Saturday 10 December 2016

Only response to this 'crisis' is to laugh

Students of An Ghaeilge might be better to study 'CU Burn' than 'A Thit na Tit Orm', says Concubhar O Liathain

Published 02/05/2010 | 05:00

To say that we're in the middle of a crisis is to run the risk of uttering the greatest understatement of the millennium. But I'm not talking about Nama or the 'Great Bailout of the Few by the Many' or any number of the multitudinous other emergencies besetting our nation.

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An Crisis (TG4, Wednesday, 10.30pm) is the name of TG4's new comedy series set in a fictional state-funded Irish language promotion organisation -- and the series, which stars Risteard Cooper of Apres Match fame and Michelle Beamish does for the state advancement of An Ghaeilge what Yes Minister did for the public perception of civil servants. After a recent move into a new house, I have just managed to catch the fourth episode of what could yet be a classic of Irish television, a genuinely funny comedy series.

Comedy is akin to the lesser spotted rara avis on Irish television. For some strange -- if not funny -- reason, we don't do TV comedy well and you don't have to look any further than the RTE listings for proof of that assertion.

By a curious twist of fate, TG4 has managed to produce a string of critically acclaimed comedy series right from the launch of the station, a channel which many decried as 'laughable' from its inception.

CU Burn, the chronicle of a turf-fuelled crematorium in the Donegal gaeltacht run by a cunning undertaker and his long-suffering brother, was the Fawlty Towers of TG4. Penned by Niall Mac Eachmharcaigh and the late Sean Mac Fhionnghaile, it gave a new meaning to 'corpsing' as the dead of Donegal were involved in many hilarious escapades.

It may be that you saw one of the CU Burn episodes, which aired between 1996 and 1997, an episode in which I featured as an incompetent bank robber, but if you missed it, not to worry -- CU Burn will probably be repeated early and often. But like Fawlty Towers, it bears repeating.

In between CU Burn and An Crisis, there have been a fair few other comedy shows -- some of which have hit the mark, such as Paddywhackery, which featured the ghost of Peig, The Running Mate and Rasai na Gaillimhe, and others over which a veil will have to be drawn. But TG4's laughometer average is better than RTE's by long odds.

The latest episode of An Crisis featured a storyline in which schoolchildren are visiting the headquarters of ACT, the fictional language organisation, for a prizegiving. Their hero, GAA star Diarmuid Darcy, is to present the prizes but he turns up high on cocaine. In order to get him into some sort of shape for the event, he has to take some hash to bring him down from his 'sneachta ban' high.

There's a bit more to it than that -- there's a parrot who's keeping an eagle eye on the philandering activities of the acting CEO's wife, if only he could understand what the bird was saying, and an old hand of the organisation who knows where the skeletons are buried.

It's very difficult to explain comedy -- you really have to be there. Though there are a few things which could be said about the need to laugh and the function of satire in our current national emergency.

Some things are beyond parody. We're still paying pensions to politicians who also draw down a salary, we're still translating official documents which are unread in English to Irish so they can be equally unread in the first language and, to top it all, a committee has just been established by the State to redraft the Caighdean Oifigiuil, which sets the official definitive version of Irish, in that time honoured phrase of the moment, 'going forward'. Never mind that the Caighdean Oifigiuil is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Teachers are also complaining about the 'dumbing down' of the Irish Leaving Cert syllabus. Henceforth there'll only be a handful of poems and just a couple of books to study in the literature section for honours students.

If I could be as bold to make a suggestion, instead of studying Maidhc Dainin O Se's classic, A Thit na Tit Orm, students of An Ghaeilge should be required to study An Crisis or Rasai na Gaillimhe or CU Burn instead for a few years. If nothing else, it would give them something to smile about -- and given our current situation and the prospects our Leaving Certificate students face in the uncertain economic climate, that wouldn't be a bad result.

Sunday Independent

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