independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

RTE's biting satire ruffles feathers of Cowen circle

Supporters unhappy at Cabinet portrayal as boozing buffoons

RTE has become embroiled in a potential controversy, reminiscent of the infamous Scrap Saturday furore, following the broadcast last week of a series of biting satirical sketches which have already ruffled feathers in political circles.

Nob Nation, a topical comedy series broadcast each day on the Gerry Ryan Show on 2FM, last week portrayed some members of the Cabinet, including Taoiseach Brian Cowen, as hard-drinking buffoons, and made several joking references to "The Drinks Cabinet".

A flood of complaints was subsequently fielded by the programme, primarily in relation to Nob Nation's portrayal of Mr Cowen, but also several other members of Cabinet, including the Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.

Mr Cowen was on government business in Japan last week and, therefore, did not hear the series. But supporters in Co Offaly are understood to have been upset.

The Taoiseach, who arrived home yesterday, is now likely to be made aware of his portrayal and may even seek to establish for himself what the fuss is about.

The satire has sparked an unprecedented increase in downloads of the 2FM comedy show, sending Nob Nation to the top of the podcast charts.

If he is questioned on the issue, Mr Cowen is likely to seek to publicly play down any upset he may personally feel. But the possibility exists that his Nob Nation caricature may eventually politically damage him, particularly if his Government fails to get a grip on the spiralling economic crisis.

In an address at Keio University in Japan last week, Mr Cowen spoke of a "common bond between the two countries -- the love of a pint of stout!"

Unknown to the Taoiseach, back home on the national airwaves, Nob Nation was using Mr Cowen's self-confessed fondness for an occasional pint to devastating effect against a background of the economy slipping ever deeper into crisis.

Oliver Callan, the Co Monaghan-born mimic behind the irreverent satire, produced five cutting sketches. His radio sketches came a week after a flurry of comments to RTE over his send-up of GAA and church figures on the Late Late Show.

There has been a non-stop "brouhaha" in RTE over the daily 2FM insert, with Fianna Fail insiders and even Church figures said to be criticising the show for being "vulgar", "sexist" and even "racist".

In recent days, Callan has portrayed the Taoiseach swaying and snorting in booze-filled sing-songs about his difficulties in office. In comically cutting scenes, chauvinistic TDs and ministers are also heard leering over a new bar girl, known as 'Arska', while calling for lock-ins and ballads.

RTE will be reassured by the findings of a Sunday Independent/Quantum Research telephone poll which last week found that a massive 71 per cent felt the satirical portrayal of Mr Cowen and his Cabinet colleagues by Nob Nation as "hard-drinking buffoons" was not wrong; 29 per cent felt it was wrong.

One Dublin male respondent said: "'Who needs Nob Nation? These muppets are doing a brilliant job all by themselves. It's so good, I'm hoping that I'll wake up and find the last six months have not really happened."

But another Dublin male said: "This is just a childish form of bullying. Making fun of someone's physical appearance and accent is the stuff of sandboxes."

RTE sources yesterday said that Nob Nation now leads all its shows, including Morning Ireland, for online activity. "It has simply exploded in recent months, it's getting over 250,000 hits a month and makes up nearly a third of all downloads in RTE," a source said.

Gerry Ryan this weekend has stood firmly behind Nob Nation.

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