'Green Tea' makes for a weak brew


RADIO REVIEW:FOR A WEEKLY half-hour radio programme that ran for only two years, Scrap Saturdayhas a remarkably enduring reputation.

Two decades after it was cancelled, the late Dermot Morgan’s sketch show remains the benchmark by which satire is measured in Ireland. So there is an air of chutzpah in the decision to air Green Tea(RTÉ Radio 1, Saturdays) in Scrap Saturday’s old slot during the election.

The brainchild of the impressionist Oliver Callan, Green Teais pitched as a skewed vision of contemporary Ireland, taking aim at the political, economic and cultural establishment. But far from emulating the success of its illustrious predecessor, whose inspired caricatures seeped into public consciousness, Callan’s show highlights the failings of subsequent Irish satirical efforts.

That is not to say it is unfunny. Essentially an extended version of Nob Nation, the daily slot Callan has performed on 2FM since 2007, Green Teadoes not want for polished mimicry or daft humour. A sketch featuring a debate-dodging Enda Kenny being “manned up” by a body wax from the Kerry footballer Paul Galvin, for instance, was full of scurrilous belly laughs.

Overall, Callan’s targets get off easily: given the calamity Brian Cowen has presided over, a joke about his choice of tipple is tame stuff. Such vicious mockery as there was came at the expense of peripheral political figures such as Richard Boyd-Barrett and Michael Healy-Rae, who were lampooned about their accents. The material also wore thin over 30 minutes: the cacophony of exaggerated impressions and zany scenarios works better as a comic sting. During Wednesday’s Nob Nationitem on Tubridy (2FM, weekdays), Callan’s note-perfect take on Vincent Browne sounded far funnier than it did at the end of Green Tea.

Ultimately, Callan is better at light relief than dark satire, a trait he shares with his sometime collaborator Mario Rosenstock, whose long-running Gift Grubslot on The Ian Dempsey Show(Today FM, weekdays) is similarly soft-centred. Like Callan, Rosenstock is a fine impersonator with a zany sensibility – Thursday’s Gift Grubimagined TV3’s Ursula Halligan as the heroine from the whodunnit series Murder She Wrote,trying to solve the mystery of who wrecked Ireland – but lacks the bite and outrage of the true satirist. Both comics do essentially the same Micheál Martin impression, mocking the Fianna Fáil leader’s fondness for the phrase “moving on”: hardly a body blow to the man who created the widely reviled HSE.

The gentility of contemporary Irish satire came under the spotlight, albeit briefly, when Marian Finucane(RTÉ Radio 1, Saturdays and Sundays) discussed political humour with the actor Frank Kelly, the comic Paul Woodfull and the journalist Joe O’Shea. For the most part the segment was harmless, enlightened mainly by Kelly’s slightly self-satisfied demeanour: the amount of satire in a country, he said, was a measure of its democracy. “You don’t have much satire in totalitarian countries,” he opined.

Woodfull was less complacent. In the past he upset republican sensitivities with his onstage alter-ego, the patriotic balladeer Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly, but now he believes there is too much tame comedy, something he said he was guilty of himself. Faced with homeless children and people dying in overcrowded hospitals, he said “a funny little Enda Kenny voice” was an inadequate response. “I think there’s an anger which hasn’t been touched on by most comedy.”

As it turned out, Enda Kenny last week provided the platform for one effective comic stunt. When the Fine Gael leader’s meeting in Leitrim was interrupted by a heckler called “Bobby Channels” it was splashed across the breakfast airwaves as an outpouring of public anger. But as Wednesday morning wore on, Ray D’Arcy(Today FM, weekdays) said he “smelled a rat”.

He visited the website of Terry Ghusto, the would-be election candidate whose campaign Channels was supposedly managing. D’Arcy gleefully read out Ghusto’s eccentric manifesto, pointing out the fake beards on show and the dubious authenticity of the heckler’s Dublin accent. The whole incident was later revealed as a hoax, but D’Arcy had already congratulated the perpetrators for “fooling a lot of seasoned journalists”.

As a prank it was puerile, but it tuned into the national mood of disaffection. It also caused more discombobulating ripples than any satirical radio show during the campaign. Callan and Rosenstock might take note.