A suitcase full of stories with All Irish Storytelling Comedy’s Ronnie Neville
Globetrotting International Irish Storyteller Ronnie Neville is back at Fringe World this summer, bringing All Irish Storytelling Comedy to The Paramount Room at Paramount Night Club from Friday, January 20; and Allstars at The Aberdeen Hotel from Sunday, January 22 (get more info and tickets here). From Cork to Perth with a suitcase full of stories, Neville’s career as a “pitch man” has taken him to the most unlikely places, from street corners to Chinese factories, to appearances on US television. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Ronnie Neville to hear stories of his travels across our state and across the world, complete with encounters with Motorcycle gang members, police officers, disobedient dogs, corporate business men, donkeys and more.
So you have survived another year in Australia! What’s something new you learnt about living down under in the past year?
The birds sound like their trying out for Australia’s Got Talent every morning at 5 am so a pair of ear plugs are handy if you’re hung over Sunday morning!
I highly recommend getting swimming lessons before learning how to surf.
Drink plenty of water, stay hydrated, buy a hat and a bunch of cheap sunnies when heading to Rottnest Island there’s nothing funny about sunstroke. I can tell you that right now. Irish skin wasn’t designed for this Australian sun.
Bring extra tyres when driving up north and bring extra toilet paper and a shovel. The flies in the bush never leave you alone, they’re like a divorce lawyer hanging around in the waiting room of a marriage counsellor’s office.
And is there anything about this country that still doesn’t make sense to you?
Yes the sheer size of Australia, it’s massive! Two hours drive and nothing’s there, while you can go from one side of Ireland to the other in two hours.
I was telling someone the other day back home where in the world do dogs have their own beach? And more than one in the space of a few kilometres too. Dog parks, okay…but a whole beach? Can you believe that dogs have their own beach? Probably one of the most beautiful beaches in the world is dedicated to dogs, I just love it! I think it’s fantastic!
My favourite thing to do is going for a walk along dog beach seeing the excitement in these dogs’ faces when they see another dog, it’s just brilliant. It reminds me of being in school, meeting up with your buddies as a kid, or when they ring the final bell and school’s over and you can’t wait to get outside and have a laugh with your friends.
They’re delighted running around splashing in the water chasing balls and the dogs do the same. Seriously everyone is still sleep walking with a coffee in hand trying to call their dog but to no avail.
My favourite is when someone fires the ball down the beach and the dog just ignores them and the owner has to do the walk of shame and retrieve the ball themselves. I find that hilarious. If you listen to some good music and watch the action unfold it’s absolutely priceless. I catch myself laughing every time I’m walking along the beach. It’s better than any TV show.
You’ll see a small dog barking at a big dog and the big one is completely ignoring the little one. It reminds me of road rage when one person is beeping like crazy and the other is just ignoring them. This for me is real entertainment.
It’s great to have you back at Fringe this summer with your new show All Irish Storytelling Comedy. What are you looking forward to most about taking this show to the stage?
The game plan last year was just have fun telling the stories and listening to the response from the audience and leaning in to the unknown. I’m just telling stories the same way I’d tell my brothers or good friends in the pub in Ireland.
When I get going I’m not on a stage with a microphone with 100 people looking up at me I’m leaning against a bar having a drink somewhere in West Cork having the Craic just telling them about something I noticed that day or a story I heard and the audience absolutely love that.
I love taking action and just getting stuck in. People can tell when you’re in the moment and present and having fun, it’s like electricity. It’s exciting to get on board with no structure, no-word-for word scripts, just pulling stories out of thin air and seeing where we end up. You feel alive and the audience feeds off that. The feedback from last year’s performance was incredible the audience loved every minute and the reviews people were leaving said it all.
And what were some of the ways you heard people describe you?
A lot of people were comparing me to Dave Allen and Billy Connolly. It’s probably the Irish accent and the storytelling style. I really get into the stories like it happened just yesterday. I’m jumping around the place but to be honest the best comedians I’ve ever heard are the guys I used to work with on the construction sites in Cork. It used to rain every day so you had to have a sense of humour. Everyone was telling stories and taking the piss out of each other, it was great.
I’m the youngest out of seven and I was always telling stories and entertaining the family. You’re constantly listening and observing. When you get a chance to talk you have to keep their attention so you have to be funny or one of my siblings would just talk over me and you’d just disappear into the sound of talking and laughing.
How did you originally get into performing, and how did that shape your style of comedy?
I’m a pitch man. I traveled the world pitching products at markets and fairs and street corners. It’s the rawest form of entertainment you’ll ever see, similar to street performing. You pull a pitch, or we would say, pull an edge, or a crowd in front of you. You would stand up on a milk crate in the middle of a street anywhere in the world and pull some goods out of a suitcase and go to work. And if you’re not funny no one buys anything. You have to be entertaining and quick with comebacks, but it’s the best feeling in the world when you turn an edge.
I have been on Portobello Road, London, New York, and Hong Kong, fly-pitching on streets corners. Perfume, jewellery…out of the back of cars sitting down on milk crates pulling a pitch. It’s wild stuff, full of characters. One week I was in Mexico City pitching these kitchen gadgets the following week I was up in Anchorage Alaska pitching natural sea sponges for exfoliating skin out of a horse box we rented. I was flying into China filling up suitcases and seeing where I could find a city where they spoke English and I would go to work.
It’s a different world. I made it on to TV in America because some guy spotted me selling vegetable peelers on the streets in New York! You can look up the TV commercials, it’s still on TV over in the USA. You can find it on YouTube with “Ultimate Irish peeler, The greatest Irish sales man from all time.”
So doing stand-up comedy came naturally from that. If you’re not funny on a street pulling a pitch no one buys anything from you.
What are some of the products you were pitching, and did you ever have funny responses from customers?
I sold fancy furry hand cuffs for the bedroom at the Brisbane Royal Show. My stand was right across from the QLD Police recruitment stand! I had mighty Craic altogether, I started saying they’re the new police training hand cuffs. Once you sign up to be a police officer you get a pastry rolling pin for a bat and a pair of my Government-approved and tested Pink Leopard print furry hand cuffs to test out for yourself. The crowd was loving it including the police. We had a right laugh for the whole show. And between me and you I sold a big bunch of them to the new recruits!
I sold a kitchen whisk where you push it up and down at a Sexpo in Brisbane. I thought it was a cooking show I was standing there with a chef’s jacket and chef’s hat on surrounded by people selling sex toys and I was trying to show people how to make Irish brown bread with a hand-held whisk!
Once I sold a fancy onion chopper to a Motorcycle gang member, big huge bloke! His onion chopper exploded into a million pieces when he tried to use it! He came back into the shopping centre ready to rip my head off asking for his money back. I was surrounded by loads of elderly women in the middle of a pitch and he barged through going crazy shouting something like “f this, f that,” and what luck I have, I was just explaining to the group of elderly ladies to use two hands always! So he was going off on a huff, and I said “how did you use it before you broke it?”
And he smacked the one I was using with one hand and said it just fell apart and I said ladies who would like to explain what he did wrong? Well they all chimed in like a choir, you didn’t use your two hands and they started giving out to him. He didn’t know what to do. I said would you like to give it a test run? So I had this group of elderly ladies talking gently to this giant bear of a man like he was a baby! It was very funny to watch they were treating him like a toddler, saying “no, no, do it again, come on now, you can do it, try something soft like a small tomato, two hands.” After a while I said would you like a new one or your money back, and he said he wanted two. But he warned me it better not break or I’ll break it off your head tomorrow. I said no worries just always use your two hands. I forgot to mention it was my last day!
You must have travelled far and wide as well?
I flew to China in my early twenties to buy products to sell. I didn’t even know you needed a visa for the main land China. Once I got my visa from Hong Kong I got a lift to the border. No one spoke English, I said “Hotel, Hotel, Hotel,” woke up the next morning looking for an interpreter and saw all these business men from America sitting in the hotel and said “hello, my name is Ronnie…first time in China, can you recommend any factories to visit? I want to buy fake gold chains plated gold.” They couldn’t stop laughing, so I joined these businesses men for breakfast and they worked for all these big corporations in America like Coca-Cola and Jack Daniels as purchasing agents.
Well I told them about myself and they got a farce kick out of it that. I had no experience and no research done about China, but they gave me business cards and contacts of the factory’s interpreters. I was on a bullet train the next morning heading north to some city called Ningbo, and well I bought a few suit cases and filled them up with jewellery. I remember I stopped off at a restaurant where they gave me donkey stew, I couldn’t eat it because my neighbour had a donkey back home called Ned and he was like a family pet. Poor old Ned I was thinking to myself.
Anyway I flew back into Auckland New Zealand and bought a fold-up table and started selling plated gold chains on the street. I sold one suit case in a day well I’m telling you now I felt like a millionaire I bought a round of drinks that night at an Irish bar in Auckland and I was telling everyone about my adventure to Ningbo China. I was repeating this trip for years, flying into major cities around the world telling jokes and story’s selling gadgets and making business contacts. I ended up on TV in America selling products., and more importantly collecting stories from my travels to now share with everyone that comes to the show.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to turn their passion into a career?
You need a deadline book something in. The faster you do it the quicker you’ll make mistakes and that’s when you really learn. You will learn something that’s absolutely priceless and that’s dealing with rejection!
You’ll be facing it straight on but you know what, you gave it a go instead of talking about it. Keep coming back and you’ll get better and better. You can not beat Experience.
Remember the first time you got on a bicycle? Wait maybe that’s too far back. Maybe the first time you started driving a car each week you get better and better and it’s same with everything else, just take action and with time you will get better. Set a deadline, book something in so you stop making excuses and take action. Say hello to everyone, ask questions and be inquisitive. Have a go!