Comedy falling short of being funny

My quest for a good laugh was not in vain last week

The first thing you want from a comedy show is that it be funny. For me Irish Pictorial Weekly, which returned to RTÉ1 last Sunday night, failed the test.

There were a few limp smiles but for the most part sketches were dull, and often over extended (e.g. the guards adjusting the security camera). I’m a great fan of political satire, but much of this was overly personal (even having a swipe at the wife of a public figure) and making fun by tricky editing of politician’s speeches is getting very lame. It’s as if the fine talents involved were on auto pilot, with little creative control or any of the RTÉ paymasters calling for something sharper.

I’ve often criticised the crudeness of what passes for comedy on RTÉ2, but now RTÉ1 has caught the infection, with totally gratuitous use of the F-word, including once in relation to children, which was the most offensive aspect of the whole sorry affair. A recurring sketch about a fair colleen delighted to be used as a ‘vessel’ for children was particularly tasteless and seemed to come directly from the pro-choice school of script writing.

Nor could I find much to laugh at on last Sunday’s Would You Believe (RTÉĖ 1). It had the feel of a programme that seemed like a good idea at the time but turned out flat. We got to follow Breda Larkin, a lesbian comedian whose stand-up routine features religious material. Travelling with a statue of Our Lady strapped into the passenger seat, she was currently on tour, though the tour was also described as a pilgrimage as she visited some holy sites, like Ballinspittle and Mount Melleray.

Her discussions with Fr Dennis at Melleray and with locals at the holy sites were mildly interesting, but hopefully she had some deep conversations in private, off-camera.

We saw a few uninspiring clips from one of her comedy gigs and while she wasn’t directly attacking the Church or religion, her use of F-words in the context of a story about the Mass was distasteful, and a slip in standards for Would You Believe. Though I think there is a place for religious comedy, I couldn’t warm to this example of it. In fact the programme seemed to be trying to do too much – pilgrimage, journey of faith, religious comedy, tour of holy sites, ‘coming out’ story … the end result I thought was something that fell between all stools.

However, my quest for a good laugh was not in vain last week as RTÉ obliged with an Irish-themed episode of The Simpsons for St Patrick’s Day. As always there were hilarious moments – especially the skit on the film Once. The excuse for a plot had the Simpson family heading to Ireland to so that Grandpa could revisit some places from his past.

He found the pub scene changed thanks to the smoking ban and there were plenty of good humoured jokes at the expense of Irish historical sites, with stacks of Irish stereotypes, especially related to drinking. Unfortunately only the second half of the show was set in Ireland, while the first half was barely connected to it, but did feature a great gag of the Simpsons flopping around after Grandpa breaks their hot tub.

There were some odd details – a red double-decker bus, Garda cars with ‘Police’ written on top, but a lot can be forgiven if the jokes have you in stitches. That episode was made a few years ago, but one of the scenes in the pub was of two gay leprechauns getting friendly with the comment that Ireland was getting “more liberal when it comes to romance”.

And speaking of which, Newstalk made much of the fact that last Saturday evening’s Global Village was to feature an item on those voting no in the same-sex marriage referendum. Fair enough, I thought, an attempt to redress some of the imbalance in the coverage so far.

But then, on the night, we were told that due to a “last minute cancellation” (by whom?) the debate was postponed. Instead we got an ‘editorial’ from presenter Dil Wickremasinghe which effectively was a pro-same-sex marriage speech.

Nice turnaround there Newstalk! She was particularly bothered by the idea that some gay people are opposing the referendum, and seemed to believe that they were internalising homophobia. Some mind reader, to be able to judge the motivations of others.