'Birdbrain' is a real hoot for Joe Duffy
RADIO REVIEW: JOE LAUGHS! It might not have the same ring as “Garbo laughs”, but so singularly wondrous was Joe Duffy’s chortling on Wednesday’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) that it called to mind the famous tagline about the icy Swedish movie legend’s first onscreen expression of mirth.
Duffy’s laughter is hardly a rare commodity, being frequently heard on his show’s regular Funny Friday editions, even if one wonders whether the comic stylings of Sil Fox and Doc Savage warrant such guffaws. But in this case Duffy was overcome with hilarity by, of all things, a questionnaire.
The presenter spoke to Clare, a spirited 72-year-old Dublin woman flummoxed by the questions on a form for a proposed new public-service card, ultimately aimed at replacing the free-travel card for pensioners. The information being sought was indeed incongruous: what was her childhood nickname, where was her first holiday, what was her first car? Clare had answered these odd inquiries in a light-hearted spirit that was highly contagious, at least in Duffy’s case.
When his guest said that her nickname had been “birdbrain”, the host giggled sympathetically. When she said she listed her first holiday destination as the Sunshine House in Balbriggan he hooted uncontrollably.
When she said that she put her first car down as “pram” he was rendered helpless. Duffy then proposed a few questions of his own, such as the colour of Clare’s nightie on her honeymoon, struggling to speak through paroxysms of laughter at his own humour.
It was quite a performance. Duffy’s affection for his vivacious guest was palpable, but his reaction came across as a bit stagy. It also underlined the presenter’s acuity at gauging his audience. Amid the jollity Duffy highlighted a larger issue, namely the possibility of the Government removing free travel for the elderly.
As Clare said how much she enjoyed using her travel entitlements her host commented that he sensed there would be “trouble on the streets” if the benefit were abolished. Later, when an Arklow hotel owner rang in to offer Clare a free overnight stay, Duffy used the opportunity to establish that pensioners were an “important constituency” for the hospitality industry.
It was a point also made by Paddy O’Gorman on Monday’s edition of Today With Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). As the roving reporter spoke to a selection of older passengers waiting to journey from Busáras, it became clear that free travel not only gave them a sense of independence but also spread their spending across the country.
But O’Gorman’s item lacked the memorable soundtrack of laughter that marked Liveline’s take on the subject.
In making the segue from light relief to hot-button topic, Duffy again underscored why his show, for all its frequent descent into cacophonous griping, scores large ratings, appealing, as it does, to listeners’ everyday concerns.
Indeed, such is the presenter’s stature that some trust him more than the authorities of the State. On Tuesday Duffy spoke to Paul Stewart, who had been with the murdered dissident republican Alan Ryan when he was shot.