McInally is clearly a man of many talents. The 38-year-old poet
from Bearwood founded the poetry workshop group 'Rhubarb & Digbeth'
in 1999 along with Adrian Johnson. In 2002 he went solo, launching
himself on the unsuspecting stand-up comedy circuit.
has also appeared in a play about the Eurovision Song Contest called
'Boom Bang-a-Bang' produced by the Absolute Bananas theatre group
and does poetry workshops in local schools.
did you first get interested in poetry?
I began co-running a writing workshop called Rhubarb and Digbeth
and that's how I first starting writing poetry. I had always been
interested in writing, not necessarily poetry to start off with.
I'd written a few short stories but then I found out I could do
a sort of fairly comic slant on the world of poetry, that I didn't
have to deal with serious issues all the time.
you happy being described as a performance poet?
become known as a performance poet, which in some ways is misleading.
In terms of performance poetry, you look at these guys that are
almost like hip hop artists, whereas I'm very much more about reading
out my work. I don't regard some of them as poems actually, they're
more like short stories and observations, they just come under the
mantle of poetry.
how would you describe your performance style?
myself as a stand-up that does comic poetry as part of his act.
I have a conversational, chatty style and try to get to know the
McInally in Victoria Square
I have a self deprecating sense of humour and I'm not afraid to
mock myself. I use a lot of puns, which often get groans from the
audience, but they are deliberately bad! My act tends to usually
be about 50% poetry and 50% stand up, I think that's a good balance
between the two. Stand-up should be about taking risks. so I don't
stick to a set formula in my act.
you say your audience is quite important in terms of interplay
between you and them?
absolutely integral, because I don't tend to have a set as such.
There are the poems of course, but the rest is improvisational.
I try to tailor it to the particular evening and venue that I'm
performing at. I try to do something a bit different each time.
do you deal with hecklers?
heckling thing is a kind of myth, it doesn't go on as much as you'd
think. It happens in certain venues, so I stay wary of some comedy
clubs, where it might not to be to my advantage to perform my kind
of act. You have to try and respond to the heckles, but I try to
encourage audience participation anyway.
are your favourite poets? And is there anybody you model yourself
on when you perform?
a lot of the time I've done gigs and people have compared me to
can strike at any time!
flattering and frustrating at the same time because I don't think
I'm like him in many ways, although there is an obvious influence
there that I can't deny. That's why I think I've been trying to
get away from just being a poet and my stand up is becoming more
integral, more so than the poems in some ways.
probably regard Ian McMillan as more of an influence in terms of
poetry style and Roger McGough is someone I like as a pure poet,
he has a lot of wordplay and puns, that kind of thing.
you've been known to dress up as Roger McGough from time to
I did it at Rhubarb and Digbeth a few years ago. We tried to do
different things each month, so I didn't just dress up as Roger
McGough all the time!
performances took place in pubs, restaurants and in book shops and
we did a Christmas show where I performed as Father Christmas and
a May show where I was a Morris Dancer. It was all based on sketches
that I was writing at the time and some of them have since become
incorporated into the Brummie Comedy Cocktail which I perform that
at the Mac.
have been your best and worst gigs?
to forget about the worst gigs, to blank them out!
of the best gigs I did recently was at The Stand comedy club in
Glasgow. It was an open, new talent night and everyone had five
or ten minutes. It was only a short slot and at the end people were
saying can you tell us some more poems, so I left people wanting
of the Brummie Comedy Cocktails have been good. Earlier in the year
we did a sketch where I was dressed by Shakespeare and that worked
next to the Iron Man
for the worst ones, I do competitions and there is a bit more pressure
on there. I did a competition organised by Jongleurs the Bear Tavern
in Bearwood, which is where I'm from and I thought it would be a
nice home-grown thing. The Bear has a comedy heritage, with people
like Frank Skinner performing there in the past, but on this particular
evening the audience were a bit rough and ready.
think you should patronise your audience. And I don't think you
should ever compromise your style, you should just be who you are.
There still is a certain mentality in some clubs where it's just
dirty jokes and sex gags
and it's not that I haven't done
those in the past, but I like to think I did them in a different
style. I didn't do any poetry that night as I thought it wouldn't
really help things with the crowd, and needless to say I didn't
done around 50 gigs now over the last few years and the good experiences
have outweighed the bad.
believe you applied to become Birmingham's Poet Laureate?
applied for the past two, maybe three years
it feels like
a lot longer!
you feel that a performance poet such as yourself will always
be overlooked in favour of more serious poets?
you've hit the nail on the head. They want something that's seen
as being (pauses to think)
worthy. I think they've got themselves
into a bit of a hole now, I have to say. I think they are trying
to make carbon copies of the same kind of Laureate's each year,
and that shouldn't be the case - you should have a variety.
not just saying that because I haven't got it. I'm not bitter!
example you have to write a Holocaust poem every year for Holocaust
Memorial Day and obviously I'm not going down that route with my
style of comedic poems.
think they're making stuff that's just the same and the role is
in danger of being devalued. If you went round and asked people
who Birmingham's Poet Laureate is, they would look at you blankly
and not know who Roz Goddard is.
mean to slag everyone off, there have been some very good Poet Laureate's,
some of whom appeared at Rhubarb and Digbeth. The last but one was
Julie Bowden and she was very good and Simon Pitt was one of the
first and he had his own individual style too.
do you think of the stand-up comedy scene in Birmingham at the
it's quite thriving, there's some really good stuff happening. There's
some great performers coming through, people like James Cook. I
think there could be more, but it's not bad.
you think the two big comedy clubs (Jongleurs on Broad Street
and The Glee Club in the Arcadian Centre) monopolise the comedy
scene in Birmingham?
always thought that stand up comedy should be a democratic artform,
with individuals given the chance to get up and do a spot. Those
two venues aren't cheap to go to and are very much commercial ventures.
It's corporate entertainment basically. But if you look round and
about, there is some great stuff happening in pubs and clubs and
for a fiver you can get some good nights.
Have you got any gigs coming up?
the Brummie Comedy Cocktail on April 17th at the Hexagon Theatre
in the Mac. The unique thing about it is you get a lot of local
talent and open spots plus some really good headliners. Through
my association with the compere, the infamous Ian McDiarmid, I've
got a regular spot there and I write sketches and have a double
act with him. It's nice to be on the bill with some really good
Anything else in the pipeline?
I'm working on putting together a collection of my poems and I'm
looking for someone to help me publish them. It's not easy. Poetry
is hard to publish anywhere and its usually only the serious stuff
that gets recognition.
local artist Ben Waddington and I are hopefully going to be producing
a series of postcards with artwork on one side and poetry on the
other. We plan to distribute them in esoteric venues around Birmingham!
Brummie Comedy Cocktail is on at the Hexagon Theatre at the Mac,
Cannon Hill Park on April 17th and May 29th.
The Brummie Comedy Cocktail is a monthly showcase of local comics,
with a national headliner.