Saturday 17 March 2018

Radio: Dustin's a proper turkey in more than one sense

Dustin the Turkey
Dustin the Turkey
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

What's funny to you? Do you like slapstick, clever wordplay, bawdy scatology, impersonations, or something else again?

We all have different tastes, and everyone knows that humour is an incredibly subjective thing. But it's usually still a surprise when you come across something you personally find funny, or not - and the world seems to disagree.

In a sure sign we're approaching the festive Silly Season, Dustin the Turkey appeared on Newstalk's Breakfast (Mon-Fri, 6.30am), alongside drag artist Rory O'Neill.

Immediately, Dustin launched into those familiar old trademarks: lame jokes, rubbish, harmless insults, toneless shouting. And I swear to God, I could literally almost feel my heart sink.

It's relentless. Stupid. Repetitive. Predictable. It is - to use one of the turkey's favourite words - brutal.

Why do people find this stuff funny? Dustin the Turkey is, in my opinion - there's that subjectivity again - probably the least-funny thing in history. The whole act isn't just "not funny", it's actively anti-funny.

Dustin is a black hole of funny, an Event Horizon of awfulness. Whatever way humour is meant to make you feel, Dustin achieves the exact opposite.

Yet this crapola has been running since 1989. That's a quarter of a century! The Berlin Wall was standing when Dustin started. It's a lifetime ago. And it's still going, so someone out there must like it. Whoever you are, please stop now.

I used to think it was one of those weird RTÉ obsessions that kept Dustin alive, like their insistence on the otherwise-great Pat Kenny as a viable option in light entertainment. But now, clearly, the virus has spread to Newstalk, too.

It must be me. I'm out of step, right? Dustin is great, and I'm wrong. That has to be it.

But then I hear the strained desperation in Ivan, Chris and Rory as they - out of politeness - force themselves to laugh at this blithering idiot, despite every shred of auditory evidence telling them: "Dustin isn't funny. Dustin isn't funny. Dustin isn't funny."

And I realise, no - I was right all along. Dustin is woeful, a menace which must be stopped.

Callans Kicks (Radio 1, Fri 6.30pm), by contrast, really is funny. Again, subjective opinion and so on and so forth… but it's good stuff. I think what makes it work is that Callan has settled on an almost perfect blend of gags, anger and accuracy of impersonation.

Too much anger with good gags is, well, not very amusing. Gags without anger lacks the heft and punch of great satire. And bad imitations of celeb voices can distract the listener and break the spell.

But he's got it all and does it all, a very entertaining mix of "serious" satire, which bites and strikes, and daft/silly routines. I especially love his Michael D - proper "spluttering coffee out your nose" moments - though, having said that, Michael D's own accent has changed so much, and become so ridiculous, that he's basically a self-parody at this stage.

The Niall Boylan Show (Classic Hits 4FM, Mon-Fri 1pm) is one of those phone-in programmes I invariably associate with my time spent in Dublin, except this one broadcasts (mostly) nationwide.

You probably know the kind of thing I mean: a brash, cocky host brings up contentious topics, then a bunch of quick-to-anger people ring in and start hurling abuse at each other, the host and whoever they happen to be discussing.

A lot of those people have sharp-edged working-class accents. The odd swear word might be dropped. Controversial opinions are given sway. In fact, these programmes' raison d'etre is mostly to stir up controversy and/or public passions.

It's the kind of thing an impeccably bourgeois media tosser like me should despise. However, The Niall Boylan Show provides a public service, of some kind, whether that's its aim or not (and I'm not saying it need be; 4FM is a private enterprise, they're entitled to chase the bottom line if they like). First, because they genuinely do cover topics which are important and of interest to the listening public - and not just impeccably bourgeois media tossers like me.

So, for instance, recent shows have examined crime and punishment, austerity, protest, animal cruelty and Black Friday. And not all contributors are shouty and angry; there's moderate comment, too.

Second, and more importantly, the show gives an airing to the kind of people - especially, the kind of accents - that you don't generally hear on radio. Think about it: when did you last encounter a proper, hardcore Dubbalin accent?

It's weird, and not right at all, that virtually everyone on the wireless talks in those carefully modulated, often transatlantic accents, peppered with right-on clichés. Real people don't speak like that, and there are millions of them in this country.

You might not always like what you hear on The Niall Boylan Show. But if nothing else, it's real, and there's a lot to be said for that.

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