Radio: D’mammy happily plugs away in Marian’s chair
Brendan O’Carroll brings a big heart into studio – he’s like a modern-day ‘Danny Boy’
Stepping in as guest host for Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday), O’Carroll’s talents are soon tested to the limit. Photograph:Brian McEvoy
Comedian, actor, writer, cross dresser, philanthropist and now film star: is there any role Brendan O’Carroll can’t perform without success? Well, radio presenter, possibly. Stepping in as guest host for Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday), O’Carroll’s talents are soon tested to the limit, not least because he appears to get the roles of host and guest mixed up: his introductory riff on Saturday’s show is basically an extended plug for his new film, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie. Though in fairness to O’Carroll, this free ad break possibly constitutes the bulk of the fee for his weekend’s work.
Hopes – or fears – that the comic’s potty-mouthed matriarchal alter-ego will be on microphone duty are soon dashed. Aside from the odd lame Miriam O’Callaghan impersonation, O’Carroll the compassionate and socially-aware public figure is instead in evidence. Talking to a panel of people affected by the downturn, he wants to discover the painful reality behind the statistics: hardly a novel tactic, but one which fits well with his natural openness and empathy.
At least, it should fit, except he has so many guests that at times he ends up hurrying some of them through their tales. He peppers the exchanges with homespun wisdom (“They say a rising tide lifts all boats, but you have to have a boat”) or mildly inappropriate similes (low-paid work is like being “shot with a sniper’s bullet”).
Such clunky moments do not detract from O’Carroll’s connection with those sucked into desperate straits, as he regularly draws on his own experience of indebtedness. He puts himself at the centre of proceedings in more spectacular fashion when he hears from Eddie, who chokes up recounting his struggles since the closure of his shop in Co Tipperary. When Eddie says he’s seeking investors for a business idea, O’Carroll responds with what initially looks like crass insensitivity. “I’ve a movie opening this week that is going to make me a fortune,” he says. “I’ll put €30,000 in front of you and see if that idea works.”
It is a stunning gesture of real human drama, one that has seized the headlines by Sunday morning’s show. If it gains him publicity, it’s in keeping with previous behaviour, such as his unsolicited donation to an indebted Liveline listener some time back. By now O’Carroll sounds more comfortable on air, largely allowing the newspaper panel to bicker among themselves, and making the occasional telling contribution.
When Minister for Energy, Communications and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte tries to defend the Government by saying it’s impossible to avoid “fall out” in the current climate, O’Carroll challenges him robustly. “I’m saying, as a socialist, we can do better,” he says. “We can do it with heart, soul and a little contemplation of what people are going through on the ground.” It’s a stirring call to arms, encapsulating all that is best about O’Carroll’s big-hearted approach.