Monday 27 May 2019

Comedian 'sorry' for offence joke caused, jury told

Impressionist Oliver Callan
Impressionist Oliver Callan

Tim Healy

THE impressionist Oliver Callan told a court yesterday he had never heard of Waterford's Maryland House when he wrote a sketch for RTE's 'Nob Nation' which is at the centre of a libel action.

Mr Callan said he believed Maryland was a district of Waterford that was well-known for prostitution but he had never heard it was a guesthouse or hotel in the city.

Had he known of its existence he would not have made such a reference, he told the High Court yesterday.

He also apologised for any offence he may have caused as he believed comedy should not set out to offend.

"If he (the guesthouse owner) has been an insulted as a direct result of anything I said on radio, I am very sorry for that."

He was giving evidence in an action against RTE by Vincent O'Toole (84), owner of the Maryland House, the Mall, Waterford city, who claims he was defamed in the 'Nob Nation' sketch on 2FM's 'Gerry Ryan Show' in August 2008.

Evidence before a jury of six men and six women ended yesterday. Closing speeches and the judge's charge are due to take place today.

The court has heard Mr O'Toole previously successfully sued the 'Sunday World' over a similar claim and was awarded €50,000 in damages.

The 'Nob Nation' sketch featured "Kevin My-arse" -- meant to be newspaper columnist Kevin Myers -- giving a 'Linguaphone' guide to Waterford slang.

"The Maryland is a byword in Waterford for prostitution although the original establishment from whence the term is derived has ceased business," it said.

It is alleged the words suggested Mr O'Toole was a brothel-keeper, that his home was the haunt of undesirables, and that he was or is involved in racketeering. The court heard RTE was sorry for the broadcast but denies Mr O'Toole had been brought into public scandal, odium or contempt.

Mr Callan told the court yesterday he was a former journalist who became a comedian in 2006 and had since written and performed the 'Nob Nation' sketches. The sketch at issue in this case was one of a number he did on local slang in different counties and this one came ahead of Waterford playing in the All-Ireland hurling final against Kilkenny.

He had never heard of Mr O'Toole or the Maryland House and while he did not believe he was careless in his work over five years on 'Nob Nation', he agreed with RTE's counsel, Paul O'Higgins, that the reference to "establishment" in the broadcast was careless.

Mr Callan told John Gordon, counsel for Mr O'Toole, that he did not know about the 'Sunday World' case when he wrote the sketch.


He agreed that he understood Maryland to be a district of Waterford and that it would be well known to locals in the same way as Ballybeg, St John's Park, and other areas of the city were known.

Asked if he thought he had some form of licence in which he did not have to pay attention to other people's reputation, he replied: "I am saying it is a comedic piece, but in this I made reference to an area, a district, which was innocent; it was a mistake."

Asked if he thought it was important not to libel someone even by mistake, he said it was never his intention to offend any vulnerable people "in the cause of comedy, it is meant to entertain".

Asked if he thought an allegation that somebody owned a brothel would never quite go away, he agreed it could be difficult but this was comedy; and while he was not making excuses, he did not think people took it literally.

Irish Independent

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