearances on the Paul O’Grady show – Monahan is also premiering a storytelling show for children. Stories and Fables for Kids who Like Sitting at Tables is a collection of the comedian’s own morality tales, the titles of which include ‘The Man with the Table that Could Walk’, ‘The Man with No Tears’ and ‘The First Ever Kingdom with the First Ever Credit Crunch’.
“All my stand-up material is quite family-friendly,” says Monahan, who appears in the guise of a 467-year-old storyteller from the Middle East, complete with flying carpet. “I don’t really swear when I’m doing my stand-up and don’t do anything that’s graphic. I always do stories, so I thought it would be nice to do a show just for families and kids.”
In place of the loose, improvisatory nature of his stand-up act, this show is tightly constructed around a handful of interlinked stories. It isn’t material he can try out in comedy clubs, so he’s been gradually honing it in front of friends’ children, noting where they respond most enthusiastically and learning from their reactions. “If you can capture them with your stories, it’s amazing,” he says, aiming his show at anyone over five.
The Fringe is full of comedians trying to diversify, but Monahan is no dilettante. He takes the business of storytelling seriously and talks in earnest about the craft of classic children’s authors – not least because he was a latecomer to the literary world himself.
“It’s the old art of Jackanory,” he says. “When I was young I was the total opposite. I didn’t really read when I was little. I went to school in Teeside and the schools there were terrible. I didn’t learn my alphabet until I was about 14. So it’s only in the past few years that I’ve been reading stuff and it just blows you away. Like Lewis Carroll – to be honest, I’m glad I read it now, because if I’d have read it as a kid, I’d have thought the guy was on mushrooms. And I was really blown away by the original Hans Christian Andersen stories.”
In his adult evening show, he’ll be looking back on his childhood and commenting on how terrible we are at choosing our friends. For his junior audience, he’ll be concentrating on spinning a yarn. “It’s great because now I can write stuff that might not be so good for adults, but kids would love,” he says. “It’s like I’ve got two markets that complement each other.”
STORIES AND FABLES FOR KIDS WHO LIKE SITTING AT TABLES, Gilded Balloon
5-31 August (not 13, 20), 1.30pm, From £6, 0131 622 6552
If you like this, try It Was a Dark and Stormy Night at The Scottish Storytelling Centre, 7-14 August