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Pat Stacey on TV: When documentaries are no laughing matter


Neil Delamere

Neil Delamere

Neil Delamere

THE COLONISATION of television by a select group of stand-up comedians who, when they’re not recapping their latest tour routines on Live at the Apollo or whatever are repeatedly turning up on the same homogenised panel shows, has long been a sore point with those of us who think TV comedy should be about more than one man (and the occasional woman) and their mic.

While it might make good economic sense to a budget-conscious TV exec to simply commission either another stand-up showcase for, say, Michael McIntyre or John Bishop, or another inferior variation on Have I Got News For You, rather than investing in a sitcom or sketch show that might require time, patience and nurturing before it finds an audience – the supreme example being Only Fools and Horses – the end result is that the space available on television for new and original comedy writing is being squeezed to nothing.

Alongside all this, another, arguably even more toxic genre gradually made its presence felt: the comedian-driven documentary series. For this we can probably thank, if that’s the word, RTE. It started the ball rolling back in 2004 with The Des Bishop Work Experience, which saw the Irish-American comedian toil in a variety of minimum-wage jobs. It was something new at the time and very well-received.

But the national broadcaster has never met a moderately successful idea it didn’t feel was worth flogging to death and beyond, so Bishop was allowed to regurgitate the same formula, to diminishing returns, in series like Joy in the Hood, In the Name of the Fada and the monumentally self-indulgent exercise that was this year’s Breaking China.

Still, as wearyingly repetitive as Bishop’s shouty shtick can be, it looks like comedic genius when compared to the abysmal Holding Out for a Hero.

Predicated on the dubious premise that giving a stand-up comedian licence to roam wherever their egotistical whims take them will automatically produce rib-cracking  hilarity, it features the unbearably smug Neil Delamere supposedly separating the fact from the fiction about Ireland’s legendary heroes.

Having sat grim-faced through the entire hour of last week’s first episode (there are four in all) as Delamere arsed around with a sword, a shield, a hurl and a wolfhound while pretending to find out about Cuchulainn, my ribs remain doggedly crack-resistant.

Delamere has previous form with this sort of drivel. Three years ago, in The Only Viking in the Village, he arsed around while pretending to find out about his Scandinavian heritage. Last year, in There’s Something about Patrick, he arsed around some more while pretending to find out about our patron saint. They were mirthless affairs, but at least each of them was over in an hour. Holding Out for a Hero is mirthless too, but at four times the length.

Somehow or another, Delamere persuaded hurling great DJ Carey to get involved in this nonsense, along with a number of historians and archaeologists (I bet they hated themselves for saying yes). They had some intriguing points to make too; the parallels, for instance, between ancient myths and folk tales and modern superhero stories.

But whenever the information threatened to outshine the idiocy, there was Delamere with another lame quip to lob out or another silly face to pull to camera. Horrible Histories this is not; it’s merely terrible television.

Holding out for a Hero is on RTE2, 9pm tonight (RTE Player afterwards)