No laughing matter
There has been some great radio comedy produced in Ireland over the last 20 years. Scrap Saturday, with Gerry Stembridge and Dermot Morgan, was brilliant. Stuart Carolan's Navan Man and Drunken Politician, formerly broadcast during Eamon Dunphy's stint hosting The Last Word on Today FM, were viciously funny and had an edge that simultaneously shocked and delighted. Mario Rosenstock's Gift Grub (on Ian Dempsey's breakfast show on Today FM) – which is probably more successful commercially than the previous two but doesn't quite belong in the same category – showcases a man with an unusual gift for mimicry.
And then there are the comedy sketches featured on the Breakfast Express on Dublin's Spin 103.8fm (Monday – Friday, 6.45am).
This stuff is so desperately unfunny that its creators should be captured and analysed in a laboratory to see if they are still at the Homo Floresiensis stage of human development.
The dangers of faeces and urine in port-a-loos at music festivals, people from the midlands coming to Dublin as asylum seekers – no cliché is left unturned. Then there are obvious puns, the punchlines that have passed without you realising, the failed accents. The ineptitude of the humour on the Breakfast Express is characterised by a sketch attacking the lack of excitement in the RTÉ schedule (surely as easy a thing to ridicule as you'll find).
PRESENTER: "The new RTÉ schedule – emperor's new clothes or a load of imaginary pants? Tim Thompson is on the line. Tim?"
(Some pointless meadering follows, and then this:)
TIM THOMPSON: "This looks good – Gaywatch, it's called... It's a new reality programme. Uncle Gaybo will have a camera following him 24/7. It'll be a glimpse into the life of the great man."
PRESENTER: "Yes, I really need to know what he eats for breakfast."
TIM THOMPSON: "Well, he's fond of a bowl of porridge. I'm sitting here in his kitchen at the moment."
As you can see by now, these guys are modern-day Jonathan Swifts.
Those of a sadistic bent can go to the Spin FM website where a selection of sketches from the Breakfast Express are available for download. Given the absence of any kind of intelligence on Spin FM though, it might be unfair to single out Breakfast Express when the rest of the station isn't much better.
Spin FM won the Dublin youth license after years of legal arguing, and the final product, broadly similar to what you get on FM104 and 98fm (mostly chart music, brainless chatter, annoying sound effects all over the place), is a great disappointment.
One of the mainstays of the aforementioned RTÉ schedule is Rattlebag on Radio 1 (Monday - Friday, 2.45pm). Solid but a bit dull, it features presenter Myles Dungan asking musicians, poets, artists and other tortured types easy questions about their work; some performances feature too. Dungan has an excellent voice for radio, knows his stuff and doesn't intrude too much, but the whole thing could do with a bit of a shakeup.
The last show before Christmas was a case in point. Poets Denis O'Driscoll and Rachel Hegarty, and musicians Altan, Noel Hill and Finian Collins all assembled to celebrate the Christmas season. A worthy collection of credible types, but they'd hardly set your pulse racing – strictly for the over-50s. In fact, the only concession to excitement came when it became apparent that somebody had let the appalling Jack L into the studio. Jack L specialises in cabaret that appeals to middle-aged women who think pop music is uncouth and the height of classical is seeing the Three Irish Tenors in the Point – surely they could have found somebody better?