Saturday 17 August 2019

RTE asks comic Oliver Callan to tone down sketches on President and aide Kevin

A LITTLE BIT UNCOMFORTABLE: Satirist Oliver Callan. 'RTE are great. They're just cautious,' he says of requests from Montrose that he 're-examine' his approach. Photo: Gerry Mooney
A LITTLE BIT UNCOMFORTABLE: Satirist Oliver Callan. 'RTE are great. They're just cautious,' he says of requests from Montrose that he 're-examine' his approach. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

RTE HAS asked Oliver Callan to tone down his comedy sketches of President Michael D Higgins and his executive assistant Kevin McCarthy.

Reminiscent of the infamous Scrap Saturday furore, the biting satirical sketches have ruffled feathers within Montrose, where concerns have been raised over Callan's portrayal of the President and his aide.

It marks the first editorial interference by senior RTE producers since Callan's infamous portrayal of Taoiseach Brian Cowen's social drinking.

"RTE have become a little bit uncomfortable with the sketches and I have been asked to re-examine that part of the show and tone it down a bit, the personal element to it," Mr Callan told the Sunday Independent this weekend.

An RTE spokesperson said: "They look at every skit, every week and remarks are made and editorial advice is given. You just happened to hear about this particular [instance]."

The news comes as President Higgins and Kevin McCarthy are preparing to make their big break on to our screens just in time for Christmas.

The special one-off show will air over the holidays and feature caricatures of the pair on television for the first time.

In the weekly radio sketches, President Higgins and Mr McCarthy are often heard writing poetry, playing hide-and-seek and holidaying together.

President Higgins and his aide have been a firm fixture on the show since May, but have developed a huge fanbase in recent weeks.

"This is the most interest we have ever had in the show," Mr Callan said.

"There hasn't been this much reaction since Brian Cowen and the bar sketches. But it is fair to say that Michael D's character and his interaction with Kevin have sparked the biggest interest we have ever had in the show.

"We are getting a lot of emails from listeners saying they can't wait to hear what Michael D and Kevin will be up to next Friday."

Speaking about his creations, Mr Callan said: "They make a good comedy duo and I am trying to embellish their roles. Kevin as the loyal servant who is overindulgent of the President – and the President who enjoys his ego being massaged by Kevin."

Mr Callan also defended his sketches, reinforcing society's need for comedy to take a wry look at the powers that rule over the nation.

"The job of a satirist is not to make personal digs. I won't be invited to tea parties at the Aras, but I'm fine with being on the outside," he said.

Asked how he came up with the idea for the sketch, the hard-hitting comic said he is keen to work with the burning issues of the day.


"I approach each character in the same way that journalists would approach stories and I am always looking for new avenues to explore for the show," he said.

"Initially, I was actually going to base the comedy sketches on Michael D and Sabina," said Callan, "but because Sabina didn't feature as strongly, I thought this would be ideal.

"By the President's own admission, when he singled him out in his inauguration speech two years ago, they developed a friendship travelling almost 30,000km together around Ireland in a Volkswagen Golf during the campaign.

"And I just had this image of the two of them going around the motorways and byroads and little boreens and I thought it would make brilliant material for comedy purposes. Almost like Fr Ted and Dougal, or Laurel and Hardy, or even Bert and Ernie."

However, Mr Callan stressed that he doesn't want to go against popular opinion and risk isolating the show's huge fan base.

"I think RTE are great, they are just cautious. And of course you have to remember that we are dealing with someone who is extremely popular with the people. He received over a million votes when he ran for President, which was never seen before, and we will probably never see the likes of it again. So we don't want to piss our audience off either."

The Christmas special of Callan's Kicks will air between Christmas and New Year's Eve and President Higgins and Kevin will feature strongly in the show.

"There is a great sketch where they will be planning a holiday in January while Kevin is serving the President tea.

"They are discussing the media stories surrounding them and the President is asking why everyone thinks Kevin has too much influence when that is far from the case.

"Then you have Kevin telling the President he will be having tea instead of coffee because there's far too much caffeine in it, before answering the phone to a reporter saying, 'The President needs his rest and is only available between the hours of 10am and 6.30pm Monday to Friday'."

RTE's request comes after recent media reports that former presidential adviser Mary van Lieshout left her post at Aras an Uachtarain after experiencing difficulty in accessing the President.

Ms Van Lieshout has denied the reports and stated that she left on "amicable terms".

Mr McCarthy declined to comment on the controversy surrounding Ms van Lieshout's departure.

The President's executive assistant referred queries to the Aras' media adviser, who he said was dealing with the matter.

"I am not going to be adding anything," he told the Sunday Independent.

Sunday Independent

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