Wednesday 21 February 2018

It ain't broke, so don't fix it

Taking the proverbial: RTE is lucky to have writer Oliver Callan
Taking the proverbial: RTE is lucky to have writer Oliver Callan

Eilis O'Hanlon

THE scarcity of comedy on Irish radio is one of broadcasting's great mysteries. There are scores of funny topical series on the BBC, and they regularly feature Irish voices; the talent and material is clearly there to be tapped; but for too long the only dedicated comedy show amid all the chat, chat, chat on our own national airwaves has been Callan's Kicks.

Whether RTE knows how lucky it is to have Oliver Callan is another matter. Incredibly, the writer/impressionist has revealed that the powers that be at the station are uncomfortable with his sketches featuring President Higgins and aide Kevin, which have been one of the highlights of the new series. If it ain't broke, lads, don't fix it. And to be fair, the suits do give Callan a refreshingly wide berth when it comes to taking the proverbial out of some of the network's biggest stars, including Miriam O'Callaghan.

Last week's show even featured a Late Late Toy Show spoof in which Tubs was introduced to the 'My First Miriam' doll, which made me feel guilty for laughing so much ("you're so braaave"); whilst Callan's Joe Duffy was heard launching a Liveline calendar featuring all the usual days of the week: "Moany Monday ... Terrible, Terrible Tuesday ... Whinging, Whining Wednesday ... Tortured Thursday, ah go on ... and, of course, Funny Friday, the saddest day of all."

How right you are.

On Newstalk, at least there's now a rival in the shape of You Couldn't Make It Up, presented by the under-rated, under-used Pat O'Mahony, which is recorded live each Friday in the Helix in Dublin and then broadcast on Sunday for maximum topicality. Featuring such well known names as Tara Flynn and Karl Spain in the line- up, it's sort of a cross between Have I Got News For You?, the classic BBC panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, and Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Not all of it worked. The news-based material at the start was stronger than the improvised sketches at the end. But it was only the first edition, it'll undoubtedly get sharper, and new Irish comedy is always welcome. It's too important to be left in the hands of Today FM's Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show, where the Gift Grub slots sound increasingly clunky and dated.

In politics, the big news earlier in the week, before the Smithwick report and the death of Mandela, was the unveiling of former Labour chairman Colm Keaveney as Fianna Fail's newest TD. Tuesday saw three markedly different approaches to the story on the three main stations.

The Last Word on Today FM was typically forensic, with plenty of "ouch" moments as Matt Cooper probed Keaveney's attitude to his new party's shiny reformed image. Drivetime was more bland, and at times sounded like an episode of the late Anthony Clare's In The Psychiatrist's Chair as Mary Wilson twice asked Keaveney about his brief spell as an independent: "You felt lonely?"

Then there was The Right Hook, on which an in-form George made no effort at all to disguise his disdain for what the former Labour man had done, declaring at one stage: "This is opportunism I haven't seen the like of in 11 years on radio". Hook was the most hostile of the three broadcasters, but significantly this was also the interview in which Keaveney best rose to the challenge of putting his case, pointing out, for example, that, if he was after popularity, then joining Fianna Fail was hardly the easiest way of doing it.

There's a valuable lesson in there somewhere for politicians and news producers alike.

Sunday Independent

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