I appreciate this scenario is of the unlikely variety, but if you ever find yourself playing a word association game with Dara O’Briain, you might want to throw the word ‘Newcastle’ into the mix. Twice.
The popular comedian and presenter has a couple of cracking ‘When I was in Newcastle’ anecdotes which have woven themselves permanently into his memory. And when you hear them, it’s not hard to see why.
The first relates to his well known penchant for having a bit of craic with the usually packed-in audience before him.
“A particular memory in Newcastle was a routine where I would ask: ‘Is there anyone in who has saved a life?’
“I remember vividly, a man on a balcony at the City Hall telling a story about the day he was walking along the beach and saw two legs sticking out the stand. It was extraordinary.
“He ended up pulling someone - who turned out to be a child - to safety. That was the strangest story I heard on the entire tour - possibly any tour,” says the 42-year-old. “It was hilariously funny, but it was also one of those ‘Oh Jesus!’ moments. “This is a very funny, but nightmareish story, which turned out all right at the end.
“It’s always very good up there (in Newcastle),” he continues. “It’s strange because the City Hall shouldn’t work - you’ve got a big pipe organ behind you - but it does and it feels really intimate. So people talk. And talk.”
Having a slice of the unknown element to his stand up schtick has always been appealing to Dara, who grew up in Dublin and started out as a children’s TV presenter in the mid-nineties while trying out his stand up routines in comedy clubs.
“I keep thinking I should put more of it in because it’s good fun,” he says. “I enjoy the random nature of it. It keeps you on your toes.
“There are a number of reasons why I don’t think I would have been a particularly good actor, but one of them is having to say the same words in the same order over and over again. That’s not what I got into live performance for.”
I wonder whether the (assumed) terror of not knowing where a show is going ever goes away - even for someone with almost 20 years of experience under their belt?
“It’s a form of controlled panic,” he admits. “You’re absolutely gambling and there’s a definite element of risk and reward. The laughs are huge when it goes well, but the danger is always that it won’t.
“I’ll always do it though because I love it and the audience love it too because they can see you’ve got nothing up your sleeve and that things could very easily go wrong.
“You get a bigger laugh from a joke that isn’t as polished, because they know it just appeared that second.”
Having been away from the stand up tour circuit for three years, Dara says he is very much enjoying being back on the road with his new show, Crowd Tickler, which will play a couple of nights at Middlesbrough Town Hall on April 14 and 15 before landing in Newcastle for a trio of dates at the aforementioned City Gall from April 16-18.
“The tours got longer - there are so many places to play,” he says of his extended break between tours.
“Also, I have a very young family,” he adds, speaking of his two children with wife Susan, “so I needed them to get a bit older so I wouldn’t bore people by going on about them. I needed to get my head out of babyland and back to normal life before I went back out on the road.” And his family are happy to have him courting the claps of strangers.
“I get fidgety after a while away,” he says. “Partly out of the same emotional failing which made me a comedian in the first place. If I don’t have the love of a load of people I don’t know, I start to wonder who I am and if I’m worth anything.
“Then your family are asking you to stop following them around looking for applause. They’re like: ‘Go and book a tour!’”
Of course it’s not only touring and fatherhood which has been keeping Dara busy in recent years. As well as his position as chairman of the comedy bear pit panel show known as Mock the Week, Dara has become a presenting regular on the small screen including a long stint on The Apprentice: You’re Fired (from which he has just stepped down); Dara O’Briain: The School of Hard Sums (which saw the mathematics and theoretical physics graduate indulge his genuine passion for maths problems); Three Men in a Boat (and other suffixes) in which he travelled around with Rory McGrath and Griff Rhys Jones; the recent Big Adventure with fellow comic (and best friend)Ed Byrne; and Star Gazing Live alongside Professor Brian Cox.
We’re talking just a couple of days after the recent solar eclipse.
“So you have to take a few days off in the middle of the tour and tell people not to stare at the sun... although during the actual eclipse whenever the camera came back to us, it looked as it that’s exactly what we were doing,” he laughs.
“I never thought it would become such a thing. We’ve done five years and there are great plans for 2016.”
It would have to go a long way to better the adoration of a laughing crowd though.
“If you come across something that is new and works, that is a lovely feeling,” says Dara, before letting me into his second Newcastle anecdote.
“I always try and get out and about a bit when I’m touring (and not playing video games in the hotel),” he says. “The last time I was in Newcastle, I went to the Castle Keep and some bloke came in with a young lad. He pointed to the corner of where we were and said ‘don’t mind me, I’m just showing the young lad where he was conceived’.
“It was a beautiful moment.”
Dara O’Briain: Crowd Ticker will play Middlesbrough Town Hall on April 14 and 15 and then Newcastle City Hall from April 16-18. Call 01642 729 729 or 0191 277 8030 or visit www.middlesbroughtownhallonline.co.uk and www.newcastlecityhall.org respectively to book.