The Special One eyes his prize

 

When you like to talk as much as Mario Rosenstock it can’t be easy keeping secrets – especially if that secret is that you’ve won this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award for radio

‘IF THIS is a subtle hint that they want me to stop, it’s not going to work; I feel like I’m only beginning my career,” says Mario Rosenstock, who has just been announced as the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award at the PPI (Phonographic Performance Ireland) Radio Awards. Rosenstock, 40, will pick up his award at the PPI ceremony this Friday night in Kilkenny. Previous recipients of the Outstanding Achievement Award include Gay Byrne, Marian Finucane, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh and Larry Gogan. This is the third time in the PPI’s eleven-year history that this award has gone outside of RTÉ.

“I actually found out a few months ago but I’ve had to keep it secret all this time – which is a bit like trying to keep a pregnancy secret,” says Rosenstock, who has been the voice of the hugely popular Gift Grubcomedy segments on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Showon Today FM since 1999.

“When you think of some of the legends who have previously been awarded with this, it’s certainly a huge honour and I’m really, really thrilled. It was very difficult having to keep it quiet for so long. Someone would say to me ‘I didn’t think that sketch you did this morning was very funny’ and I’d just be thinking ‘Yes, but I’m this year’s winner of Irish radio’s Outstanding Achievement Award’ Rosenstock’s Gift Grubcompilation albums have just passed the one million sales mark and last year he sold 45,000 tickets for the first Gift Grub Live Tour.

It’s not just the accuracy of his impersonations of figures such as Bertie Ahern, Roy Keane, Miriam O’Callaghan and Micheal O’Leary, but the comedic content of the material he gives them that have made Rosenstock a success.

“I’ve been to every PPI award show since they started. I always enjoy the night immensely so this will be quite something for me,” he says. “The award is voted for by a panel of Irish radio experts and is a very big deal. I remember being there when Gay Byrne got his Outstanding Achievement Award and when Jimmy McGee got his. I got to congratulate him with my impression of him. It’s a great night for Irish radio as about a thousand people get together for a knees-up and now that we’ve newer stations such as Newstalk and Spin it no longer feels like just an RTÉ affair.”

Gift Grubtakes its title from an early sketch when Rosenstock was impersonating Bertie Ahern in a celebrity chef competition. The ex-Taoiseach and Roy Keane are among his best-known creations and he has spoken to both of them on air while doing his impersonation of them. “Bertie rang in to congratulate us on our tenth anniversary show so there were two Berties having a conversation live on air. He has always said how much he loves my impersonation of him but, to be honest, I think his handlers just tell him to say that. With Roy Keane he was actually in the studio with me and I interviewed him doing my Roy Keane voice. It was quite bizarre,” he says.

The impersonation that has got him the farthest is his comedic take on the ex-Chelsea manager José Mourinho. Because Gift Grubcan be heard on the Today FM website, it became a favourite of Chelsea footballers when Mourinho was in charge.

Even Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovic, became a fan and arranged for Rosenstock to be flown over to London to perform his Mourinho impersonation in front of Mourinho himself and the entire Chelsea squad. “It was the strangest thing as I was in front of Mourinho doing him, and John Terry and Frank Lampard were sticking their mobile phones into my face so they could record the whole thing.” Rosenstock didn’t take any fee for his private performance as he is a staunch Liverpool FC fan: “Even if they had posted over a cheque, I would have sent it back to them unopened with ‘This Is Anfield’ written on it,” he says.

He must have made an impression: a few months later he received a call from Roman Abramovich’s wife asking him how much it would cost to hire him to perform his Mourinho at a private function for her husband. “Considering how rich the man is and how I wasn’t paid for the first one, I asked for quite a large fee. They got back to me saying it was too much money,” he says.

Gift Grubhas quite a following in the UK and a few years ago he was picked up by the Setanta TV station to host an animated puppet TV show called Special One TV. Rosenstock provided all the voices: Jose Mourinho, Sven Goran Eriksson, Wayne Rooney and Fabio Capello. When Setanta folded in 2009, the show moved to BBC3 to tie in with the 2010 World Cup. He has already signed on with the BBC to do Special One TVfor next year’s London Olympics.

“The fact that the series can be filmed in Dublin and just sent over to them makes all the difference,” he says. “I am committed to Today FM and love being on the breakfast show so a permanent move to London just wouldn’t suit me”.

Rosenstock is from Co Waterford. An appearance in a production of Death Of A Salesmanwhile still at school convinced him he wanted to become an actor. While at Trinity College, he threw himself into student drama and after graduation he got a long-running role in Fair Cityplaying a doctor. “Acting was great but I always had this thing with voices – an ability to impersonate,” he says. “It was a party trick – a real ‘look at me’ device and when I got the Today FM job I was really able to build on what was already there.”

He is reluctant to either leave Ireland or the medium of radio. “I enjoy doing TV, I’ve done a few Vincent Browne and Joan Burton impersonations for TV3 but I am completely wedded to the radio medium. It’s where everything comes from for me and I love the fact that on a daily show we can turn around material so quickly. I’m extremely loyal to radio – and love working with Ian Dempsey.”

After the success of last year’s Gift Grub Liveshows (every seat on the tour was sold) he is opening up his Gift Grub Live 2tour at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin with a 12-night run (November 14th-19th and November 21st-26th) before a nationwide tour. “There’s some great new characters I want to do apart from the regulars,” he says. “I’m very excited about doing Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Mick Wallace and Mary Byrne. But the two big new ones for me will be Martin McGuinness and David Norris.”

Caught in Mario's web

BERTIE AHERN

“You’re A Spanner!” may sound like an old Dublin insult but this phrase is only a few years old and was one of the catchphrases Rosenstock gave his Bertie Ahern character, along with “Infacta”. Bertie still appears on Gift Gruband is still the character that Rosenstock gets asked to do most.

ROY KEANE

With his Roy Keane character, the key for Rosenstock was the Corkmans laugh – an intense cackle that is a bit unsettling. “Roy himself doesn’t think he laughs the way I have him laughing. When he was in the studio with me and I was doing him he kept saying to me ‘Make me laugh’ so I could hear his real laugh.”

VINCENT BROWNE

“I’ve mixed reactions ,” says Browne. “First of all I found it cringeworthy. Then I thought it couldn’t possible be representative of me. Later on, I realised that I actually possess some of these mannerisms that Mario acts out, much to my acute embarrassment.”

MIRIAM O’CALLAGHAN

“I ‘genuinely’ don’t think I have ever used that word on TV or Radio,” says O’Callaghan. “Mario does quite a lot of women in his routine; I have heard a whisper that he is trying to perfect Mary Byrne at the moment. I think there is an overactive gene in Mario that makes him not only comfortable but addicted to dressing like a lady. Genuinely!”

GLENDA GILSON

“It’s great to see that a few people in this country are make money out of slagging people, especially me,” says Gilson. “Mario is always good for it, it’s great to have a laugh. For the record, I’ve never eaten a kebab, but if he wants to send me one I’ll happily try it.”