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Punching the Telly

Just remember nothing will be as bad as ‘Father Figure’

After Christmas my voice was knackered from shouting abuse at the tellybox. Such was the fury, I thought I’d share it with Village, for therapy. For instance, one 30-second Vodafone TV ad tickled my comedy tummy much more racily than three whole hours of sit-com by Jason Byrne?

In the advert, a woman runs in to a pub loo to consult a pub quiz expert. Now he confuses whales with Wales, because he is thick.

A great dumb gag, but beautifully shot, comically acted by the main player, (a Yank doppleganger of David Walliams). A hard working conceit taking the maximum from excellent timing. With just 30 seconds, bang, job done, that’s enough. Meanwhile, Jason Byrne clattered onto screens in Britain and Ireland on a ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ rebound with six, six!, 30-minute episodes of a train wreck called ‘Father Figure’ I cringed at what was more war-crime than sit-com, embarrassed too for some great comedy actors, who looked lost on Byrne’s vanity project.

And where exactly was ‘Father Figure’ set? Is it a drab suburb of Dublin, (Ballinteer?) cut and pasted into Huddersfield? Or what?

Who cares, it was brutal. RTÉ didn’t promote it at all – see, they knew they had a big fat turkey on their hands. Saints be praised it had no DVD Christmas presence and I pray it won’t be repeated … but you know RTÉ.

Still, I heard a swaggering Jason Byrne puff his effort on ‘Front Row’, BBC Radio 4’s flagship arts programme. He described ‘Father Figure’ as – ‘Some Mothers’ Do Ave ‘Em’ meets ‘Outnumbered’.

What, exactly: ‘Some Mothers Do Ave ‘Em’ eked a dated humour from nothing more subtle than a whining Man-Girl-Boy and catchphrases “a bit of trouble” and “OOOh… Betty”. Did I do a whoopsee? Yes you did and you made a series out of it, forty years ago.

And ‘Outnumbered’ was about as pacy as a family outing to Starbucks, without even SMDH’s Keatonesque pratfalls.

You’ll find more sophisticated humour on ‘Peppa Pig’. More energy, credible characters and plot development but then ‘Peppa Pig’ has been professionally worked through. Byrne needs to tiptoe back to comedy writer John Henderson, who saw him through a number of series on RTÉ and BBC, and the tolerable ‘The Lounge’. To the next ad break!

This time, Surf. Two studenty English birds are in a laundry room. Dreamy Girl has a vintage dress, which she absolutely adores. Stoic Pal looks on, bored, benignly tolerating her pal’s frock fanaticism and there you have it. Simple.

The acting is acute, the humour gentle, sweet and durable, so with each viewing you see another lovely nuance in the performances.The understated genius is the rarity of the gentleness.

Topical gems are rare in this provincial country, where history repeats itself but jadedly so as to leave no drama, with no proper celebs (who stick around), unreformed parish-pump politics and an incestuous cabal of self-furthering few Meeja Personalities.

Yet in this Depression Éire, we have had at least five newish, topicalish satirical series fighting over a lean funny-bone.

Bring me the head of the Head of Comedy, at RTÉ.
Wait, there never has been a Head of Comedy at RTÉ.

So one gifted impressionist slugs it out with another gifted impressionist, as Oliver Callan goes toe to toe with Mario Rosenstock.

Some of Mario’s characters are better judged than Callan’s. Most of Mario’s sketches are produced better than Callan’s. But Mario’s scripts are third world. Feels like Mario needs an editor (let’s be honest: an executioner) for the TV show, but sure the make-up is on, the set is built – Action! Let’s ignore all the trends, timings and lessons learned over 17 years ago, when ‘The Fast Show’ first appeared – sure, linger a while.

Half the time you’re left credulous waiting for the punch line as you realise yet another sketch is bearing down on you before you thought the previous one had been terminated.

So, why can’t these guys get together, maybe make ONE knockout series?

Why that’s as mad as saying “we’re a tiny country with the population of Greater Manchester, we need only one decent bank.”

I feel an ad break coming on.
Mario’s orange fitness freak on the Aviva campaign is funnier, over a precious 30 seconds, than many of the characters he stretches out over his thirty minute romps.

After the metaphorical break the exact same topical leftovers are then scavenged by brave ‘Irish Pictorial Weekly’ and the woegeous ‘Republic of Telly’. Baldy Noonan? Tick. Roy Keane? Tick.
First come. First satirised?

In 2013 ‘Irish Pictorial Weekly’ went for even more tortured obscurantism than usual, though of the three it’s the success and there are moments of brilliance with appalled Germans and cossetted traitor civil servants.

And the self-indulgent (mad, angry and above all loose) but usually brilliant ‘Savage Eye’, with its menagerie of lunatics, grows on you and leaves the taste of vomit when you come back to politics as it is actually practised, in a way that only the disaffected scion of a great dynasty of public men like David Andrews (junior) could conjure so acutely (see Ardal O’Hanlon).

Oh no, then there’s ‘Republic of Telly’. Bad Culchie Chic – a terrible, pixellated, rough, RTÉ in-house rag-mag. A bogman’s amateur half hour and Jennifer Maguire trun’ in.

The Rubber Bandits look like they’ve turned up on the wrong show? Go Pictorial, next year boys! Bernard O’ Shea features on ‘ROT’ – today’s non threatening, gas craic, RTÉ Golden Balls. A company man, like our Jason, O’Shea is perfect for scrutiny by an uptight Tubbs on the ‘Late Late Show’. See, Tubridy fears those sharp, edgy comics – the ones that answer back and don’t buy his corny feed lines. Tom Cruise. The nation’s toes, nails, hair, skin: they all crawled. O’Shea and Cruise, brothers in edgy comedy, on Tubridy’s ‘Late Late’.

Whereas ‘Irish Pictorial Weekly’ feels about five years overdue, back then it should have been at the white hot centre of the country’s implosion. Now, as Pasquinade, it lacks cred because its familiar ‘Après Match’ frontmen have been doing very lucrative corporate gigs, for er, bankers and bonused-up spivs. Tanking Youse. Remember this is the country where economists and comedians share a platform and the humour (and economics, I suppose) reinforces both and subverts nobody.

Back to the box and as we speak Des Bishop (though Bishop undersells this man who revels in infallibility) is making a series in the People’s Republic on Chinese Culture and Lingo, no less. After the previous year’s finger wag on the national language, last year he hectored us, (it’s his schtick – a Pissed New Yoik Cop on a megaphone), on the subject of the Demon Drink. Many repetitive episodes were forthcoming, paying sparse attention to the fact that every single comedy venue in the country revolves (quide lidderally) on sponsored booze, all awash with bulletproof, pliable punters. That Bishop, like many wealthy Erse comedians in expensive Madmen-style suits, owes his substantial wealth to his Godfadda, Doms Diageo and Bulmer.

The Test being that whereas Des Bishop is marginally funny in clubs full of soused students, the humour, as such, does not transfer to us the TV-licence-paying Great Unwashed. We end up with neither a funny half hour nor a serious discussion on the Binge Rage Era. Indeed often, after being again bamboozl’d by The Bishop, I need a stiff drink.

So, to the final ad break…Incidentally, don’t you get the feeling that Liberty Direct – all Bostonian, Kennedyissh and preppy, originally wanted Des Bishop as their Frontman ? Oh God no, what are the chances, it’s an an ad that tries until it cries to be funny, but no cigar, AIG! Two for-real-Toff Dublin 4 comedians are, loike, mad interested in, loike, some rugger shirts – not because they are real loike All Black shirts, worn by loike real All Blacks, but because there is a logo on them.

They want the logo !?…zzzzzzZZZZZZz.
A dense, one-dimensional gag of subatomic proportions, which should never have left the ad agency.

Unless it was written by the featured comedians? Oh, this happens, just check out the 3 Mobile campaign and last year’s TV licensing campaign.

Leave it to the Pros, lads.
And ad agencies – do stop forcing large cheques on comedians for sterile VOs and lame jingles. They should be starving and concentrating on their comedy thing, like real comedians.

Alex Lyons