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Patrick Kielty profile: ‘Trailblazer’ with ‘gallows humour’ who told jokes about both sides of the community

Comedian, who pokes fun at both sides of the community in Northern Ireland despite father’s murder, is odds-on favourite to replace Ryan Tubridy

*This piece was first published before the confirmation of Patrick Kielty as next host of The Late Late Show

Within a week of Patrick Kielty’s first appearance on a tiny semicircle stage at a comedy club in Belfast’s Empire Music Hall, the queues went around the block.

It was 1992, two years before the IRA ceasefire, and parts of the city were a no-go at night. Stephen Bradley was working behind the Empire bar on the evening of Kielty’s debut.

“Some of the worst atrocities were going on and our promoter along with Paddy decided to put this Tuesday comedy club night on in Belfast. It was a bit of a leap in the dark but from day one it just took off,” says Bradley, now the Empire’s entertainment manager.


“Kielty was the MC from the start. He was telling jokes about both sides of the community – he was firing stones at both sides and landing a few. It just went down a storm from the get-go.

“No one had done that sort of comedy before. They might have done it in a Catholic working men’s club or Protestant working men’s club. But this was in the middle of Belfast when there was still quite a heavy conflict going on.

“And no one knew that this was Patrick Kielty, whose father had been killed in The Troubles. He made people laugh. We had queues from our gates, round the corner up past the train station and down the street. It was quite dark times and he was a bit of light.”

On Sunday evening, bookies stopped taking bets on the 52-year-old Co Down man becoming the next presenter of The Late Late Show after an “explosion” of activity that day, making him the odds-on favourite for the role.

Born in Dundrum, Kielty began his stand-up career in the Empire while studying psychology at Queen’s University Belfast. He was 16 when his 44-year-old father Jack was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in 1988.

During an interview on The Tommy Tiernan show earlier this year he spoke of how he thought he had coped with the tragedy but subsequently realised he hadn’t. “I think that when you’re 16, and you’re running out at Croke Park with your brother who is 17, and you’ve men in changing rooms telling you that you are men, you kind of think you’re fully formed.

“Down Minors won the All-Ireland in ‘87 and we got presented with our medals just before Christmas ‘87 and my da was shot at the end of January.

“And so you were living in a society and you were part of a community that was telling you that you know, ‘you boys have to look after your mother’, you know and ‘you are men’. We had a younger brother, you know, he was 11.”

In 2015, he revealed how he had shaken hands with the leaders of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the paramilitary group linked to his father’s killing.

“The people who commanded the organisation of those who killed my father have sat in the front row of my gigs and I have shaken their hands,” he said. “Do I accept what they’ve done? No, I don’t. Do I accept that times have changed? Yes, I do.”

He was signed up by the BBC in 1995 after appearing in Comic Relief and began fronting television shows including the original Love Island. He presented his own late night talkshow and in 2002 co-hosted the BBC talent show, Fame Academy, with presenter, actress and model, Cat Deeley.

The couple began a relationship a decade later and married in Rome in 2012.

Fr Gary Donegan, a Passionist priest renowned for his reconciliation work in north Belfast, married the couple and remembers the secrecy around the ceremony as they were pursued by media. Deeley had become a household name in the United States, presenting So You Think You Can Dance from 2006.

“They’re a very normal couple, there was no top table at the wedding. Everybody had to sign a non-disclosure document and there were no photographs. I flew over to London to their house a few weeks beforehand. I met Cat Deeley, she was lovely. We went out for dinner and I remember she reached over to take food off my plate. I laughed and said to her, ‘Seriously?’ But they were just that kind of people,” says Donegan.

He described Kielty as a “trailblazer”.

“What he did... I didn’t get it initially. How can this guy make fun of something that cost his father his life? Then I realised, Paddy Kielty was one of the first people to use satirical wit to allow us to laugh at each other and the situation.

“Because of what happened in his own life, it gives him a certain authority... there’s an almost ‘gallows humour’ in Belfast that allows people to laugh at things from that perspective.”

In 2018, Kielty made a documentary exploring his own family history, My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me, and in 2021 returned to analyse Northern Ireland’s centenary amid Brexit tensions.

He and Deeley have two children and returned to live in London at the beginning of the pandemic, having lived in Los Angeles for 15 years. The couple hinted at returning to live in Ireland after he became the front-runner for the job, when initial favourite Claire Byrne ruled herself out last week.

“Let’s see if we can get it first, we can talk about that then,” Deeley said.

On Sunday evening, Kielty described RTÉ's flagship TV programme as “one of the greatest TV shows on the planet”, adding “whoever gets that gig is going to be really, really lucky”.

A spokeswoman for RTÉ said a new Late Late Show presenter would be announced “in due course”.