WHEN Patrick Kielty was invited to appear at this weekend’s Happyness Comedy Festival in Inverness, he did not have to spend too long thinking over his decision.
"I think it was the quickest answer I’ve given in years," the Northern Irishman laughed.
"I get asked to do a lot of one off appearances, but I tend not to do them. I don’t do Edinburgh, but a comedy festival in the Highlands? Yes!"
His previous experience of the Highlands have been are the opposite extremes of pleasure and pain.
The first time was cycling from John O’Groats to Land’s End for Sports Relief.
"That’s when you realise how long a country Scotland is," he said.
"They tended to give me the hill climbs so I ended up going through Glencoe at four in the morning in the pitch dark and it was absolutely terrible. It was only after I’d finished that someone sent me a picture of the place and said I’d got to come back and see the place in daylight."
His more recent trip involved more pleasurable exercise on the golf links of Nairn, Royal Dornoch and Castle Stuart. One of his caddies was a local farmer who asked Kielty what he did for a living.
"He went: ‘You’re Patrick Kielty? I listen to you every weekend on Radio 2!’ He didn’t have a TV and didn’t have the faintest idea of what I looked like," Kielty said.
"Usually when I meet someone, they ask for a photo, but this guy couldn’t care less. He was just happy to meet someone he listens to on the radio. That’s just so Highland."
Kielty began his comedy career as a student in the city of Belfast, entering his first talent show for a very student-friendly incentive — the prize of a keg of beer.
That led to his becoming resident host at the Empire Comedy Club where his topical satire earned him a reputation for fearlessness in a city still beset by political violence.
"At the time I didn’t think I was being fearless," insisted Kielty, whose own father was a victim of the Troubles.
"I was the compere and that’s always a different job from everyone else on the bill. You had to come up with something new every time, so it had to be topical.
"The Empire had a really varied audience. The club was right behind Queen’s University so we always had a lot of students, but over the years so many guys have come up to me and said they were ex-soldiers or ex-police and used to come and see me in The Empire. What? You did know what kind of a place it was? But that was the great thing about The Empire. Whatever your background, you left it at the door.
"But you always knew the difference between the pretend hardmen and the real hardmen. The pretend ones would put you up against a wall and tell you that you shouldn’t be saying these things. The real hardmen didn’t have to say an awful lot."
Of course, things have changed a lot in Northern Ireland since then.
"A couple of years ago there was a Northern Ireland Tourist Board launch at St James’s Palace in London," Kielty recalled.
"I was there, Eamonn Holmes was there, Van Morrison was doing the music — basically anyone famous from Northern Ireland was there.
"I had to go to the toilet and while I was out Martin McGuinness (Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister and former Provisional IRA member) was on the stage saying he was glad to be in ‘Derry London’ and asking: ‘Where’s Patrick Kielty? Have I scared him off?’
"I thought: wait a minute! Here’s Martin McGuinness on stage doing jokes about me! The last time Martin or his mates were at a launch in St James’s Palace, they were firing rockets at John Major!"
As Northern Ireland moved on, Kielty began to embrace the broadcasting opportunities that came his way, hosting his own chat show and primetime shows such as Fame Academy.
These days the boy from Dundrum spends much of his time in Holywood — and not the one in his native County Down — where his wife Cat Deeley is a major television star, best known for hosting hit reality show So You Think You Can Dance?
However, do not expect Kielty to follow the likes of Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson in pursuing US stardom.
"I want to stay totally anonymous in America," he laughed.
"I love going to LA where my wife is enormously famous — and I can be her totally unknown, badly behaved husband."
• Patrick Kielty appears at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, on Saturday as part of the third Inverness Happyness Comedy Festival.