Five minutes with…David McSavage

Black comedy: David McSavage is starring in Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin next month

Chris Wasser

David McSavage. Now there’s a comedian who continues to divide opinion.

You either love him, or you hate him. Simple. The man behind RTE Two’s controversial sketch show, The Savage Eye, has been rather busy of late, what with the 49-year-old gearing up for a starring role in Martin McDonagh’s award-winning black comedy The Pillowman at the Gaiety Theatre, opposite Gary Lydon, as well as a major headline stand-up gig at the Olympia in March.

We caught up with David in between rehearsals to discuss busking, weekend plans and, of course, those famous comments about the National Broadcaster…

What made you pursue a career in comedy?

“A financial necessity, to be quite honest. I was busking on the street and I found playing songs was okay, but when you stopped the crowd and made them laugh, they paid you more money. So probably for that reason - I mean, on the street. But I was always drawn to it. I remember seeing Richard Pryor for the first time and just thinking that was amazing, so it was something that I always was pulled towards, the idea of just one person being on a stage and being able to captivate and entertain a big audience by just talking and telling jokes. It’s a very attractive thing.”

As a former street artist, then, what do you make of the new busking by-laws in Dublin?

“I think, generally, rules that come in and are implemented, I mean, eventually, they just sort of lose interest - the council and all that, so my suggestion to buskers would be, you know, just keep on doing it and eventually they’ll get bored with moving you on and then you’ll just get back to normal, probably. Well, I don’t know…maybe if they had designated areas where people could busk.

I don’t know what the right thing to do is, but I think if there are people who own shops and some guy is out there for four hours singing the same song, it’s gonna do your f***ing head in. I mean, it’s good to have buskers, at certain times, I think it does add a lot of life to the street”.

You haven’t busked in years. Is it something you miss?

“Well, I mean, in terms of the simplicity of that existence where you can just roll up anywhere, anytime, any town in Europe and just start playing and being able to earn a living, that was very liberating and so you’re just a sole trader, as it were.

You are your own boss and you don’t have to work in shit jobs – it was very freeing in that way. I did it for a long time, but like, because the money came in, I didn’t try other things, so it’s good that I stopped doing it, after a time, and challenged myself, like, I wouldn’t have done The Savage Eye if I didn’t stop [busking].”

Which do you prefer – performing in front of a live audience or recording a show for television?

“I’m kind of superstitious. You know, if you start saying you’re enjoying something, life will turn around and go, “Oh really, are you enjoying something? Well, f*** you, this is gonna happen’. I’m rehearsing now and we’re working very hard on this play, but it’s good to just be doing something and working very hard as opposed to, you know, for the past two years I’ve been floating around after The Savage Eye and sort of doing occasional gigs, so it is nice to be working every day and focusing on something like The Pillowman, and doing the stand-up, obviously.”

Who is your comedy hero?

“I really like PJ Gallagher and I like Al Porter, I think they’re really funny guys.”

How do you like to spend your weekends in Dublin?

“Oh God, I don’t know. Walk, cycle around, have a cigarette, I don’t know, hang out with my kids, that kind of thing. I do have a favourite thing to do - I just got a pocket watch, I like listening to that (laughs). See, all of my days are the same; I’m not like a normal person. A Monday is a Saturday to me, sometimes…”

What’s your favourite thing about Dublin?

“No matter where you are if you’re in a good mood and things are going well and you’re working hard and you feel like you’re moving forward in your life, I don’t think it matters too much where you are. And when you are in a good mood, suddenly things start looking great, like, the canal looks great, Grafton Street looks great, or you know, just the feel of Dublin, and so it does, I think, depend on how well you are within yourself. So, at the moment, I’m working very hard and I’m feeling quite contented.”

You once said that RTE is “where creative people go to die”. Can we presume, then, that your working relationship with RTE has come to an end?

“I think a lot of [RTE’s] output is a bit lazy, and I don’t think that they’re aware of what’s going on, comedically, in other countries and it’s sort of… they’re flabby. If you’re working on a programme and your life depends on it, you gotta work so hard that you gotta really figure out a way for it to be brilliant. It’s not their money that they’re losing, in other words. If you’re putting your time and your money into something, you’ve gotta work that bit extra to make sure that you’re gonna get some kind of return on it.

“Also, they say about RTE that it’s one of the few places where people fail upwards (laughs). I want people in this organisation which is RTE that know what’s happening in other parts of the world, comedically speaking; know what comedians are doing and what shows are popular and what the trends are and they’re just f***ing living and breathing and eating and sleeping their job and it will be reflected in the kind of TV output, but, you know, you have just very flabby, unimaginative, uncreative, that sort of old-fashioned, almost, TV, but there you go, that’s fine, but I don’t want to be a part of it. A part of me also likes the idea of burning bridges to put myself in a position where I’ve got no other choice but to come up with something myself.”

You started drinking again last year after almost ten years off the booze. Was that intentional?

“Yeah, I kind of went back on it but then fairly quickly realised I’m an alcoholic, I can’t really do it and thankfully I was able to stop and that’s it, really. Some people can have a few drinks - I wanna drink fast and get drunk and that’s fine for a few days, but it goes on for weeks, then months. It’s not sustainable, you’re unproductive and f*** that, right? So, stop it. It’s not even I can’t drink, that’s it. There’s no further discussion. It’s like a brick wall, that’s it, end of discussion. And the people who aren’t alcoholics, they can’t understand that, they go, ‘Why can’t you have one drink’?”

Finally, what’s your favourite Dublin saying?

“I don’t know. I’ve kind of fallen out of love with these Dublin sayings. Well, I like the saying, ‘That fella over there, he has the want on him’…”

The Pillowman runs at the Gaiety Theatre, March 2 – 14. David McSavage is live at the Olympia Theatre on Sunday March 15. Tickets for both are available at