Walking a comic tightrope with no safety net
David McSavage, whose brand of humour can be enjoyed exclusively by our readers next week, will never play the game as a guest making witty comments on chat shows, he tells Declan Lynch
IT was the sense of danger that first distinguished David McSavage from most of his contemporaries in comedy. You'd see him doing his gig at the top of Grafton Street or on the Late Late with Pat Kenny and you felt that anything could happen. If it did, it would probably be original and funny and if it didn't, it would be better next time.
Then The Savage Eye series on RTE2 showed that he didn't need the buzz of confrontation with a live audience to make it work. With collaborators such as Patrick McDonnell and John Colleary, it dug into the entrails of various aspects of Irish life, such as the arts, sex and property and it was almost entirely funny.
At one level, McSavage is coming from the same sort of comfortable background as a lot of his comedy compatriots -- he is the son of David Andrews of Fianna Fail and the brother of Barry Andrews, the current Minister for Children. But unlike so many of the more house-trained funnymen, there is a genuinely wild streak in McSavage.
Unlike them, you don't get the impression that he could just become a barrister if the comedy didn't work out. You feel he really needs to be doing this -- that it's all or nothing.
Maybe a clue to this can be found in the fact that he is a recovering alcoholic, which, if nothing else, can give you a somewhat unusual way of looking at the world. This was one of the things we talked about when we met last week in the context of the CD or download that is available with this paper. next week
I had also met him recently to make a small contribution as a talking head to an episode of the new series of The Savage Eye, which starts later this month. The episode was about Irish sport, which I love to the point of obsession, but about which I had nothing but bad things to say. It made sense at the time.
Declan Lynch: I suppose we should start by talking about the crisis in the public finances.
David McSavage: What public finances?
DL: The economy.
DMcS: What do I think about the economy?
DMcS: I've no f**king idea. For The Savage Eye, I actually did vox pops with people and this girl, she's going to Trinity and she said: 'Well we're part of this big wheel. And it all started with the sub-prime lending.' I don't even know what that means, sub- prime, above prime, all these levels of prime.
DL: You did a sketch in the last series about a banker giving out a mortgage to someone who had absolutely no money and absolutely no chance of ever having any money.
DMcS: That's right, the Hindu mortgage, you pay your mortgage off over several lifetimes. This year, we were trying to do something about the palpable anger on the streets about the top echelons of bankers. On the streets they just want to get somebody. They don't know who to get, who to blame. So the sketch was a bit like Apocalypse Now, in which an economic black operative is trying to discover who was ultimately to blame.
He goes into the Central Bank and he goes into office after office and the whole place is in chaos and at the end of the corridors, who will be there? On the way, maybe Cowen is being sacrificed.
DL: There is this sense that there's a community of Irish comedians who are on TV all the time and that you are outside of that.
DMcS: Yes, very much so. I have burned a lot of bridges. But I presume that is where I want to be. I am doing this TV thing, but I suppose my real ambition would be to write a script for a film. It is nice to get critical acclaim here, but if you write a script for a film and record something that would have an international audience, that would be exciting.
DL: Anyone I've spoken to, thinks that you might be the very man.
DMcS. That would be nice. It's a dream, but you have to work towards that.
DL: You don't come across as one of those reasonable kind of stand-up guys making witty remarks on talk shows.
DMcS: I wouldn't want to do what they do. Maybe I couldn't, I'd f**k it up. As much as I know that playing the game is beneficial to a career, there is a part of me that is not controllable. So I think I am in the right area in being allowed to make these programmes and being allowed to say what I want to say and sometimes it is reasonable and sometimes it is unreasonable. But if we were talking without being recorded, I could bitch about this and that. But it's a bit like two lovers meeting and they do baby talk, if you did it in public, people would want to shoot you in the f**king head.
So if I was to sit here and go on about this guy and what an obsequious arse-kisser he is and how insipid this is and bloodless and without edge, if I was to go on about people like that, it would make me look like a real bitter f**ker.
It is something we Irish people do behind closed doors among friends, we slag off; but if you did it in public, you look like an arsehole. So there are little plates spinning in my head, grudges and all that, but it almost takes up too much space in your head sometimes. So for somebody like me, we need our projects, our goals, we need to look outwards and keep working. That's where we'll find happiness.
DL: Where are you at the moment on the issue of alcohol?
DMcS: Drink Aware. It is this front for the drinks industry, giving the impression the Government is trying to look after your health, but Drink Aware has no impact. It has the word "drink" in it, it has the word "aware". Are you drunk? Yes. Are you aware you are drunk? Yes. It means f**k all, right?
We also have this situation that when people stop drinking, they suddenly keep quiet about it, they meet secretly, they are anonymous. It's like the pyramid is the wrong way round. It should be that you drink secretly, quietly, away from people and the people who are able to have a good time without drinking should be the people outside being public about it.
DL: Particularly in your line of work, appearing in public, the adrenaline, do you still want to drink after a show?
DMcS: It's not as big a deal as you think it is. You go up there and there's a lot of people and you are funny and I think men -- emotionally retarded, emotionally unintegrated men -- would think this validation, this laughter means you are much greater than you are.
And to keep this sense of how brilliant you are, you need to congratulate yourself and drink. But it's just people out there in the audience, they need to laugh, the jokes don't have to be that funny, they don't know you, they're just reacting to what you are saying. Don't read too much into it. It's like any other profession -- you do the job and get the f**k off stage and go home and don't try and surf on this imaginary wave of love, because they don't love you, they don't know you.
And also a comedian, he's spending a year to get a conversation lasting 30 minutes, so many of these comedians you talk to after a stage show are very boring, they're very uninteresting, they're very deficient socially. They look like they're very funny, interesting, windswept, charming, but they've been working on that.
DL: But you must have a pretty strong self-belief?
DMcS: It's all very moody with me, sometimes if an audience likes me, I want to ruin it. I'm pissed off that they're happy and I say something horrible.
So I'm very, very self-destructive, but as I get older that's diminishing and if people pay to go and see you, you have a professional duty.
DL: You must have a position on The X-Factor?
DMcS: It is exactly like these excursions to Victorian mental hospitals that rich people used to do. They had no guilt about standing there and looking at these people. That's what it is. These contestants with high opinions of themselves, internet heroes; completely delusional.
You know before they open their mouths they are completely insane and they stand up there and these three f**king industry people are looking at them, like the well-off Victorians looking through the keyhole, and you can see their idea of who they are collapse on top of themselves. It's slightly sanitised, slightly repackaged, but that's all it is.
DL: Who's going to win ?
DMcS: My favourite is Cher at the moment because when she's singing she has this dirty, sexual face and she's fantastic.
For a McSavage view of modern Ireland, don't miss our exclusively recorded, free David McSavage comedy CD/download offer, only with next week's Sunday Independent.
David McSavage will appear live at the following venues: Thursday, December 2, Greystones Theatre; Thursday, December 16, Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire; Saturday, December 18, INEC, Killarney; Wednesday, December 22, The Loft, Limerick; Tuesday, December 28, Kavanagh's Comedy Club, Portlaoise; Wednesday, December 29, Theatre Royal, Castlebar; Thursday, December 30, Moat Theatre, Naas; Saturday, January 1, The Spirit Store, Dundalk; Friday, January 7, Set, Kilkenny; Saturday, January 15, Wexford Arts Centre.