“It’s about turning base functions into something of worth.” | Pope Lonergan talks drugs, death and dementia ahead of Incontinence Pad Disposal

Tell us about your new show, Incontinence Pad Disposal.

It’ll be about working in elderly care and how this was inextricably bound to my abuse of prescription opioids such as Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Morphine and Dihydrocodeine. (I set a moral threshold for myself which was I’d never deprive the elderly of painkillers. They need them to manage chronic pain and I couldn’t, in good conscience, use them for recreational purposes. And I never did – but I did find a loophole. When they pass away, that shit’s up for grabs. So basically I pillaged the dead. A light pillaging of the dead.)

It’ll also be about using confession to purge – or cleanse – the soiled parts of your life. And I’ll weave keywords that pertain to sections of the show (‘Woodlouse’, ‘Weighing a Poo’, ‘Breastfeeding Porn’) onto incontinence pads. At the end there’ll be a sacrificial “burning” of these pads.

Another recurring part of the show is a costed rundown of my Edinburgh expenses and how many arseholes I had to wipe to afford it.

And there’ll be Joycean themes about ennobling the body’s lower stratum and turning base functions – piss, shit, cum, pus – into something of worth. You’ll be gargling on effluent. Metaphorically.

What inspired you to write a show centred around addiction and dementia?

I’m what’s known in medical parlance as “Filthy junkie scum”. I have Substance Use Disorder and my addictive tendency has lead to about a decade of stasis. But luckily, after going to rehab in January 2017, I’m stable; I’m recovering.

One quick reminiscence: When I had a minor breakdown I used to hoard my piss in 2 litre Coke bottles like Howard Hughes. I didn’t even try to hide them. They were just out. When people came round I’d point and say, “Look at that. That’s a big bottle of piss”. And, similar to a cross section of igneous rock, you could see the degradation. It was browning at the bottom.

Encouraging party guests to endure two big cylinders of piss was a show of dominance, like dogs marking their territory, but a polite version. I didn’t douse the room in piss! I made the piss the centrepiece of the room and invited my guests to look at it. For fun. For party fun. And to know their place.

As for the dementia angle: I’ve worked in elderly care. I love all the people I’ve cared for; the ones who are here and the ones who were erased by flames. And a byproduct of focusing on someone else’s needs is the temporary annihilation of ego. So, in its own stressful way, there’s a meditative quality to elderly care. It’s helped me to stay out of my head. And that’s great for my recovery.

Also, this show will provide a counter narrative to The Care Home Tour (“The comedians taking slapstick into new territory” ~ The Guardian). It’ll highlight the more corporeal parts of the ageing process and the daily frustrations, and overwhelming humanity, of being friends with those who suffer from dementia. And the inconvenience of death!

You’ve addressed this sort of thing in your performances before. How much does this show relate to your previous acts?

Well, this is my debut hour. But I also run the aforementioned Care Home Tour and Pope’s Addiction Clinic (“From fearless and funny to heart-stoppingly raw ” ~ Evening Standard) so there’s some cross pollination there. Drugs and dementia. My favourite topics. And I feel at ease when in the company of addicts or dementias.

Was it difficult to find the funny side of such sensitive topics?

No. My Mum and I share a gallows humour. The other day we laughed at a news story about a man who punched a baby because he thought it was a dolly.

Having said that, I’m always assessing whether any of my material is exploitative or making someone with a neurodegenerative disease the primary target of a cruel joke. Which I cannot abide. BUT if it’s about your interactions with those who are living with this disease – refracted through the prism of your consciousness – then it’s probably fair game because the source of the humour is your reaction to speech or circumstance that’s slightly out of alignment.

Another quick reminiscence: I remember being onstage and talking about someone (not anyone I’ve cared for) who had a huge squamous cell carcinoma on their head. And in the routine I mistake it for a pancake and say things like “You’re gonna kick yourself, mate, but you’ve only gone and left the house with a pancake on your head”. Which is still making me smile because the joke’s the social faux-pas – but it’s also about the aesthetic of a cancerous growth. And that makes me uneasy because there’s people who are walking around and having to deal with their hang-ups about having a pancake on their head. (I’m sorry. I always have to undermine a serious point.)

The show has been described as “brutally committed to disclosure”. Just how personal does it get?

My guiding principle in life is full disclosure so whatever I can get out into the public domain, I will. I’ve been on dates where my opening remarks were about watching breastfeeding porn or shoving a bar of soap up my arse to punish myself for breaking a woodlouse’s pregnancy sack.

How do you think addressing these topics through comedy can impact the way people see them?

It demonstrates the universality of our lived experiences. Our human loam. We can be vicious; we can be kind; we can have an urge to inflict cruelty or elevate the people around us. And turning drug abuse or dementia into comedy will temporarily drain it of its misery. It’s a small exhalation.

What do you hope people take away from your show?

Other than the usual ego fulfilment (“I will show them how to love me”) I want people to realise you don’t always have to discuss this stuff in hushed tones or with gravitas. Make sure there’s a space within the sequence of life to fuck about with the “serious” stuff.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to break into comedy?

Don’t accept unsolicited advice from open mic promoters. It holds no water. But for a while it will seem like the most important thing in the world – until you realise they’ve had the same 5 minutes of material for 15 years.

Also, build your own thing. Don’t wait for a “patron”. Gig ALL THE TIME. And don’t be bromide and colourless. Though if you are, but you’re hungry for fame, isolate and enhance that part of yourself. That’s what we’ll find interesting.

Pope is performing his work-in-progress Incontinence Disposal Pad on 4th November

Book your free ticket here.

You can find future dates and keep up with Pope’s other projects by following him on Twitter.