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Image / Agenda / Business

My Career: Activist and comedian Diane O’Connor


By Diane O'Connor
13th Nov 2022

Photo by Luke Benson

My Career: Activist and comedian Diane O’Connor

Diane O'Connor is a stand-up and improv comedian from Dublin. Just after performing her new one-woman show, The Accidental Activist, this week, here she shares more about her day-to-day.

Did you always want to be a comedian?
No, I don’t think I always knew it was a thing. From when I was a child I always wanted to perform and loved making people laugh. Initially, I pursued acting as being a comedian wasn’t even on my radar, so acting seemed like the obvious way to do this. But in retrospect, comedy, improv and just being in a theatre or on stage were my real passions, I just hadn’t figured out there were lots of ways to do it.

In college, I studied… acting, then I trained to be a drama facilitator and then a few years later I did a Drama & Theatre Studies H Dip as I thought it would improve my career prospects (I laugh as I say this, I was actually working more before it!), but then graduated straight into a recession so the joke was on me! I still loved each of those courses and think they all contributed to where I am now. I like to tell myself there is no wrong path, just many different ones – only symbolically of course…

My most formative work experience was… probably working as a drama facilitator. I loved it so much and got such a buzz out of it so it was the first time I realised I could be happy working in something that wasn’t acting. The skills that you develop as a facilitator (and especially during my training, I had amazing teachers) will stand to you in any job – particularly comedy; listening, thinking on your feet, being aware of how people in the room are responding and being empathetic. And also planning – always have a firm plan but be willing to throw it out the window if needed.

Photo by Michael Sable

My first real job was… SuperQuinn, of course! Remember that one?! How exciting it was to make €3 an hour. I remember my first payslip was like €33 and was lodged into my Tusa account. Definite nostalgia brownie points for anyone who remembers Tusa Bank.

The most invaluable thing I learned early on in my career was… to work for people you respect and that respect you and are working to make the scene better for everyone. You may have to turn down a gig or two but you will sleep better at night for it. Also, show up on time and don’t go over your allocated time – you are taking someone else’s time if you do.

A common misconception about what I do is… that we are joke jukeboxes and can lash out a joke on demand at a family dinner or in a taxi. I learnt quickly not to tell the taxi driver what I do. I say that, BUT a couple of weeks back I was having a bit of banter with the taxi driver so I told him, predictably he asked for a joke, stupidly I told him one… His response? He told me one of his jokebook jokes. I totally deserved it!

My main responsibility in work is to… make people laugh. If I’m not doing that, then I’m not doing my job; I’m not happy, the promoter is not happy and the audience is wondering why they didn’t stay home and watch Netflix instead.

Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from?
Yes, it’s something that took me a long time to do as I thought I was supposed to know it all and questions would mean I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! But recently I am getting better at reaching out if there’s something I am unsure about or having conversations with comics about bits in my set I feel need work. Also, Mothers Artists Makers – a parenting artist group I am a member of – has been a massive part of my journey in showing how to make it work while juggling caring responsibilities. You miss a lot of opportunities, festivals and other stuff, but they do amazing work in advocating for child-friendly practices and supporting parents who are looking to return to the field.

The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far is… probably my latest show which tries to make the Climate Emergency funny. It’s just low-hanging fruit really. I get more political than I would in my usual set and have a go at some billionaires… hope they’re not reading this.

I wake at… 7am normally or whenever my one-year-old decides to descend upon me with cuddles or launch a book at my head shouting, “Read!”

Photo by Luke Benson

The first thing I do every morning is… try to convince the aforementioned one-year-old that it would be fun to sleep for 10 more minutes or read the book herself so I can doze off. I fail every time, but that doesn’t stop me from trying which is mad because if a joke failed that often you would bin it!

My morning routine is… get dressed, feed my two lovely children, help my 6-year-old get ready for school and desperately try to be on time – which goes about as well as getting the one-year-old to chill out with the Gruffalo. In my defence, it’s far from an 8:30am school start we were raised! When I get back from drop off I try to catch up on emails, then when my toddler naps, I write and do some social media.

I can’t go to work without… my notebook and pen.

I travel to work by… foot, bus or train – I try to stay on brand! All I’m missing is the cycling. I used to cycle to work years ago but fracturing my elbow while falling off a stationary bike along with some other misadventures made me think I’m better on my own two feet.

On an average workday I… try to spend time writing, looking for or booking gigs, promoting upcoming gigs and my favourite – getting on stage. Most recently, I’ve been busy prepping for my show so if I had rehearsal, I’d go to Axis in Ballymun to meet my director Kelly Shatter.

I break for lunch at… the time my toddler sleeps. I’ve been known to get a sandwich into me at 10am. When you miss enough lunches you start to stock up in advance.

The most useful business tool I use every day is… my pen and paper, though I suppose my phone is indispensable as it’s how all gigs are booked these days.

I rarely get through my working day without… spending too much time on social media, then scolding myself for it.

The best part of my day is… being on stage and getting to chat to other comedians. The comedy scene is really exciting at the moment I think. It feels like there are more clubs and comedians than ever and such varied styles in what each has to offer. Also the learning, I feel like from both a writing and performing point of view – and from watching other comics – I am always learning something new.

The most challenging part of my day is… if I have a bad gig, I will literally be replaying and dissecting it in my head all night. You feel really crap when that happens, it generally stays with me for two days then I have to get on with it and remind myself that I actually do know what I’m doing.

I know it’s been a good day if… I sleep well after a gig.

I usually end my day at… 12am with tea and toast if I have a gig and 5pm if I don’t have a gig, so you couldn’t exactly set your timer by me! It really varies though as with two young children it’s hectic so it’s a lot of trying to grab a few minutes here or half an hour there.

I switch off from work by… going for a couple of pints with friends, doing yoga or baking scones. Often, if I’m overwhelmed because I have to much to dom if I find myself making scones when I definitely don’t have time… it’s like my body just says “Quick get the mixing bowl out before you lose the plot.”

Before I go to bed I… TRY to write a to-do list for the next day. My memory is shocking if I don’t have things written down.

I often prepare for tomorrow by… making school lunches and double-checking my calendar (shocking memory…)

After a long work week, I destress by… having a couple of beers and a packet of Keoghs Salt & Vinegar crips while watching a terrible film with lots of plot holes. Literally nothing makes me happier.

Diane O’Connor performing at Bright Club in Whelans, photo by Luke Benson

The accomplishment I’m most proud of is… probably my last show, Breastfeeding Alfresco. I wrote it mostly during the first year my baby was born when I was in that whirlwind. I ended up being nominated for advocate of the year with the Friends of Breastfeeding award as a result of it. To be honest, it only happened as I had an amazing family willing to jump in and help with childcare etc. I remember when I approached Niamh Ní Chonchubair at Axis Ballymun to perform there she was so encouraging and supportive – that kind of gave me the belief in the show to tour it. I never really expected having a baby and my work to collide like that so it still makes me really happy when I think back on it

If you want to get into my line of work, my advice is to… go watch live comedy if it’s accessible for you. If not, watch it online. Just watch loads! Read comedians’ autobiographies too as they give good insights. Talk to comedians after gigs, write, write, write (always carry a notebook or use your phone) and don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. I’ve only recently gotten good at that part.

I’ve just finished working on… my new show, The Accidental Activist. I’ve always wanted to write about the environment and what’s going on but I didn’t have a way in, then the concept for this show came to me a couple of years ago when it was pointed out to me that I may, in fact, be an activist and it just built from there. I started developing it over a year ago as part of the Axis Assemble program in Axis Ballymun which has been an amazing experience as an artist, the expertise of the team there is second to none. This really helped me shape the show.

Diane O’Connor is a stand-up comedian,  writer and drama facilitator based in North Dublin. She was one of 29 artists engaged in the Axis Assemble Programme in 2021. Diane is also a climate activist who loves combining her passion for the environment and the arts to create, educate and entertain and is one half of the social enterprise The Sustainable Life School.