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Can RTE's new comedy duo put a smile on our face?


Top 20s: Kevin (Diarmaid Furlong), Mary (Amy Kirwan), Seamus (Darryl Kinsella), and Ray (Jason Healy) in Roaring Twenties, and (inset) programme makers Steven Stubbs (left) and Ray Sullivan

Top 20s: Kevin (Diarmaid Furlong), Mary (Amy Kirwan), Seamus (Darryl Kinsella), and Ray (Jason Healy) in Roaring Twenties, and (inset) programme makers Steven Stubbs (left) and Ray Sullivan

Top 20s: Kevin (Diarmaid Furlong), Mary (Amy Kirwan), Seamus (Darryl Kinsella), and Ray (Jason Healy) in Roaring Twenties, and (inset) programme makers Steven Stubbs (left) and Ray Sullivan

Having taken a lot of flak for the poor quality of its comedy output in the past, RTE has turned to two young film school graduates in the hope that they can deliver a hit sitcom for the broadcaster.

Steven Stubbs (30) and Ray Sullivan (24) are the men behind the The Roaring Twenties, a comedy set among twentysomethings in the Dublin flatland of Rathmines. The pilot episode airs on RTE2 tonight.

"RTE has dabbled with sitcoms before," says Stubbs, who wrote the script and co-directed The Roaring Twenties. "So we had shows like Upwardly Mobile and The Cassidys, but they weren't successful. I think the reason is that they were made by middle-aged men for a younger audience."

Stubbs and Sullivan met when they studied film production together in Ballyfermot College, in Dublin. The pair quickly became friends because they had the same sense of humour and shared a passion for blue-chip US sitcoms like My Name is Earl, Seinfeld and The Simpsons. And they both felt that there was a dearth of good home-produced comedy.

"It's not really fair, is it?" asks Ray Sullivan, who is being interviewed for the first time in his life. "I'm paying a licence fee to RTE, but I don't watch it because there's nothing on that I find interesting. I only watch American or British shows."

"Our show is unique because we're both young," says Steven Stubbs. "We just wanted to make something fast-paced and funny that we ourselves, and other young people like us, would like to watch."

The Roaring Twenties is about four twentysomethings renting a house together. But beyond that the similarity with Friends ends. First, its contains explicit language, mild erotic scenes and has no audience laughing in the background. Second, the four principals are made up of three guys and just one girl. And, third, Dublin will play a major role in the series.

Stubbs admits that the show's hero, a layabout named Kevin, is actually an exaggerated version of himself.

"The show's going to be packed with action," Steven promises. "In the pilot, for example, you'll find four main storylines for each of the leading characters, but there's also about a dozen smaller storylines, including a wacky German in underpants and a sexy goth lady called Vixen. And one of the characters will reveal superhuman powers.

"Initially it was just an exercise for us," says Sullivan. "We shot the original pilot last August. We sent it to a few production companies. Eventually we gave the tape over to RTE's commissioning people."

Stubbs continues: "We got a phone call within a week. It was completely unexpected. They wanted me to write up another episode and give an outline of the main characters. I already had ideas for loads of episodes, so that was easy. After that, they gave us the money to re-shoot the pilot and shoot the first episode, which we did over 10 days at the end of November."

Steven Stubbs will not disclose the exact amount, but it is understood the budget was over €100,000. Neither he nor Ray had ever seen so much money.

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'I remember sitting in the RTE canteen holding my head with both hands," says Sullivan. "So much money for just the two of us! And so little time! I was saying: there's absolutely no way we'll do it before January!"

So the pair enlisted the help of Adrian Devane and Brian Willis of Igloo Productions. Devane's CV includes work on big-screen features like Apocalypto and King Arthur.

RTE is waiting for the pilot to air in order to see the public's reaction. If the ratings are good, Stubbs and Sullivan will get the funding to complete the first season, which will consist of six episodes to air in October.

It's a good life, Stubbs agrees, but it wasn't like this all the time. He has had to take up "various dead-end jobs", like working in a call centre, which he hated. In 2004, Stubbs won a student media award for a script he wrote at college called Manhattan II: Attack of the Space Tarantulas.

Ray Sullivan co-directed the Roaring Twenties and masterminded the post-production process. "After graduating from film school I worked in a post-production house for a while, but decided it was a waste of time. So I left and started teaching myself animation, special effects and graphic design. It's something I really wanted to do ever since I saw The Matrix."

Just like the show's creators, most of the cast members are young, virtually unknown actors. Steven Stubbs says Amy Kirwan, who plays the female lead, is set to become a big star.

"Fair play to RTE for doing this," says Ray Sullivan. "They've given us a chance. We worked very hard for that, though. Steven's been writing scripts for 15 years, and I'd sometimes spend four to five days without leaving the apartment, editing. We got lucky; hopefully we'll get even luckier."

The pilot episode of The Roaring Twenties airs on RTE2 tonight at 10.45pm

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