One Man and his Nut
Writer, actor and co-creator of BBC3’s brilliant comedy drama My Left Nut, Michael Patrick talks to Gendemic about life, death and checking your bollocks.
‘Write what you know’ is the first and best advice given to any aspiring creative writer. It certainly worked for 29-year-old Belfast-born actor Michael Patrick.
Without it, he might never have co-written the acclaimed one-man show which would eventually become BBC3’s brilliant new series My Left Nut; a story of one very ordinary teenage boy and his one extraordinary testicle.
Yes, you read that right, and no, this isn’t a Viz Comics production. My Left Nut is a gentle, beautifully observed and perfectly pitched comedy-drama about growing up in Belfast. It’s not too many miles in tone and humour, or indeed the accents of the cast, to everyone’s recent favourite, Derry Girls. It is a series about friendship, relationships, sex, sexism, family, loss, bereavement, love and yes, one young man and his unfeasibly large testicle – and somehow squeezes all that effortlessly into just three short episodes.
Most remarkably, it almost never got written at all, as Michael told Gendemic:
“I had never really thought about it too much to be honest. I’d always wanted to be an actor, not a writer and had never really thought about telling my own story before. I had toyed with a little bit of writing around the death of my father, so that was certainly something I wanted to talk about, but I never knew how.
“It was only when I had no acting work coming up and I met up with my good friend Oisín Kearney to talk about creating a one-man play. He suggested writing about the time I found a lump on my testicle, suggesting it as a joke at first, but the more we thought about it, the more we thought it could be something great.”
The words ‘lump’ and ‘testicle’ in close proximity are never welcome visitors to anyone’s doorstep, but for a 15-year-old boy, already wrestling with all the awkward physicality of adolescence, the experience was monstrous. And were that not enough to deal with, Michael had to cope without another man at home; his father having died of a degenerative illness some years earlier.
Although written differently for the series, the real young Michael took three years to talk to his mother and then a doctor, a delay which could, under different circumstances, have cost him his life. By that time his testicle had swollen to the approximate size of a soft drink can.
On screen, the plot has to move rather faster, but as I put to Michael, there’s a rare truth and honesty to our young hero’s struggle with fear, embarrassment, anger and confusion. The portrayal, written by Michael with Oisín Kearney, and carried wonderfully on TV by Nathan Quinn O’Rawe in the lead role, will be instantly familiar to any man who has faced medical scares, especially in intimate and embarrassing places.
“You’re very kind to say so! It was mostly just me writing down what I remembered. I interviewed my mum and my school friends, asking them about what they remembered about that time – so it was very much coming from a personal, reflective place.
“However, in a strange turn of events, a very close friend of mine found a lump on his testicle just as we started writing. So I spoke to him about it all and a lot of what he was going through made it into the final script, alongside my own experiences.”
The eye-popping medical details might demand the headlines, but behind it, the story of Mick’s relationship with his mum, through their shared bereavement, is every bit as compelling and deeply moving. I ask Michael if the process of writing it down had been a challenging one?
“Yes, it was difficult, but in a good way. It was often cathartic. There were times when performing the one-man stage show, that I would come off stage and cry. I mean, that was probably partly to do with the fact that I was absolutely exhausted doing the show, but it’s also to do with the emotions I was having to tap into thinking about my father.
“But it has been lovely to honour his memory in this way. My family talk about him more, and I’ve been put in touch with more of his older friends and extended family who have reached out since seeing the show. So it’s really helped keep him alive in our memories more.”
We were adamant we wanted to represent male friendship as we saw it, there is a real care and gentleness underneath
If Michael (or his small screen alter ego) did not have a dad to turn to at his time of greatest needs, he did have his mates. Another one of My Left Nut’s quiet triumphs is in its portrayals of adolescent boys and their friendships. They might be as insufferable, gauche, crass, sometimes full of enough bullshit to fertilise the Sahara, but fundamentally they’re good lads. It’s striking how seldom we see teenage boys portrayed like this, it’s perhaps the most affectionate portrait of awkward male adolescence since Gregory’s Girl.
“I mean, they do talk about having a wank while sticking their fingers up their bum – so they’re not angels,” Michael points out, accurately enough.
“The lads are really just based on my friends from school. They’re still my best friends to this day, and I wanted to celebrate that. Both myself and Oisín were very adamant that we wanted to represent male friendship as we saw it. Yes, it is silly and brash and full of piss-taking, but there is a real care and gentleness underneath all of that. That was definitely something we wanted to show.”
We are talking during Men’s Health Week, and it would be remiss to depart without a reminder about the importance of having a regular fumble, just to check everything is as it should be. So, over to the man who has become the expert.
“I don’t think I can say anything that other people haven’t already said – but just go and get checked! Don’t be embarrassed. I was so frightened that the lump in my testicle was my own fault, that I had caused it, that the doctor would laugh at me. Then I just kept thinking ‘maybe it’ll be fine,’ and ‘I don’t need to bother the doctor.’ Absolute nonsense. The doctor is there to make sure you’re OK. They would rather you went to see them, even if it was nothing.”
Take it from a man who knows.
My Left Nut is available now on BBC iPlayer.