Mario Rosenstock talks playing hardball with RTE to get his new TV show
They don't seem like an obvious TV match, but Mario Rosenstock has chosen Simon Cowell's best pal Louis Walsh to kickstart his biggest TV show to date - and it could prove his canniest move yet as the quirky impersonator moves into a Sunday prime-time slot on RTE.
The former X-Factor star took a little gentle persuasion, he admits. So they arranged a meeting in 'Louis' canteen', aka the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, where he said the music mogul turned the tables by leaving him in stitches the whole time.
"He ordered twice off the menu, he had two dinners while I had a glass of water and he was very funny. We were there for hours and I just rolled around laughing the whole time. He gave me loads of gossip. Mention a name to him, like 'Do you know such and such' and he just fires back: 'He's got financial problems, his marriage is on the rocks.' He's brilliant craic.
"He did tell me I reminded him of a younger David Walliams, that I was like the new Mrs Brown's Boys. The only one I didn't remind him of was a young Michael Jackson."
Ireland's most successful mimic is in ebullient form when we sit down for a chat. When it comes to being the most fun dad to his children with wife Blathnaid - Dash (8) and Belleamie (2) - I reckon he'd win hands down.
His latest series sees him jumping stations from RTE Two to RTE One and moving straight into the headlights of a Sunday prime-time slot at 9.30pm.
Filmed in front of a live studio audience, he'll also have live bands, celebrity guests and, of course, Mario himself taking centre stage in a variety of guises.
The show's a full half-hour longer than his previous two outings and he reveals that it took a little convincing from RTE before he agreed to make another show for them.
The Gift Grub star played a little hard ball with them - and it paid off, as he got exactly what he wanted from the national broadcaster.
Rosenstock freely admits that he finds the whole time- consuming element of making a TV show "tedious" and if he was going to put in months of time and energy into a project, it needed to be the right one.
Radio was a lot easier because of its immediacy and if a big story broke in the evening, he could have a whole skit recorded for the Ian Dempsey Show the following morning. Not so with TV, where he says he could spend nine hours a day on editing alone.
"They said to me, 'would you do another series' and I said, 'No' because I felt like I reached the end of my tether doing the one thing," he said.
"So they said to me, 'What will you do?' and I said, 'This is what I want to do' and this is my attempt at a very ambitious, multi-faceted show, based on my characters and dragging in celebrity fly-in's as well. I wanted to make a Sunday night entertainment that makes you laugh and gives you a buzz.
"It's all about giving you a challenge and you bring the best out in yourself when you're challenged. You can fail, you can make mistakes and that's better than being bored. Not knowing what you can pull off is scary, but that's what's good about it."
While most TV stars would give their right arm for a similar slot, he has described it as a "Sword of Damocles, a poisoned chalice" as there's a lot riding on it.
"They really landed me in it with this slot, but I asked for this," he continued.
The critics have generally been kind to Mario over the years. He never got the roasting that Brendan O'Carroll did for his Mrs Brown's Boys series.
The figures speak for themselves - his previous two series of the Mario Rosenstock Show were among the most successful ever for RTE.
"A critic is no different to anybody else," he said. "If somebody I know, like my neighbour for example, if they didn't like it at all, I'd be going 'Ah b****cks'.
"They have their job to do. I'm not going to get into the whole, 'F**k the critics way of thinking.' But the key word is 'critic' and that's their job so that's fine.
"They're never going to go, 'Hey it's an incredible day in the life of Mario Rosenstock.' That's not what they do and that's fine."
What audiences like best perhaps is that despite working for the national broadcaster, he doesn't hold back when it comes to mimicking some of our best-known faces.
From Miriam 'genuinely' O'Callaghan to Keith Duffy and Joe Duffy, nobody is safe from his razor-sharp wit and uncanny mimicry.
This new series sees him even taken a pop at his old Today FM colleague Ray D'Arcy, now RTE's new golden boy.
While refusing to divulge too much about what aspect of his character he'll be pillorying, he reckons there's a "lot of funniness" in Ray, given his "running and the porridge".
"We're very enthusiastic about the angle that we're taking. He emerges in episode two and it's quite cheeky. Now that he's doing a TV show, he's even more centre stage," he said.
Asked what he reckoned the presenter would make of his impersonation, he said: "Ray has a good sense of humour. He gets far worse treatment from Dustin."
Mario believes this new show sees him coming full circle as he's bringing that live theatre element that he loves from his Gift Grub tours into a TV format, while also moving on the show.
"The live shows are the best. I wanted to marry the idea of the experience that I've had over the past seven years and I feel I have come full circle now, so I think it works."
The Mario Rosenstock Show airs on Sunday, RTE One at 9.30pm