Dylan Moran is a cult comedian for an entire generation who grew up binge watching Black Books. Since then, the Irish actor, writer and illustrator has also had his share of time on the big screen, from 2004’s Shaun of the Dead to 2014’s Calvary. Stand-up has always been the best outlet for Moran’s wine-fuelled wit and caustic observations, however. He returns to Berlin with Dr Cosmos – the title of his latest show and name of his on-stage alter-ego. We caught up with him to chat about his new persona, a botched Brexit and, unexpectedly, Germany’s premier gardening magazine Landlust.
This Dr Cosmos alter-ego sounds like a Marvel superhero…
Yeah, he does a bit, doesn’t he? There’s probably a good compound German word for what I’m trying to get across, but I suppose he’s this snake oil salesman. We live in an era of people selling snake oil, so I suppose I’m setting myself up as another salesman selling quick, fix-all solutions to the gullible. It’s interesting going on stage as Dr Cosmos as opposed to Dylan Moran.
So it’s fair to say that this stage persona is your answer to the current fucked up state of things?
Exactly, and I think that the current atmosphere brings out these strange carny folks that come down from the hills. Trump and Brexit are iterations of that in one form or another. And the show is about now – about coping with the times we’re living in.
You’ve also written a TV pilot featuring Dr Cosmos, right?
Yeah, I’ve written a pilot for a show. It’s about everyday absurdities, mental health and it’s something I’m trying to get made. After this tour, I may take next year off and devote myself to it, because I feel I’m never going to rest until I get this done.
And do you have any upcoming films in the works? John Michael McDonagh’s 2014 film Calvary was your last big-screen role, if I’m not mistaken.
It was. I might write something, and then it’ll be easier to get a movie made that way. There’s a couple of things I’m involved in coming out soon, but right now, I’m focussing on the tour and some television projects.
The last time I saw you live in Berlin, you painted a portrait of Europe as this dysfunctional train with each country representing an unruly passenger. With what’s been happening in the last few years, it’s an image that’s become even more prescient…
Yeah, and I totally believe that comedy needs to tackle this stuff. The world’s on fire, there’s no doubt about it, and if you look around, there’s nobody in the front cab, you know? We’re all concerned, so it really is important that people talk to one another right now, because we’ve still got some serious shit around the corner. It’s absolutely crucial that everybody keeps talking, and laughter can provoke that.
You’re of the opinion that comedy shouldn’t provide a cathartic break from the shitshow?
No, I don’t think it should give a break from it – I think it’s the church on fire that’s doing its final genuflect. What we’re in now is an end of an era, and when the mother phoenix comes out of the ashes, then we’ll see. But for now, we’re in the middle of trying times and comedy needs to hold up a mirror.
Are there going to be any of your illustrations in the show, as your previous shows featured projections of your drawings as a backdrop?
Aw shucks, you have seen me live before! But not this time, no. It featured heavily in the previous tour, as I would draw pictures when I was supposed to be writing. But this time, I just got on with it and I’m leaving my doodles to one side. There’s enough to talk about with what’s going on at the moment!
You’re currently based in Edinburgh, far from what you’ve referred to as the Irish emotional currency of shame, blame and vengeance. It must be an interesting place to be in with regards to the English act of self-sabotage that is Brexit…
(Laughs) So true! It’s like Catalonia here in a way – people talk about independence a lot, and whether or not it’ll happen remains to be seen. But certainly, in terms of identity and values, there’s something very European about Edinburgh. And you know how the vote went – all yellow in London and all yellow in Scotland. Scotland has a good vantage point on events, as there’s that European feel but also because we’re so far up north. There’s a sense of shared values with Scandinavian countries – it’s very progressive, very enlightened. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have its own streak of miserabilism, and it is cold, but you can have a time here! Maybe it’s because of population density – about 8 percent of the population lives on the equivalent of 35 percent of Britain’s landmass. That reminds me…(laughs)…Have you heard of a German magazine called Landlust?
Nope, but it sounds delightful.
Landlust comes out monthly in Germany. It has a circulation of about a million copies. I like this image of people in Berlin, trapped in their office cubicles in a vast city with their heads down, but finding solace in these pictures of lakes, trees and greenery…
Maybe we should put it down to German romanticism. Getting back to your tour: you’re stopping all over Europe, from Oslo to Riga to Paris. How do audiences in Europe compare with crowds in the UK?
It really depends, and some national characteristics do come into play. But I’d be hesitant to generalise and say “Germans are like this, and the French are like this…”. I see my job as jumping into situations I don’t fully understand. I try to work it out when I get there. And when you think about it, showing up in Europe, talking in English and thinking everything will be fine is not a sane thing to go. So, I look into the places I’m going, I read about them and chat with people, asking them what’s going on.
Are you still a fan of being on the road?
Yeah, I’m excited about the whole thing and for me, this isn’t a touring show that’s the same everywhere. I like to change things, mentioning things I thought I’d forgotten and switch things up depending on where I go. I like to keep it jazzy, as opposed to a set text.
Many will know you from the TV show Black Books (2000-2004), which I still watch on a regular basis. When watching some episodes lately, it struck me how much it felt like a simpler time, in an almost anachronistic sort of way, especially with regards to our dependency on technology. It’s a topic which you’ve addressed in your shows before…
And will again! But I totally agree. It was a simpler time, a time that was much slower. I tend to say that there’s a certain mystery that has been taken away. There’s a sense of wonderment and storytelling that we would work up that’s been replaced by screens. We didn’t have our synapses permanently in a deep-fat fryer. I think that we’re trapped in the circus of things a lot of the time, and sometimes you wish people would stop looking at a fucking computer, sit in a chair for a minute and just be, you know?
Dylan Moran: Dr Cosmos, Sun, Mar 31, 18:00 | Huxley’s Neue Welt, Neukölln