Radio: Neil Delamare swaps good jokes for bad behaviour

Review: ‘Neil Delamare’s Sunday Best’, ‘Today With Sean O’Rourke’, ‘Morning Ireland’, ‘Daybreak’

Neil Delamere: the comedian and Today FM presenter hosts material not entirely befitting the Sabbath. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan

Neil Delamere: the comedian and Today FM presenter hosts material not entirely befitting the Sabbath. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan

 

Sunday remains a day of rest for most, but not for Neil Delamare, who works hard to create an early stir with Neil Delamare’s Sunday Best (Today FM). In his quest to shake us out of our torpor the comedian hosts material not entirely befitting the Sabbath. Be it imbibing the devil’s buttermilk live on air, permitting all manner of profanity, or drawing forth explicit descriptions of gay sex, the presenter indulges in the kind of behaviour that once guaranteed instant access to the Inferno’s exclusive ninth circle.

It seems an unlikely career development for a figure hitherto known as a midtable stand-up and occasional stand-in for John Murray. And, in truth, Delamare’s show is generally conducted with a joshing amiability and almost disappointing efficiency. Wry asides rather than comic anarchy are the order of the day as he goes through the usual tropes of Sunday-morning chat shows, from newspaper round-up to panel discussion of the day’s big stories.

It’s only when Delamare ventures into more lifestyle-oriented items that proceedings go awry. He talks to Michael Carr of the Irish Whiskey Museum about the spirit’s apparent transformation into the hipster’s tipple of choice. Carr is an engaging guest who knows his stuff, but the appeal of the item depends on one’s level of interest in the differences between double- and triple-distilling – at least until Delamare decides to try a dram.

Far from unleashing an outbreak of debauchery, however, the presenter approaches the whiskey with all the enthusiasm of a five-year-old swallowing cod liver oil. He sounds winded as he drinks it down, admitting he’s not a whiskey fan – something the audience has probably already figured out.

But this is as nothing compared to his interview with Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, where an altogether gamier spirit prevails. Perhaps it’s the chilled atmosphere of a weekend morning, but O’Neill cuts a relaxed, even flighty figure. Although he briefly talks about such matters as the marriage referendum, he spends more time recalling a youthful trip on the Trans-Siberian Express, during which he was almost arrested for (unintentional) smuggling.

He recounts how the border policemen collared him, noting that he had “no f***ing idea” what they were saying. As an afterthought he then asks, “Am I allowed to say that?” “No,” replies his chastened host.

O’Neill then recalls his “wild” times as a student in grey 1980s Dublin: “I took everything and shoved it all into my mouth, from drugs to fellas.” Confronted with this, even a seasoned live performer such as Delamare is stunned into nervous giggling.

After that everything seems normal, including an apparently serious interview with the author Stephen Petranek about human settlement on Mars, a development predicted, with confident precision, for 2027. Petranek speaks earnestly about glasshouses and pizza joints dotting this Mars colony, not to mention voyages to lasso mineral-rich asteroids.

That Delamare manages to sit through all this without laughing is a testament to his prowess as a presenter, if not necessarily as a comedian: it is, by some distance, the funniest thing on the show.

The subject of interplanetary travel arises again, albeit with less hilarity, on Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), when Keelin Shanley, in for O’Rourke, talks to the science journalist Sean Duke about the search for extraterrestrial life. Despite the sci-fi premise the item tends toward the factual rather than speculative, which has the effect of making the topic more compelling. Shanley, for one, sounds genuinely intrigued on hearing about the “wow signal”, a 72-second transmission from deep space recorded in 1977, the origin of which remains unknown.

It’s a good example of Shanley’s approach. Her deceptively low-key style belies her talent for marshalling newsworthy but potentially tricky subjects into absorbing encounters. She talks to Shaykh Dr Muhammad Umar Al-Qadri, the passionate if occasionally breathless organiser of a recent anti-Islamic State march, hearing about the radicalisation of some young Irish Muslims, as well as the opposition he has faced in one (unnamed) mosque in particular. Shanley avoids alarmism, but it still makes for an uncomfortable item about the unforeseen cracks in multicultural Ireland.

Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) opts to search for intelligent life in Government, yielding results that are at best inconclusive. In the wake of Eurostat’s decision that Irish Water remain on the State balance sheet, Audrey Carville interviews Minister of State Paudie Coffey, to depressing effect.

The Minister tries to play down the latest debacle while conceding it was “unexpected to some degree”. Still, he persists in this line, saying that the Eurostat decision is marginal – “48 per cent of the Irish position is standing up” – and predicting that it will pass in due course as more people pay the charges.

This supposition is vigorously challenged by Carville. Every time Coffey appeals to “the Irish people” Carville displays an aggressive return of serve, asking why those who have paid water charges should continue to do so, and pondering, after citing a long list of mishaps, “what part of Irish Water has been a success?” The by-now roasted Coffey can only muster the argument that “there is no alternative”. For such a contentious and divisive policy to be reduced to an emptily defiant slogan is a real sin.

Moment of the Week: Thompson takes flight

Early risers who enjoy easing into the weekend to the soothing tones of Trish Taylor Thompson on Daybreak (Lyric, Saturday) will be disappointed by the news, delivered in her habitually relaxing voice, that she is leaving the show: “It’s been six years. Time now to take a little break from the early starts.” Noting that she’ll miss the audience she has long dubbed her “fellow early birds”, she signs off. “I’ve loved sharing my nest with you guys.” With luck it will only be a seasonal migration.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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