The return of the terrible two - Zig and Zag
Tanya Sweeney's childhood heroes Zig and Zag are back on TV with a new format. How will today's kids take to them?
Published 25/02/2016 | 02:30
Their TV career has now spanned four decades, but unlike many RTE veterans, Zig and Zag have decided to try something a little different. And it looks as though their generation-straddling strategy might well just pay off.
The pair will return in animated form onto RTEJr, and unlike their previous outings, have created a show for young children. Rest assured though, their irreverent, slightly off-kilter sense of humour is still very much present and correct.
"We're hoping that this will be something people who watched us the first time around will now watch with their kids," says Zig.
Now I won't lie: it's a little bit strange to be talking to someone in a professional capacity, and as a grown woman, when you considered them childhood heroes.
On my 10th birthday, Zig and Zag called (well, bellowed) my name out on RTE's The Den as part of their birthday roll-call. Duly enamoured, I collected every scrap of merchandise that my pocket money could afford me. And I certainly wasn't alone.
"We met people last month whose boxroom is still wallpapered in Zig and Zag wallpaper," Zig reveals. "It's like we were camouflaged in there."
Adds Zag: "Imagine if you went on a date and you went back to his gaff, and there's his picture all over every single wall…"
In the unlikely event that you aren't familiar with the alien twin puppets, or have consigned them to the back of your mind with other childhood memories, here's a quick refresher: beamed in direct from the planet Zog, the pair made their debut on RTE's Dempsey's Den in 1987. Their madcap approach and, um, unique line of questioning soon saw their fanbase swell, landing them a Jacobs Award for TV Personalities of the Year in 1988 to boot.
In 1992, the bright lights of London beckoned for the pair as they joined the presenting team on Channel 4's The Big Breakfast alongside Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin. They were the show's runaway success story, and cult status beckoned.
A UK top 5 single, a 2FM radio show and acres of school merchandise later, and they're going back into the fray.
"They're drawing us now, which is probably something for other stars to think about in the future," says Zag. "Let's just say, they're giving us legs."
Predictably, the pair will get up to all manner of random scrapes and misadventures: they go back to school in order to learn how to do crosswords; they learn how to get to the top of an ice-cream van queue, they join the scouts and become the number of one fans of their local football team, Burbia United.
The silliness, in other words, is in plentiful supply.
Being back in Montrose means one positive fringe benefit: the pair get to raid the RTE wardrobe department. Zag was previously known for his cross-dressing, and in today's post-Caitlyn Jenner world, he is happy to let his feminine flag fly.
"I've spent several hours in costume trying many a dress on," he says. "In the show my underwear, which is leopardskin, gets seen occasionally. I've had to sneak a few dresses out of there… let's just say Jean Byrne no longer has that silver dress. That's al I'm saying."
Now that they're clearly getting on in years, I ask them how they plan to vote in the upcoming election.
"Well, we were born on February 9 so technically we are still underage and therefore ineligible to vote," says Zag. "We are 13 in human years, but 532 in Zog years."
Their one-time comrade Ray D'Arcy has also been lured back to the RTE fold, and I do wonder if they managed to give him any guidance when it comes to interviewing celebrities.
"We did say to him, 'you gotta have a lot of lightbulbs around you to distract the audience from what he's saying'," says Zig. "Maybe he could have done with a few more lightbulbs, if we're honest..."
They do have their own suggestions as to how to improve his Saturday night chat show: "He could really use a sidekick or two to ask the questions that are really awkward," muses Zag. "He could do with someone furry sitting on that sofa."
Back in the 90s, Zig and Zag were renowned on The Big Breakfast for putting to the A-list the questions that few others dared to ask. Fortunately, they're in the mood to reminisce on the good, the bad and the downright mean.
"Mark Wahlberg wasn't great, because he'd just changed his name from 'Marky Mark' to plain 'Mark' and we kept calling him 'Marky Mark'," recalls Zig.
Adds Zag: "We asked him a silly question and he didn't want to play along at all. He got very vexed. The Stereo MCs were also on another planet when we interviewed them at 7am."
They also invoked the ire of the late David Bowie, when they were despatched by MTV to interview celebrities at the MTV Video Music Awards in Berlin: "He threw a glass of water on us," says Zag, barely concealing his pride.
"We were annoying him by interrupting him a lot. We didn't mean to annoy him but we did. But that was cool… how many people can say they've had David Bowie throw water on them?"
On a more positive note, Eric Clapton was a much more amenable guest: "He sat down and said to us, 'I knew this day would come'. He was very nervous which was more fun for us," says Zag.
Rock 'n' roll fame beckoned again when they were brought on tour by Aerosmith to Texas and joined them on stage in front of 40,000 people who had no idea who the furry twins were.
"At that point Aerosmith were vegetarians and drinking milkshakes, so it wasn't very rock 'n' roll," admits Zag.
Thus enamoured by life on the road, the pair released their single, Them Girls Them Girls, which crash-landed into the UK Top 5 singles chart in 1994. Helming their pop career was none other than Simon Cowell.
"He was alright, he hadn't developed the TV nastiness yet," muses Zig. "He did wear the flouncy clothing and the unbuttoned short, which was distracting. Our second single went to Number 19 in the charts and we never heard from him again."
Still, being kicked out of Cowell's pop paradise hasn't harmed their musical credentials one bit, and they even managed to persuade Kaiser Chiefs, who were also childhood fans of the pair, to record the single for their new animation series.
"It was pretty cool… they got it on the first go," says Zag. "Just goes to show you, always ask and you never know what might happen."
Kaiser Chiefs aren't the only ones to profess themselves fans: at the recent taping of TFI Friday, James Corden approached Zig and Zag for a chat. Some decades prior, the pair also got a letter from an unlikely source.
"We got a letter from Princess Diana, via our co-presenter Gaby Roslin," Zag enthuses. "She asked if she could get some Zig and Zag soft toys sent to Harry and William."
Adds Zag: "So if there's ever a car boot sale in Buckingham Palace, there we'll be, probably on sale for two for £1."
The pair are undecided on whether they will be able to resist the siren song of London, should the powers that be come knocking again. For now, they can reveal that tentative plans are afoot to reunite with D'Arcy for a one-off The Den anniversary special.
And with their trademark silliness being introduced to another generation of Irish TV fans, it's safe to assume that the mayhem looks set to run and run.
'Zig and Zag' is on the RTÉjr app from Tuesday and airs on RTÉjr television at 5.45pm the same day