The 2 Johnnies lived up to their ‘cocky boyo’ image, but failed the ‘copped-on sound lads’ test

Radio comment: RTÉ took the Tipperary duo off air after an outcry over a social media video

In retrospect, it's as if the 2 Johnnies knew there was trouble ahead. An hour into the first edition of their much-hyped 2FM show, Drive It, the podcast stars known as Johnny B and Johnny Smacks joshed with showbiz correspondent Lottie Ryan about their performance so far. "Do you reckon we'll still be in the job tomorrow?" chuckled Smacks (aka McMahon), while Johnny B (aka O'Brien) offered up a hypothetical headline: "Entertainment news – 2 Johnnies fired on day one."

Well, nearly right. By day four, Thursday, the Tipperary duo had been taken off air, in response to the outcry over a social media video in which the men used derogatory language to describe women. (This occurred after this writer's radio column for Saturday's Ticket had gone to press, lest print readers wonder why there's no mention of the incident in that review.)

While their cocky-boyo personas translated pretty well to radio, the pair also brought the more unsavoury aspects of the online sphere with them

With Laura Fox taking over the slot while RTÉ conducted a "review" into the matter, O'Brien and McMahon issued an apology which sounded more like a plea for a second chance, or at least a fourth day in the job. "This is not who we are nor what we stand for. We aim to do better in the future, we are not perfect, and we are learning all the time."

Whether they get the chance to do better remains unclear, but they have surely learned the difference between hosting your own podcast and presenting a primetime radio show for the state broadcaster. On the face of things, the 2 Johnnies seem tailor-made for irreverent zoo radio, with their formula of blokey banter, rascally humour and incessant references to life in their native Cahir.


But while their cocky-boyo personas translated pretty well to radio, thin material notwithstanding, the pair also brought the more unsavoury aspects of the online sphere with them.

Until they were derailed by their (now deleted) video, which featured the pair reading grossly crude slogans about women cribbed from bumper stickers, the 2 Johnnies had enjoyed a seemingly inexorable rise. In the space of five years, O’Brien and McMahon had gone from performing comedy songs at a local GAA fundraiser to hosting a podcast with a half a million weekly listeners – an audience that dwarfs that of any Irish radio show – as well as scoring hit singles, touring theatres and landing a TV series.

Being headhunted by a 2FM seeking to recover from declining ratings looked like the icing on the cake.

But the 2 Johnnies don’t seem to have understood that their new gig brought new T&Cs. It’s one thing to act the rural bro in the free-for-all that is social media, but it’s another matter to flag your forthcoming licence-fee funded radio show in a video where you repeat lines like “tyres are like women, no good unless they’re squealing”.

While their 2FM shows were far tamer in content, and more good-natured, the fact that the pair saw nothing wrong with posting such material throws their judgment into doubt.

For all their online success, the 2 Johnnies have yet to get their feet under the table at 2FM

Having a high-profile show on the national airwaves entails having at least some ability to gauge the wider public mood. But on the evidence of their video, the 2 Johnnies apparently haven’t noticed how the boundaries of acceptability have completely changed in recent years, in the light of movements such as #metoo. To think that misogynistic insults make for appropriate comedy fodder displays a worrying inability to read the room – not to mention an out-of-date sense of personal morality.

What might seem to work for a specific online demographic is less hilarious when the audience includes the people you’re insulting.

It remains to be seen how this controversy will affect O’Brien and McMahon’s 2FM tenure. Scrambling into damage limitation mode on Friday, Johnny B appeared on RTÉ Radio 1’s Liveline, contritely telling Katie Hannon that the pair’s “intention” in the video had been to condemn the bumper sticker slogans they were reading, but that this “context was taken out” in the final edit.

This cake-ism may be enough to get them back on air, but if anything, it places more question marks around their judgement: we condemn this disgusting filth, here’s some more.

Their transgression, while deeply offensive, is of a lesser magnitude than, for example, that of Al Porter, who lost his show on Today FM following allegations of sexual misconduct (a sexual assault case against Porter was dropped in 2019).

Going on the (slim) basis of their shows so far, the duo have a zippy chemistry, and on radio seemed more in tune with the inclusive mores of contemporary life than their video suggests: they chatted easily with a male quiz contestant about his husband. And of course, a certain amount of innuendo-laden patter was priced into their show, such supposedly “edgy” material being part of their shtick.

Even so, management at Montrose have to decide whether it's worth sticking with the double act in the long term. For all their online success, the 2 Johnnies have yet to get their feet under the table at 2FM. Nor are they fully embedded in the nation's consciousness. Moreover they appear to be lacking in that essential element for the kind of "sound lad" they supposedly represent: a bit of cop-on.

This article was edited at 12.57 on Saturday February 26th