Wednesday 21 August 2019

Television review: Mr Angry Des Bishop is getting better with rage

* This is Ireland with Des Bishop (RTE 2)

This is Ireland with Des Bishop. Picture: RTE 2
This is Ireland with Des Bishop. Picture: RTE 2
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I had a book out a few years ago called The Book of Poor Ould Fellas, with illustrations by Arthur Mathews, which emerged out of articles I was writing in this paper about those men, and their existential misfortunes. And I noted that it was officially described as a work of "humour".

And I knew what they meant, but still it didn't feel quite right because the energy driving the book was not "humour", it was rage.

It was only funny because it was also completely serious, and full of this righteous anger about the treatment of that lost tribe of men.

Probably I didn't even understand this myself at the time, but it seems clearer to me now, that if you are just trying to be "humorous", you will probably not be funny. That it helps if some darker energy is present, be it rage or grief or just terrible embarrassment.

Probably the funniest man on earth is Stewart Lee, whose comedy is rooted in the most profound sense of rage, in a deep seriousness, who somehow stays in control of his material despite it all - maybe because of it - because the only alternative for a civilised person is to descend into madness.

And indeed if there is one reason above all others why so many other comedians are not as funny as Lee, it is not because they are lacking in "humour", it is because they are not serious enough, or angry enough.

Yes I know there's an element to comedy which defies any such analysis, something intuitive which decrees for example, that to write of "Paddy" can be funny, depending on who is doing it of course, but not "the Paddies".

But looking at This Is Ireland With Des Bishop, I think we are in that territory in which the anger of the funnyman is the essential element. You could say he gets better with rage.

This is a four-part series, which is something that should make Bishop angry in the first place, suggesting as it does that this is quintessentially half-assed, that there's a lack of belief in the show but they're sticking it out anyway just in case.

Which might be reasonable if this was some experimental effort by an unknown, but hardly in the case of Bishop who is famous out there in the world.

Then again he is grappling with the dreaded "current affairs" and in that domain there is always a level of nervousness.

The title is also a tad annoying, This Is Ireland sounding like a working title that they were supposed to make better eventually, but which was preferred by executives because they felt it might appeal more to the stupid people who are always uppermost in their thoughts.

It is also copied from The Jon Stewart Show, but then in order to get made at all these days, it seems that every programme has to be pitched as a copy of something else. Moreover the brilliance of that show was rooted in the sort of confidence you don't get from being handed a four-part series.

So I would give Bishop a 14-part series, and I would do it because he has the seriousness, and he has the rage, and from an assiduous and intelligent application of these elements over a decent period of time, if there is hilarity to be had, it comes of its own accord.

Indeed his rage against the anti-vaxxers in last week's show was probably the purest expression of his talent , even if it wasn't "humorous" in the usual sense.

Which reminded me that I loved his series Des Bishop Work Experience, in which he did various bad jobs for bad money, a series which would be even more powerful today.

And of course parts of it were funny because he is a bright fellow with a sense of humour, but again this emerged as a natural consequence of the wretchedness in which he was embroiled.

Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, Hunter S Thompson - these men were at their funniest when they were incandescent with fury.

If Bishop wants to get there, there will never be a better time.

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