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Saturday 20 January 2018

More 'Savage Eye' and less 'Mrs O'Brien', if you please

As an RTE insider, Eddie Doyle presumably knows that becoming head of comedy is a bit like becoming head of PR for the Assad regime: it doesn't pay a lot, the work is thankless and one wrong move means you can be publicly blamed for everything.

That's the price of being the guy who picks what we watch – do you cater for your own tastes or do you labour under the illusion that the watching public is so thick they wouldn't know a joke if it came up and slapsticked them?

In the past, anyone with a brain would have been insulted by the likes of 'Leave It To Mrs O'Brien' (we did), 'The Cassidys', 'Extra Extra', 'Upwardly Mobile' and a seemingly endless array of bafflingly unfunny shows.

The problem facing Doyle is not just an increasingly apathetic viewing public, but a culture in RTE which still views anything edgy as potentially dangerous.

I remember talking to Alan Shortt when 'Bull Island' was our lamentable excuse for political satire.

It was truly awful, baring fewer teeth than the annual Gummy Bear convention and Shortt defended this lack of bite, saying: "These are nice people we're doing skits of, we don't want to hurt them for the sake of it."

Shortt, a nice guy himself, then waffled something about taking the children of his targets into account. Laudable sentiments in a person, maybe. But not what you want in a political satirist.

Even more recently, Oliver Callan was quick to feel the wrath of the Committee for Acceptable Humour when he was reminded by a producer that his material and impressions of people like Brian Cowen "shouldn't be personalised".

Welcome to RTE.

I don't know Eddie Doyle, but I wish him all the best and we will know his true intentions when the first round of commissions is announced.

The really frustrating thing for emerging writers, comedians and producers is that RTE is still a relatively closed shop, and it allows bad people to fail upwards as long as they don't rock the boat and come in under budget.

Also, budget constraints should not be an acceptable excuse for mediocrity – the jaw-droppingly awful 'The English Class' cost €80,000 an episode and still managed to be racist, patronising and, most unforgivably, utterly devoid of anything coming even within the orbit of humour.

Money doesn't buy you funny. But creative freedom does.

It's not all doom and gloom, in fairness.

Both 'Savage Eye' and 'Irish Pictorial Weekly' have landed some good digs in recent episodes.

But the onus will now be on Doyle to make shows like this the rule, rather than the exception.

Irish Independent

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