It's not as though Irish films haven't made people laugh down through the ages.
I know I found it impossible not to crack up when watching Nick Mahon's stirring 2007 masterpiece Strength And Honour - aka Rocky Balboa & The Little People. I damn near choked on my popcorn when it came to honorary Irishman John Boorman's Dublin doppelganger disaster The Tiger's Tail. And the recent jobseeker comedy Situations Vacant provided laughs in all the wrong places.
Which only makes John Carney's Zonad all the more impressive. Here, at last, is an Irish comedy where you laugh in all the right places. And you laugh hard.
Who knew the man who gave us Once had it in him to be so funny? Then again, Carney was once the bass player for The Frames, so, he clearly has a sense of humour.
It was success of the Oscar fave Once that gave Carney the initiative - and the budget, no doubt - to adapt his own 2003 short of the same name into a full-length feature. Simon Delaney returns from that early outing as the alcoholic rehab facility escapee, Liam, who, having done a runner, ends up sprawled out - and spaced out, after a quick binge - on the living room carpet of the sweetly naive stargazing Cassidy family. Having used a fancy dress party as his moment to escape, Liam is dressed as a critter from outer space - and is more than happy to pretend that he is just that when he realises the amount of free drink, food and lovers that will come his way. Ballymoran is Zonad's for the taking. Until, that is, his fellow escapee (David Pearse) turns up, looking for a slice of the love action.
PAUL BYRNE: I don't know how you managed it, but you've made an Irish film that you can laugh with rather than at. What's your secret?
JOHN CARNEY: Our belief during the writing and making of Zonad, was that if we stuck to what we found funny ourselves, that there would be enough people out there who would respond to it. With comedy, you've got to please yourself and hope that there'll be a few others out there who'll get it.
If Ealing had been based in Ballygobackwards, this is the sort of film they would have been making. Did you and your brother Kieran have certain influences in mind when putting this together?
Ealing is right on the money. There was an innocence about those films which audiences really needed after years of war. We are both big fans of the Ealing Studio movies, and we wanted to make something which wasn't too taxing in these recession-ridden days
There seems to be a definite nod to Some Like It Hot when it comes to the kissing scene...
"Definite nod" is being generous - it's a total lift! But Willy Wilder lifted from Lubitch, so, what the hell...
When, exactly, does all this action take place? Or are we dealing in a bit of John Hinde-ism here - a time and place that never really existed?
Yep. We liked the idea of not being too specific about the period of the film. You know it's probably set in the present, but there are no mobile phones, computers, etc. We wanted the location to be like those small villages you used to find in the 1980s, that were still caught in the 1950s. That's gone in Ireland now, and you just can't escape the 21st century no matter where you go. There's a McDonald's, or a Supermac's, everywhere you go. Except Ballymoran!
Simon Delaney is perfect in the title role - always your leading man?
Always! There isn't another Irish actor who looks as funny in a tight, red PVC catsuit that I know of.
The look Simon was going for - Ralf Hutter meets Vegas Elvis, after a bad Tour de France spill? Mr. Incredible at his lowest domestic ebb?
Yeah. We used to go to the wardrobe department every morning just to witness Simon being squeezed into that costume, which involved three costume people and a can of talcum powder. Elizabethan women suffered less! It's fun humiliating your friends.
Cillian Murphy was in the 2003 short - ever a possibility for the feature?
Yeah, we asked him, but he was too busy! He was great in the short, but Rory Keenan ended up playing a blinder in the role.
From the start, you just know this is all going to end in tears, and pitchforks. Given how breezy the movie is, a joy to write, or lots of sleepless nights?
A joy. Some people say comedy is a serious business, but we found it the exact opposite. Lots of fun on set and sad to say goodbye to the cast at the end of it.
Premiered in Galway in July 2009 - how's the release pattern going? UK and America biting?
We're just focusing on Ireland for now, and hoping to get it right. I think the film has a life stateside, but will need the right people to pick it up, as it's a very specific target audience, and we won't play as well to others. We have a good sales rep, and a great Variety review, so, fingers crossed some nutcase picks it up.
Talking of America, how is the Hollywood experience working out for you? Got a room at Spielberg's place yet?
Spielberg's been ringing and ringing. He's becoming a bit of a pain actually. I'm going to have to change my number. But seriously, you never know, Zonad may speak to his inner child.
Given just how loved Once proved to be, did you feel any great pressure when it came to your follow-up film?
Not at all. I think it's good to follow things with something completely different. I know I'll be slagged off by some people, but that's the risk you take. You gotta follow your instincts! Anyone who goes to see Zonad, given the poster of Simon in the red suit, and expects Glen and Marketa to sing a touching love song deserves everything they get.
Glen and Maketa fell in love during the making of Once - how was it for Simon Delaney and David Pearse on Zonad?
There was one scene in which they hug, but it was a far cry from Bogie and Bacall!
Words - Paul Byrne
ZONAD is now showing at Irish cinemas Nationwide