Offensive. Racist. More anti-Irish bigotry from Hollywood. That was the general response to the recent Saturday Night Live sketch that seems to have left so many of us foaming at the mouth with a weird, incandescent rage.
For the one or two people who haven’t seen it yet, it involved two comedians pretending to be Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson on the Oscars red carpet.
To the bemusement of the host, the pair of them were completely incomprehensible and after spouting unintelligible nonsense for a few minutes, they walked off, while the host said: “And they haven’t even started drinking yet!”
It was a fairly typical Saturday Night Live sketch, in the sense that it wasn’t particularly funny. But then again, Saturday Night Live hasn’t been particularly funny for years.
What used to be the most popular, and most important, comedy show in America has been on a steady downward trajectory for a long time. While they received a bump in their ratings when Alec Baldwin did his Trump impersonations every week, even that joke quickly went stale.
As the Irish might say, the Farrell/Gleeson skit was... grand. No more, no less.
Ironically, the absurdly furious reactions to the skit were far more amusing than the material itself.
Irish Twitter users went into one of their periodical paroxysms of foot-stamping outrage and indignation.
Numerous news websites joined the pile-on and said that no other nation would be treated in such a disgraceful and racially insulting fashion.
Politicians merrily hopped on the bandwagon and demanded an
apology for such an apparently disgusting slight on our good name and national character.
Then, to compound the massive national hurt that we’re all meant to be feeling, Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel made reference to the record-breaking number of Irish nominations by saying: “It was some year for diversity and inclusion. We have nominees from every corner of Dublin. Five Irish actors are nominated tonight, which means the chances of another fight on stage just went way up.”
Cue further outrage, which was as irrational as it was simply stupid.
He was simply making an obvious joke about last year’s infamous incident when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, but apart from that, the temper tantrums caused by his words seem to miss one crucial thing – we sell a cliché of ourselves to the Americans so we can’t complain when they buy it.
After all, one of most famous college teams in the US, Notre Dame, goes by the name “the Fighting Irish” – so why should we be surprised when it’s used in a light-hearted way by a comedian trying to be funny at an awards show?
I didn’t see any malice or ill intent in either the banal SNL sketch or Kimmel’s throwaway gag.
Instead, they were both recognitions of the fact that this year the Irish were really punching (oops!) above their weight with the remarkable number of nominations they received.
But for those who were so outraged, or at least pretending to be outraged, there was another point that they’re missing.
The Banshees of Inisherin is one of the greatest pieces of cod Irish Paddywhackery I have ever seen. A donkey in the bedroom? Check. A wizened old crone muttering darkly as she trundles through country lanes? Check. Lads going to the pub at 2 in the afternoon every day? A dedicated fiddler deciding to chop off his fingers in a bizarre fit of pique? Check, check and check again.
Frankly, the only thing that was missing was someone with a pig in the parlour.
There was much furore a couple of years ago over the hilariously bad Wild Mountain Thyme, which managed the rare feat of having an Irish actor, Jamie Dornan, speak in an accent that made him sound like he had never been to Ireland.
As much as we all like draping the green flag around our shoulders and as great as it is to always see an Irish movie do well, the fact remains that if The Banshees of Inisherin had been made by an American director there would have been uproar. Banshees was basically Wild Mountain Thyme with arthouse pretensions.
But one question has been raised by the splenetic fury that greeted both the sketch and Kimmel’s joke – when did we lose our sense of humour?
For God’s sake, there was a time when we were renowned around the world for possessing the ability to laugh at both ourselves and at others.
We were rightly seen as fairly easy-going and relaxed. That national trait was one of the reasons we are so popular as a tourist destination –come to Ireland, enjoy the music and the crack (not “craic” – that’s just a hideous neologism) and have some fun with the laid-back locals.
That internationally endearing trait seems to be dangerously on the wane.
On Monday night, Mary Butler TD appeared on The Tonight Show on Virgin Media and spoke about how “disgusted”’ she was by SNL.
Really? She must be easily disgusted to have such a visceral reaction to a bit of gentle ribbing on a not-very-funny comedy show.
We’ve been here before, of course. Back in 2017, Saoirse Ronan appeared on SNL and did a sketch as an Aer Lingus air hostess, which caused a ridiculous and utterly disproportionate controversy. She was accused of perpetuating stereotypes about the Irish and letting her country down.
I wonder if any of those thin-skinned critics have ever spent time in America and watched TV over there?
The tourism commercials for Ireland are so hackneyed that they make Wild Mountain Thyme look like a hard-bitten documentary.
Maybe it’s the nature of social media, where people engage in an arms race of outrage.
Maybe it’s a sign that we still suffer from a latent sense of insecurity and bristle when we think our betters are mocking us.
But we’re in danger of becoming a society of humourless, sour-faced dullards. And that’s no joke.