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Christmas comedy? Don't make me laugh

'Tis the season to be jolly, or at least in which to seek jollity, so I trawled through the schedules in pursuance of a laugh, alighting immediately on an RTÉ One programme with the promising title Ho! Ho! Ho!

Unfortunately, this yuletide chat with "a host of stars", conducted through the medium of Irish by an alternately simpering and gushing Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, had the immediate effect of eliciting an earnest plea of No! No! No!

Maybe someone more indulgent than myself was happy to hear from gaelgeoir academic Alan Titley that snow is "lovely when you're indoors" but is "not so nice if you're outside". And maybe the same wide-eyed soul was fascinated to learn from Nationwide presenter Mary Kennedy that she's "always fit to burst after Christmas dinner". And, on the same topic, maybe Bláthnaid's advice to "open that top button of your trousers quietly so no one can see you" conjured up less disturbing images for others than for me.

Moving swiftly elsewhere, I found myself drawn to the same channel's Meet Your Neighbours, a comedy sketch show featuring PJ Gallagher in a variety of guises. Never mind that I've always thought this comedian about as funny as a cold sore, RTÉ's Real Player had assured me that his latest series was intended for "mature audiences" and I like to think of myself as belonging to that select category of viewers.

What the Real Player's preliminary caption had neglected to mention was that all the sketches were entirely witless and that some of them were quite rancid. About halfway through, one of Gallagher's creations leered "Anyone can get their face on television", and I was compelled to concur with his observation.

Still, there was always the festive edition of RTÉ Two's The Republic of Telly, even though the continuity announcer warned me at the outset that "if you're easily offended, this one might not be for you".

How right she was, though the offence was purely to my intelligence. At one point the camera positioned itself on a Dublin street while various young guys either mooned at it or stripped off entirely and waved their willies in its direction. Another segment featured regular participant Bernard O'Shea laughing uproariously at his own jokes. Well, I suppose somebody had to.

The comedy wasn't much better across the water. Channel 4 offered Catherine ("Am I bovvered?") Tate in the hour-long Laughing at the Noughties, which promised to explore how television comedy has developed and changed over the last decade but which was merely an excuse for Tate and a few of her cronies to tell us how great they all were, especially Tate herself.

Dawn French turned up to assure her that she was brilliant. So did Rich Hall, Lee Mack and David Tennant. Tate described them as "trailblazers who also happen to be my mates." They were certainly that.

Then there was ITV's The Comedy Annual, a supposedly side-splitting look back at the past year presented by Phillip Schofield, whose affinity with laughs is roughly comparable to my expertise in nuclear physics. Alistair McGowan came on to give so-so impersonations of Prince Charles, Gary Barlow and Arsene Wenger, while I thought the routines by Jason Manford and Patrick Monahan just as lack- lustre, though I did chuckle at voiceover maestro Dave Lamb's one-liner about Shane Warne wooing Liz Hurley: "The last time he held something that wooden he hit a six with it."

But it was left to Jason Byrne's concluding 10 minutes to make me laugh out loud. Byrne can be far too shouty for his own good, but when he's on form -- and the material is good -- his manic energy is irresistible. His subjects here included the Irish visits of Obama and the Queen, the quaintness of landline phones and the demented Christmas Eve behaviour of his drunken parents, and I never stopped chortling.

In his Imagine series (BBC One), Alan Yentob offered the two-part The Art of Stand-Up, which contemplated the business of comedy with his usual earnestness. This led Ed Byrne, who was one of his interviewees, to wryly marvel at "the idea of elevating comedy to the status of art", but that didn't stop Yentob -- or, indeed, most of his interviewees, who were only too chuffed to be regarded as the Shakespeares, Rembrandts and Mozarts of their chosen profession.

It's only rock and roll, as Eric Clapton said about his own endeavours, but try telling that to some of these guys. Come to that, there were hardly any girls to be seen or heard from, but then we all know that girls aren't funny.

And there was nothing funny about The Year the Earth Went Wild (Channel 4), which catalogued the various natural calamities that hit an unprepared world in the past 12 months -- 20,000 fatalities in the Japanese tsunami, almost 600 in American tornados, another 600 in the Turkish earthquake.

Then there were the Bangkok floods, the New Zealand earthquake, Australian cyclones, Arctic weather in the northern hemisphere and Hurricane Irene in the Bahamas.

Ah well, things can only get better, though that's not what the scientists think.

Indo Review