Michael D's best qualities make him a mimic's dream


Sincere and venerable, our President-elect provides ample material for the likes of ‘Green Tea’

ON THE subject of Michael D becoming the ninth president of the Republic, I would like to say how happy I am for impersonators – impressionists? – everywhere. Talk about coming through the downturn: for anyone who imitates politicians for a living it has been a dreadful couple of years since Bertie went. Now Michael D has roared into town and the orgy of impersonations can begin. Happy days.

Dear God, it is not every country that is lucky enough to have been able to elect a vertically challenged, teetotal poet and feel bloody relieved that it has done so. Just to hear a Michael D impersonator on RTÉ’s Green Tearadio programme shouting “Where’s my box? Where’s my box?” is enough to lift the spirits. And that’s before Green Tea’s Michael D is put to bed under his Seamus Heaney duvet.

It is also an opportunity to repeat the best joke made about an Irish president. As the diminutive Seán T O’Kelly moved across a football pitch to award a trophy, one Dublin wag shouted “Cut the grass and let’s see the president.” To call Michael D the mimics’ dream candidate is to understate the case. Only David Norris – whom Green Teahas appointed vice-president, as far as we can make out – would have done a similar job for them. These days it is more important that politicians have A Voice, as opposed to a voice.

As it is, David Norris, a broad target in more ways than one, is the butt of some weary homophobic jokes on Green Teathat are not vaguely amusing, even to those of us with a puerile disposition. Green Tea, pull your sexual politics up, and be quick about it. The fact that your star, Oliver Callan, publicly came out as homosexual at the weekend is no defence against jokes this bad. I know I’m old-fashioned, but would it not have been easier just to drop the homophobia, rather than come out on the Saturday Night Show? Just asking.

The Michael D routines, by contrast, simply rattle along. With his poetry, his brief history as a dope smoker and his big ideas, Michael D is a gift indeed. It is a pleasure to hear that he is going to the Áras fridge because he’s had an attack of the munchies. Of such moments are media love affairs made.

Now all of this slagging may annoy Michael D greatly, and that is understandable. But he and his handlers can pick up a few pointers from the comedy routines, if they choose to. First and most obviously, although you would not have thought it during the presidential campaign itself, there are advantages to having been around a long time. The public feels that we know Michael D already, even though of course we do not.

The headline in the Irish Mail on Sunday– “Emotional, excitable and fond of a drink or two . . . But Michael D is a model of self-restraint” – is extraordinarily impertinent, even by the standards of the Mail. But it is not actually telling us anything that we did not know already. It is not so much that Michael D is a safe pair of hands – it was the headlines saying that he was a safe pair of hands that were the biggest surprise of the last week – he’s just the pair of hands the voters knew best.

The Green Teascriptwriters don’t hesitate about which aspects of Michael D’s public persona are material for comedy. He sailed through the stormy seas of a nasty presidential campaign like a neatly appointed galleon, and serenity suits him. But it is Michael D’s crossness and petulance that make him funny.

In the Green Teaportrait, the characteristic that rings most true is his tendency to fluster: “Where’s my box? Where’s my box?” The Labour Party, of course, kept the lid on this – and a great deal else, I’d wager – during the campaign. On one occasion Eamon Gilmore rapped Michael D on the back to calm him down, as if winding a baby. This was a situation that Green Teawould have been reluctant to come up with, and not just because it is hard to rap someone on the back through the medium of radio.

Michael D’s sincerity, which makes him such an excellent comic target, is also a political weakness. He is, as you can bet he has said many times, a passionate person – as well as an emotional person, an intellectual person and a spiritual person.

How this can be contained over the next seven years is anybody’s guess. The Áras staff must be hiding the breakables as we speak. Hollow-eyed Labour handlers are heading for the health farms, off to get their blood changed after months on the road herding Michael D through the scorched landscape of Ireland – an exhausting journey which Michael D says he greatly enjoyed.

And we believe him. Even if you didn’t vote for him – and I did not – you do believe Michael D. His first act on assuming office on November 11th, otherwise known as Armistice Day, should be to throw Gay Mitchell a fundraising disco. Now there is a man who has suffered.

Michael D will understand that.

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