Entertainment Television

Wednesday 29 January 2020

David McSavage's savaging of RTE comedy and refusal to pay his TV licence is spot on - Pat Stacey

David McSavage
David McSavage

Pat Stacey

IT’S been a while since we’ve seen David McSavage on Irish television. The most recent series of his hilarious and wildly inventive RTE2 comedy The Savage Eye was back in 2014.

He’s been keeping busy in other ways since then, picking up acting roles in movies, including John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, the bankers-fight-to-the-death black comedy Traders and the upcoming revenge thriller IT, which stars Pierce Brosnan.

McSavage, real name David Andrews, also had a role in Kurt Sons of Anarchy Sutter’s short-lived 2015 TV series The Bastard Executioner, which – with no small irony, given its title – was axed after just 10 episodes.

When we next see him on TV, however, it will most likely be in a Six-One News report on his April 22 court appearance for non-payment of his TV licence . . . assuming, that is, Six-One actually covers the story.

You see, it’s a sensitive one for the national broadcaster, this. McSavage claims he’s refusing to cough up the €160 because of the terrible standard of RTE’s comedy.

“RTE didn’t commission my Savage Eye 1916 special because they were too scared and we might have done something funny,” he told The Irish Sun on Monday. “Instead, they hired Irish Pictorial Weekly to do a 1916, which ended up being derivative of The Savage Eye. It was awful.”

David McSavage
David McSavage

He was only getting warmed up. “The Rubberbandits are now as mainstream as Ryan Tubridy,” he said. “They used to be quirky and bent, but I thought that their 1916 special [broadcast on New Year’s Eve] was awful.

“As for the last series by Mario Rosenstock? I’m willing to go to prison for that. Shows like this are so bad they are making people tune out, with the result that people won’t bother watching RTE because they will assume it’s terrible.

“I refuse to pay my TV licence because the money will go to RTE, and they are not producing comedy. Their output is appalling and they have no respect or passion for the craft of comedy.”

Given all those 1916 references, plus McSavage’s talent for controversy (he was once arrested on Grafton Street for trying to sell copies of his DVD while wearing a posing pouch), it would be easy to dismiss his comments as nothing more than a particularly bad case of sour grapes, were it not for an inconvenient truth: he’s right.

McSavage in 2006. Photo: Mark Condren
McSavage in 2006. Photo: Mark Condren

I can’t entirely agree with him on Irish Pictorial Weekly’s take on 1916. I enjoyed it a lot – although I’m prepared to acknowledge that his own assault on the sacred cows of the Easter Rising would probably have been even more viciously satirical.

But he’s spot on about RTE comedy in general; it is terrible. The supposed satire of The Mario Rosenstock Show is timid and toothless. Politicians, many of them complicit in the ruination of the country, are made to seem like colourful characters instead of being torn to shreds. He’s tossing around sponge balls when he should be lobbing hand grenades.

Limerick duo The Rubberbandits, who once seemed like a genuinely subversive comedy force, are currently to be found paddling around the shallow waters of ITV2, home to Keith Lemon, with a series called The Almost Impossible Gameshow.

Then there’s the toxic influence of the Republic of Telly crowd, who seem to have RTE in a stranglehold. As if the witless original isn’t bad enough, we’ve had to endure spin-offs Damo & Ivor and the atrocious Bridget & Eamon.

Even when fate hands RTE quality comedy on a plate, it still doesn’t know how to handle it. Its treatment of Dermot Morgan was so shockingly bad, it eventually drove him away.

It axed the excellent Trivia (an appallingly stupid decision) with no explanation after two critically acclaimed series, yet continued to back various low-grade, self-indulgent vehicles for the likes of Katherine Lynch and PJ Gallagher.

It’s tempting to imagine that McSavage’s licence fee protest is just an elaborate stunt, except he’s been saying this stuff for a long time. Back in 2014, after the fourth series of The Savage Eye had wrapped, he told a different newspaper: “Nobody [in RTE] can write comedy. They can’t produce anything original. I’m sorry to have to say that.”

It’s saying something when the man behind the best comedy series RTE had aired in decades has to behave like an average viewer to get his point across.


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