Former NUI Galway student talks to Sin about college, camping and comedy
Finding accommodation has never been so hard for the students of Ireland. There are fewer houses to rent and those that are available will cost you an arm and a leg (at least). And that’s before I even mention the scams that are going around on daft.ie, the number of students dropping out of college because they can’t commute to and from Galway every day of the week, and the incredible amount of stress so many young people are under as a result.
It all brings back memories of three years ago when one NUI Galway student decided not to waste his time and effort (or money for that matter) on house-hunting. Instead, he packed up his tent and sleeping bag and found himself a nice bit of shrubbery to camp in… for the entire academic year.
Since leaving NUI Galway, award-winning actor and comedian Frank Cronin has gone on to become a household name in the Irish comedy landscape. His extraordinary talent for channelling comedic characters and his ability to entertain the masses with his viral creations is outstanding. He is a rising Irish star with a career now blossoming on a global scale, and is someone of whom the Irish can be rightfully proud.
I had a chance to catch up with him in LA where he has been pursuing his acting and comedy career. And guess what: he is still as humble as when he lived in his tent.
“Life seems so short to me. And the part of that life that you are carefree for is even shorter. So when I get a gut feeling, I always try and follow it,” he explains. He could be referring to any part of his life, from joining the army, to opening a restaurant in Mexico, or even to choosing a career of acting and comedy over a life of money and security.
But in this case, his gut feeling was to finish his degree, while braving the elements and living in the deepest, darkest, most secret parts of the NUI Galway campus.
“I was low on cash, had a YouTube channel and thought it would be fun to document the year in a tent. The economy was bad in Ireland at the time and I was sick of all the negative linear thinking and moaning from all sides. So I just went to ‘Planet Frank’ and lived in a tent.”
‘Planet Frank’ proved to be a very interesting place to live, as it forced him to appreciate the little things in life, let go of the materialistic things he didn’t need, and connect with nature in a way you or I could never do from our warm, comfortable beds.
“It was and still is the closest I’ve ever been to Mother Nature. I became more sensitive to the seasons and the earth over time. I loved waking up to the birds, listening to the howling wind, noticing if a dewy spider web had been extended overnight,” he says.
I know what you’re thinking: this guy must have looked like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Or maybe he lived like Bear Grylls, drinking his own… erm…
Not so! In fact, Frank was as clean and tidy as the rest of us. Naturally, he couldn’t roll out of bed and into the bathroom for a nice, hot shower while his clothes warmed up on the radiator. But he made his situation work, paying for gym membership and using the shower facilities there every morning (after a workout, of course), and spending his evenings in the warmth of the library before hitting the sack.
The staff and students of NUI Galway were very supportive of Frank’s living situation, with many becoming curious about his lifestyle. Where exactly was he living? Was he not scared? Could the rest of us do it? The simple answer there is: no.
Frank has an army background, so his survival instinct has always been strong during his adventures, which include crossing Ireland in a kayak, camping on a desert island off the coast of Mexico, and jumping on the famous ‘Train of Death’, a network of Mexican freight trains used by US-bound migrants getting out of Mexico.
So when it comes to risk, he knows what he’s doing. The rest of us, for the most part, have lived quiet, sheltered lives, where our only experience of camping is at Electric Picnic or similar summer festivals. Camping alone near a built-up, potentially dangerous area comes with “an element of risk”.
“Firstly, there’s the physical threat. If you choose to live like I did in a bush, you are isolated and therefore somewhere where no one can hear your screams. Sadly, it’s not a joke. The occasional bad bastard exists. It’s a judgement call you have to make about your own personal safety,” says Frank.
“Secondly, the elemental threat: it gets very cold. There were some nights that I had to stave off hypothermia. The morning fog lifting off the river was brutally cold. I used to love overcoming it; it was the first hurdle of the day. But I have a military background, so I guess I felt pretty comfortable about it all.
“Thirdly, accidents; if you are hiding from everybody in a place that is hard to find and you hurt yourself there, then the chances are no-one will find you for quite some time. An elderly gentleman from England who was sleeping in a tent not far from mine for about a week had heart problems. I was worried that someday I would find him dead. He was grand though. We fell out of contact… he had no phone.”
So the moral of the story is: don’t try this at home.
Climbing the career ladder: How one student is making his own dreams come true
For Frank Cronin, there are a few defining moments of the 2012/2013 academic year (aside from the obvious living-in-a-tent stuff). Just before Christmas, he started bringing guests into his tent and interviewing them for his YouTube Channel, Glowpunk. One of those guests was the very popular Des Bishop who was on campus for a show.
But an important milestone was Frank’s performance of his very own show, Tent Boy, in the Bank of Ireland Theatre as part of the Múscailt Arts Festival. Since then, he’s gone from strength to strength, climbing the rungs of the career ladder and bringing his unique Irish charm to the comedy clubs of California.
“For a long time I watched comedy from the wings. I wondered what it would be like to do it. Then I met some people who explained the process of becoming a comedian, which involves a lot of time and repeated public failure,” he explains.
“It’s a brutal art, forged with public mistakes. I started to jot down ideas, simple observations and puns. Eventually, these scribblings turned into jokes, and then well-rounded bits. The first time I got on stage was at an open mic and I bombed badly. But I was too naïve to know how bad I was; I was just happy I finally tried to do what had been a burning ambition. I’ve probably done about 500 sets since.”
Frank moved to LA about a year ago, drawn to the big city by its incredible comedy scene, and the opportunity to become a star. He certainly went to the right place, with a number of opportunities popping up for him over the last 12 months.
“I find that people in LA are most interested in your perspective on their culture and your life experiences and that is what I lean towards. There is endless stage time in LA compared to Ireland. You could do five open mics in a day if you schedule your day well. It’s also very competitive. The bonus here is that if you do well, there are often people who can give you a TV break sitting in the audience,” he says.
“I have had great opportunities to perform with international talents such as Dana Carvey, Christopher Titus, Elayne Boosler, Bull Burr, etc.”
He recently appeared on the Mailu Henner Show and is a regular guest on Comedians On, which is produced by the world-famous Ray William Johnson and the ‘Equals Three’ crew. Ray William Johnson is one of the biggest internet content-creators in the world, with almost 12 million subscribers.
“I also just co-starred in an Indie movie, A Friend in Need, which has been received very well worldwide, with the talented Indian actor Mohit Shrivastava… the luck of the Irish.”
Naturally, Frank is working on bringing his ‘living-in-a-tent’ story onto the LA stage with him; “it’s so weird that it would be a sin not to talk about it in my stand-up. I’m thinking of writing a little bookeen on that time – small and fun with some stories from the adventure. I think I will live in a tent when I’m older too!”
At the moment, Frank is studying full-time at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting and doing as much comedy as his schedule will allow. He’ll be home for Christmas, though, to do a few big shows in Ireland; “I can’t wait. Ireland will always be my home. Olé, Olé, Olé!”
And of course he’ll be gracing the stage of one of Galway’s top venues too, so stay tuned to find out when and where you’ll get to see him live.
To enjoy some of Frank’s comedy right now, though, check out his YouTube channel, Glowpunk, or the Equals Three Comedians On. That should get you laughing.
Question Time: Getting to know Frank
Born and raised in Templeogue, Dublin, Francis Cronin graduated from NUI Galway in 2013 with a BA in Psychological Studies and Spanish.
If you could describe yourself in five words, what would they be?
Now that’s a tough one.
What are your hobbies?
Hanging out, running, traveling and exploring new places and things with friends. People watching with friends is always a laugh. Anything social or outdoor-based.
What was your childhood like?
I had a great childhood. My parents exposed us to lots of games, cultures, nature and comedy throughout my childhood. My family’s default setting was making each other laugh. There was a lot of joy in my house.
What do people like about you?
People always tell me I’m one of the most optimistic people they know. That I’ll try anything and it makes them feel good to see me taking chances in life and perusing my dreams. I’ve been blessed with a naturally positive disposition. This is something for which I am very grateful.
What do people hate about you?
I’ve no time for hate. It’s a sordid emotion. Love has some value. I give hate no airtime. What’s there to really hate about a guy living his life and not hurting anyone?
Who inspires you?
Honestly everyone. I try on the best bits from everyone I meet and discard what doesn’t feel good.
In real life: my parents, they gave me such a strong foundation of love and adventure that makes me feel safe enough to live my life like a lunatic.
In acting: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christian Bale, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Meryl Streep.
In comedy: Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan, Bill Burr, Dana Carvey, Des Bishop, Noel Fielding, Robin Williams and Russell Brand and all of them for different aspects of what they do.
How did attending NUI Galway develop you as a person?
There is a great diversity of thinking and people in NUIG. Galway is like the Irish California. In NUIG, by studying so broadly and writing so many papers, I learned to organize my thoughts, bolster them with facts and clearly express a view point. I didn’t know it at the time but it’s a very handy skill to have in stand-up comedy. I would often re-work a paragraph for hours until I thought it flowed elegantly. It may not have been Einstein informationally, but I would always try to make it lexically sexy.
What was the college newspaper like when you were in NUI Galway?
I believe Jessica Thompson had just taken over and she was working on modernizing the whole thing and bringing it online. It had a pretty big circulation too. There were the usual funny bits of student news (like the pigeons on the concourse) mixed with the serious issues of the day. It was fun to read: a lovely companion for any lonesome student.
Do you ever miss NUI Galway?
Ah yeah! NUIG was great; the rushy banks of the river, the meandering streets of the city, the tiles of the concourse, the madness at Supermac’s and the diving boards at Salthill. You couldn’t walk 100 metres in the city without seeing a friendly face. There was very little not to like. Well, except the seemingly never-ending rain.
Did you ever get in trouble while you were here?
Damn right! I made a point of it. What’s the point in being young if you are not taking chances? I believe in being a little disruptive as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.
Any other juicy stories of your time here?
When I was living in the tent, girls used to send me messages on Facebook propositioning me with their wildest tent fantasies. Apparently living in a tent is a turn on. Who knew? Also, I remember walking into my living room in the years prior to tent life and seeing a person being body slammed through a table. One of my house mates had set up a wrestling match as a form of entertainment for a house party. We threw good house parties.
What advice would you give to current NUI Galway students?
Have fun and remember university is a gymnasium for the mind where you expand your ability to process information. The facts you learn and regurgitate in exams are (in my opinion) secondary to expanding your capacity to think. Unless you’re an engineer or a doctor; then your clients will appreciate your verbatim learning.
If you could go back and do it all again, what would you do differently?
Maybe jump off the diving boards at Salthill in the nip. Never did that. I wouldn’t change much. Maybe asked out another girl or two.
By Jessica Thompson (@Jessicadotie)
This story was published on pages 24 and 25 of Sin Newspaper. See the full paper below.