Monday 24 October 2016

Radio: Christmastime needs more ha ha ha than ho ho ho

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

I can take or leave David O’Doherty but this was very funny stuff. And the gag about double-yellow lines as graffiti was gold
I can take or leave David O’Doherty but this was very funny stuff. And the gag about double-yellow lines as graffiti was gold

'It's the most depressing time of the year… the most depressing time of the year… when your money's a-goin' and rain won't stop flowin', most depressing time of the year…"

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That is how the song goes, right? Anyway, it can't be denied: this is one miserable time to be alive on this island. Not only has the weather been Biblically bad for the last several weeks, but now Christmas is almost here.

The annual festival which is always the exact same, decade after decade, thus reminding you that yet another year has passed and you still haven't fulfilled all those dreams and ambitions you had for your life, and probably never will. (Well, this is how I view Christmas.)

It's totes depressing. But what better way to cheer yourself up - after getting drunk on sherry and aftershave - than listening to some comedy on the radio?

I've been doing that quite a lot, beginning with The Tom Dunne Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 10pm) which played an excerpt from David O'Doherty's new live album. I can take or leave O'Doherty - it's all rather too twee and designer-quirky for me - but this was very funny stuff. And the gag about double-yellow lines as graffiti was gold. Also very good was The Show What You Wrote (BBC Radio 4, Mon 11pm), a sketch programme with an interesting concept behind it. Here, the routines are performed by professional actors - but written by members of the public. Thousands were submitted, and the best chosen by the show's editors.

This week's episode was on a loose theme of "Body and Soul"; the stand-out sketches were the ones on obnoxious, mutton-headed banter, and the Fat Forever workout programme. Why waste time exercising when you can eat instead? Why, indeed.

Not quite so good, I'm afraid, was Live at the Sunflower (BBC Radio Foyle, Mon 10pm), a collection of new stand-ups broadcasting from Derry (or Londonderry, as it's known to Unionists up there and annoying cranks down here).

I don't want to be too mean here; everyone starting out needs an even break, and besides which, stand-up comedy has always struck me as the most difficult, horrendous and insane job on the planet. But still.

Too much of the comedy was predictable and samey; the exact kind of thing you expect from stand-up, but are always hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Childhood memories, funny family stories, those ho-hum "have you ever noticed how…" observations on life.

It was alright. No worse, and certainly no better.

The best of my comedic bunch - we're talking "spitting out coffee all over your computer keyboard" levels here - was the rerun of The Ape That Got Lucky (BBC Radio 4 Extra, Tue 10.30pm), a spoof series of lectures on human evolution.

Mostly delivered by comic Chris Addison - you might remember him as Ollie from the terrific TV series The Thick of It - this was clever, fast-paced, inventive, twisty and very, very, veeeeery funny. Well worth checking out on the BBC catch-up service.

On a more serious note (it's not all fun and games around this here column, you know), the consistently excellent Talking History (Newstalk, Sun 7pm) had a brilliant discussion about Edmund Burke, the great essayist, philosopher and political scientist.

Many of us would have studied Burke's famous essay, railing passionately against the French Revolution, in school. We'd remember it as being profound, courageous and taking a broad, complex view of a devilishly complex situation. I think it's important to remember that, and try to do that, in this era of easy soundbites and quick-response stupidity. If Burke were around today, within five minutes of his treatise being published, you'd have morons on Twitter calling him a fascist for refusing to endorse the Revolution, and morons on the other side of the political spectrum calling him a PC bigot for his thoughts of liberty.

But, as explained by a heavyweight academic cast assembled by the show - Professor Richard Burke of Queen Mary University, Dr Niall O'Flaherty of Kings College London, Dr Jennifer Pitts from the University of Chicago and, one of our own, Professor Luke Givens of Maynooth - the truth was much more complicated, knotty and interesting.

Probably Burke's most important contribution to the history of human thought was his insistence that there must be checks and balances on everything. Nothing, no cause or ideology, is so faultless that it should be allowed do what it likes, without any objections or pause for thought.

The discussion was a fascinating insight into a fascinating man. Some of Burke's views would be unpalatable to a modern mind-set - indeed I used to find him a bit pompous and self-regarding, while labouring through that essay for the Leaving Cert.

Nonetheless, he seems to have been someone who at least attempted to see a situation in all its Byzantine ambiguity, and not just pick a side and try to screech louder than the other crowd.

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