"RTE can’t do comedy" is an old refrain. Actually, RTE can do comedy and has done some very fine comedy over the years: Paths to Freedom, Hardy Bucks, the unjustly overlooked – and even more unjustly cancelled – Trivia, Aprés Match and, even though it’s technically a comedy-drama, Bachelor’s Walk.
In the 1980s, of course, there was the groundbreaking, zeitgeisty Nighthawks, which at the time provided a vital shop window for the new breed of Irish comedy writers and performers.
But triumphs such as these are pitifully few and separated by long stretches of mediocrity during which you rather wished RTE wouldn’t try comedy at all.
By the time the nine o’clock news interrupted RTE Does Comic Relief on Friday, it looked ominously like the Twitter naysayers forecasting a disaster might be right.
You can’t fault the show’s good intentions – by the end of the broadcast more than €5m had been raised for various charities and the figure is still rising – or the huge effort it took everyone involved to pull such an ambitious production together in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
Yet, there’s no denying the first hour was a terrible drag. Having five presenters – Deirdre O’Kane (the prime mover behind the evening), Nicky Byrne, Baz Ashmawy, Jennifer Zamparelli and Eoghan McDermott – felt unnecessary.
A couple were stiff and looked unsure of themselves, although the absence of a studio audience to bounce off certainly didn’t make things any easier.
The only discernible comedy in this first segment was a painfully unfunny sketch featuring Pat Shortt doing his familiar demented culchie thing (a rural GP this time).
When RTE decided to do Comic Relief, I’m not sure they intended the news to be a welcome relief from the comedy, but that’s what it felt like at that early point.
Mercifully, the evening caught fire after the break. The spark was The Den reunion with Ray D’Arcy, Zig and Zag, Dustin and a remote Bob Geldof, looking fuzzy at the other end of an old Nokia.
For 15 riotous minutes of glorious silliness, parents (including this one) and their grown-up kids were magically transported back to those joyous afternoons in the 90s.
D’Arcy was transported, too, back in his element and enjoying every second of it. There’s already a clamour to bring back The Den with the old crew. Show me the petition and I’ll sign it.
Telethons are usually a mixed bag, and this was no exception. I’d never heard of The 2 Johnnies (my YouTube comedy education is lacking) and could have lived without their musical spoofs on the night. I can live without Bridget and Eamon and Katherine Lynch – the 21st-century Twink – any night.
Overall, though, the good stuff outweighed the dud stuff. The Normal People-Fleabag mash-up was charming and self-aware, rather than outright hilarious. The Normal Older People sketch was funnier – although having a third Normal People-related sketch from trio Foil Arms and Hog, good as they are, was overkill.
The Derry Girls Zoom chat with Saoirse Ronan was amusing.
The spoof investigative documentary on defunct RTE show The Panel, which roped in big British names like Romesh Ranganathan and David Mitchell, was funnier than it had any right to be and even included a jibe about how you have to get away from RTE to make it in comedy.
For me, though, the highlight was Waterford Whispers News. The gags were sharp as a tack and delivered with deadpan brilliance by Anne Doyle. I could have done with more than just two brief segments, and indeed more of Michael McElhatton reworking a classic moment from Paths to Freedom.
That dodgy opening hour aside, the show was a success and the musical interludes a treat.
There’s no reason why RTE shouldn’t do this again, and do it even better.
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“You can get killed just for living in your American Skin,” sang Bruce Springsteen in ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’, his powerful song about the fatal shooting of young black man Amadou Diallo by four white policemen in New York City in 1999.
I’ll never know what it feels like to be a black or a brown man. Because I’m white. I’ll never know what it feels like to be verbally abused or physically assaulted because of the colour of my skin. Because my skin is white.
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My mother, were she still with us, would probably be shocked. Graphic violence. Full-frontal nudity. Explicit sex. Four-letter words. Torture. The truly horrible murder of a baby boy, made even more horrible by the decision to show viewers the face of the dead infant, whose eyelids have been stitched open.