Comedy Muzzah – It’s going to be fucking Mexico

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Beware Scotch Mist! Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.’

Oscar Wilde.

When I turned on BBC2 one Tuesday night in 1994 under the influence of, well, not steroids, a new programme came on and a smarmy looking newsreader with slick hair read out the headline, “What now for man raised by puffins?” I nearly fell off the floor I was lying on. Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci’s The Day Today made all news unwatchable from that day on. Although it only ran for 6 episodes, RTE News continued the format for the following 19 years. It was also the introduction of the all-consuming Alan Partridge.

The influence of Morris and Iannucci can be seen all over comedy since. Although Iannucci’s turns on TV weren’t amazing, he has been the driving force behind The Thick of It and now has hit America with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep. Both men have made it impossible to take the media and politics seriously. The surreal nature of their output pales in comparison to reality which is much weirder. (Boris Johnson!)  Many of the same actors appeared on everything from Brasseye, Blue Jam, and Knowing Me, Knowing You up to The Thick Of It.

The writing was so good and clever that it makes the current output on the BBC seem pathetic. Sanitised family shows are all the rage, but we grew up watching comedy without boundaries.  I met my wife due to my ability to repeat lines from the Fast Show, that and I spilled a pint over her. Jesus, even Johnny Depp tried to get in on the action (not with my wife!) before he became a woman. But what happened to these types of comedy? What scared Channel 4 and the BBC? Why did they create BBC3 where the dumb Russells (Howard and Kane) hold court to adoring adolescents who need to hear the word ‘cock’ as a punchline for unimaginative jokes? It’s a station designed for young people in the same way DDT was designed to sort out your crops.  Kids watching Russell Howard might think being funny has to be qualified by the squeezing out of a tear. Fuck him, he’s a cynical comedian, playing on the audience’s inability to distinguish him from a wealthy cross-eyed teddy bear.

Nathan Barley - Unfortunatley everything that occurred in this show has become reality. rise of the idiots!

Nathan Barley – Unfortunatley everything that occurred in this show has become reality. rise of the idiots!

Since genre building shows like Father Ted, Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, Black Books and even the demented Nathan Barley, Channel 4 have fitfully produced proper sitcoms. The best they managed was yet another Graham Linehan vehicle, the IT Crowd. It is something that they are so good at, yet the space is filled by increasingly stupid true-life documentaries, if the woman with the man’s engorged appendix stuck to her ovaries is true-life.

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There is a sketch on the US show Portlandia where two of the characters try, with the help of former anchors, to take back MTV. This is what I want to do. I want to bring back Eddie Izzard before he started running all those fucking charity marathons. Comic Relief always annoyed me. I’m not such a bastard that I don’t want children to get the money they deserve, but as a kid, watching my favourite comedians dumb down for a night seemed almost treacherous. Chris Morris wandering around with Pudsey the fucking bear? Too obscene to think about.  Now, all these comedians are running races for charity, swimming the seas for charity. David Walliams swimming the English channel is deadly serious. Drowning in it however, would have a certain vibe of black comedy to it. What they are not doing is writing one line of edgy  comedy.

The Live at the Apollo genre, for example, is worrying, because it has gone full circle back to just before the alternative comedy revolution in Britain of the early 80s. Then, established comedy was extremely trivial and sanitised or just racist, usually toward Irish or Asians. To counter, rebellious British comedians spawned a new fresh scene. This has been watered down to the extent that now Live at the Apollo resembles a meeting-house for uninspired comedians who know how to play the game. Many have the same agents and many are English. Stand up is a stepping stone to money-making prime time slots.

The plague of the panel show means that on a certain day, you can flick through stations and it’s possible to see David Mitchell on at least 14 different panel shows. Frankie Boyle, another panel-show regular, can be surprisingly enjoyable doing stand-up, but there’s always a feeling that he needs to throw in a joke about a handicapped, deaf, single mother midget just to appease his own legend.  Of the current crop, I do like Mickey Flanagan, but almost immediately he has been subsumed into that industry of mediocrity. I saw him once on a boat with Richard Herring and thought he’s really good, but he’s no Richard Herring. Richard Herring is not on my television. I say it again, Richard Herring is not on my television.

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There was a recent Michael McIntyre routine he did a hokey Irish accent talking about what Paddies were like. A willing Dublin audience soaked their pants at his brand of comic japery. Apart from one line the rest of it was rubbish, but that’s not the problem. What if it was Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning up there? What paradigm exists that causes an Irish audience to laugh at an English comedian when throughout our history we have taken vicious offence at the mispronunciation of Paul McGrath’s name?

Actually, I’ll pull back from this xenophobia to say that many of my favourite comedians are, bless myself and pray to Holy Virgin Mary of the 1980s, English. If it wasn’t for Have I Got News For You?, the Fast Show, the Two Ronnies, Alexei Sayle, Lenny Henry and Eddie Izzard, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, even Chelmsford 123, I would have had no sense of humour at all. But to see the brilliant Ross Noble slumming it with Loose Women makes my normally confused mind reel in an ectopic manner.

People today forget that growing up in early 1980s Ireland, we WERE in the shadow of the hilarious Holy Virgin Mary who blotted out everything that was good and funny by manifesting not as a moving statue, but perpetual drizzle. She also appeared more times in this country than even the fucking National. With a few exceptions, quality comedy was rarely seen, despite efforts by Gay Byrne and Shay Healy.  Comedians like Billy Connolly and Lenny Henry appearing on the Late Late were a highlight counteracting the comedy hole that was Noel V. Ginnity.

Regrettably it was also the time of Jim Davidson, Bobbi Davro and Freddie Starr. These were the standard 1980s television comedians, whose safe routines often were at odds with their off-television stand-up. Davidson’s regular pieces about Chalky, a black Rastafarian, were down in the gutter racist diatribes masked as comedy.   Davidson was box office, and bizarre as it seems he was able to perform on the same channel that broadcast Lenny Henry’s show.  This was considered acceptable fare and an unenlightened audience found it funny, until it stopped being funny. Society was moving on from this type of comedy.

That’s when Alexei Sayle arrived like a shot of rum in the eye. His level of angry comedian crossed with my first real taste of surrealism opened my mind to something different. This was a man who would look at a post box and say, “I can’t believe that’s not butter.”  From then, the way led to the Young Ones, the Comic Strip and the surrealism of the Paul Merton show, coupled with his regular slot on Have I Got News For You? That political satire was so engaging in a time when the evil Tories ran everything in Britain and to see them lampooned by Merton, Ian Hislop and Angus Deayton felt like justice. They made them look like the stupid fuckers they are. Nowadays, the show is completely irrelevant despite the brilliant Hislop. If only Deayton hadn’t had a predilection for prostitutes, hotel rooms and cocaine. It reminds me of Dylan Moran’s question: “What else are you supposed to give hookers in a hotel room? Yogurt!?”

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The difference between today’s content and that of the previous 30 years is that the cult of celebrity has taken over. The young guys from the Inbetweeners get pushed into doing an ill-advised movie rather than continue to develop their craft.  Comedians are no longer in the business to innovate comedic forms, they are in the business solely for the business. The production budget on the Young Ones wasn’t exactly financially draining, so why not push towards that paradigm. Superstar comedians are not cheap and many aren’t that funny.  The marketing of these comedians is more about pushing DVD units for overblown soulless shows which resemble that skit in The Day Today where Question Time is filmed at Wembley Stadium. It’s embarrassing to watch. Shows like the Young Ones prove that something small can become legendary. I doubt there will be too many people talking about Mock the Week down the pub in twenty years.

The Day Today: Fact times Paschal Sheehy = NEWS

The Day Today: Fact times Paschal Sheehy = NEWS

The commercial interests of the channels have pushed quality down a notch or two. The tube of comedy is thinning, and though the talent is there and a new generation gap is in place, the constant need to sell reality as a product is pushing people away from traditional broadcasters. The channel that took a chance on Monty Python (shown at prime time in the seventies) would shit if that surrealism appeared after The Voice or Strictly Come Dancing. It is strange that Spike Milligan was allowed a vehicle for his comedy and is lauded by the same people who would have panic attacks at the idea of his presence now.

The opportunities are dwindling. Ricky Gervais produced The Office, but now there are reality shows with David Brent characters knowingly hamming it up for the cameras. The ever-present ratings wars that ensure the survival of a station have also destroyed the possibility for diversity. Of course Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a mock hospital drama, is not going to generate the cash, but the identity of Channel 4 was once as important as its commercial viability. That has obviously changed since the days of The Tube and may be the death of them. Can the BBC sustain BBC3 despite it being on many levels more immature than Ceebeebees? These stations can broadcast brilliant dramas like This is England and The Killing but completely disregard comedy as an art form.

It’s time for a television comedy to got through some sort of revolution, something to inspire writers to stop courting the middle-class market and to destroy Russell Howard and his acolytes once and for all. Actually, it is probably simple. Look at what worked in the past and ignore trends, youth culture and market research because they lead to a comedy black hole. Simple ideas work better than high concept disasters every time. Otherwise they might just miss out on that crazy idea about three priests living on an island in the west of Ireland.

815665789442f4c8ef1adf142d7dda73This bunch of words I did wrote was published in the Winter issue of CULT magazine 2013.

DOWN with the kids

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Sometimes I look in the mirror and see Henry Hill in the final scene of Goodfellas. That moment when he realises the mundane future,  that expression of weariness stares back at me. I’m not old or young: I’m in the middle, the horrible middle youth. Too young to retire and give up, too old to join a band. Too exhausted even to bother with a mid-life crisis. The span between 30 and 50 is as demanding mentally as the hormonal mess of teen years, filled with the same ‘what the fuck?’ moments every morning when you open your eyes. Is this middle youth? Or something else?

Now, I’m a professional something, with a wife, child, mortgage, car loan, two dogs and a non-stick pan. I’m also an uncool, balding, cynical, wrecked shell of a human, who has finally lost control of the handlebars, looking at music reviews, wondering at what point I started missing all the new bands.  My interests aren’t represented in the media, I am unlikely to harass Joe Duffy of an afternoon, am Irish but not that Irish kind of Irish. Demographically speaking I’m from that group who drink heavily, mangle the guitar, play playstation, write, work in a demanding job and worry about money all the time. If that is a demographic.

FASHIONLESS FREAK FASHION BITCH

My dressing room of disaffection contains black t-shirts, black jeans, black boots, pretty much the same uniform since I was eight, but I was cooler then. The use of branding or logos is prohibited by a demented code I developed as a teen. Colour is always the enemy, as is self-help. I am Max Schumacher in an Anthrax t-shirt.

Why? There is nothing that irritates my soul more than when I see people with GAP or FITCH illuminating their chests. Why be a walking billboard? People are conditioned to wear clothes from the many outlet stores that have popped up because they are on special offer and some weird set of unwritten fashion dogma tells them that a little alligator on their shirt will make their peers sit up and demand to know who this fantastic character is. If you’re not going to bother then don’t. Or else become a hipster, but then again I don’t really know what a hipster is. Someone with skinny jeans, no defined muscle mass and cardigan buttons in their earlobes, right?

I do not react well to that market which feeds us. Maybe I’m William Gibson’s Cayce Pollard, who had a pathological sensitivity to logos and brands. Yet, I’m also that loser who wears band t-shirts at age 37, ha! I met a guy in the lift in work a few years back who commented on my Front 242 t-shirt, sarcastically pointing out that he used to wear such t-shirts before he stopped being angry at the world. I stared at this chinless, overweight shit and resisted the urge to punch him. Who is not angry at this world? Oh.

MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO PARENTS

It all comes down to my teenage obsession with music and how certain people remain consumed throughout their lives. Others choose to drop these childhood things and wear ties and jodphurs and place Dido on their stereos as it is unlikely to offend anyone. People like myself, whose religion changed after hearing Nick Cave’s “Tender Prey,” feel heartache that the underground we loved is now sponsored by mobile phone companies. We grew up with American or British punk, metal, indie, goth and dance music, not because we didn’t love our country, but because the rare Irish gems faded quickly. We listened to those influential groups long before their recent wallet-filling comeback tours. These days I can’t even listen to the amazing Pixies without a sick feeling in my stomach.

I wonder how weird will it be bringing my son to a Metallica gig when he’s old enough? A guilty pleasure since the age of 11, the thrash metal behemoth stopped being any good after 1988, yet like Fall gigs you go to see them live just in case it’s the last chance you get. The anxiety-ridden metallers are not an underground band from the Bay Area anymore, but a corporation in their own right. During their set, a few years back, I stood happily drunk and watched a man with his son on his shoulders. They were both in awe at the spectacle. Ah, one day, yes, one day, I will force my son to see Metallica and demand that he sit on my shoulders regardless of his age.  Later that night I high-fived the kid a few times until the father got uncomfortable and moved position.

Growing up we watched everything that was new and cool, tried to race ahead of hungry marketeers who needed to commodify everything that we loved and ultimately destroyed any feeling we had for it. The music marketplace annihilated itself because of arrogant executives who didn’t believe in the power of the internet. The tools of production and the ability for music to be uploaded to sites means anyone can be a musician and exist outside of the limitation of record companies.

Oddly this has meant that us middle-youthers get to experience the thrill of our youth for a second time, because the bands of my youth are either starting up again or never stopped. They know that they will make more in this era’s consumer model than in the days when they were popular and influential. This isn’t brilliant news for the current generation. Thousands of new groups fall by the wayside: burning brightly and fading away, all in the space of six months. There are too many old bands releasing event albums and headlining festivals, filling the space young acts should.  Look around now, every festival is headlined by forty or fifty-something rebels with mortgages but no cause other than the derivative output of their generation. How many new bands will be plying their trade in 20 years? They’ll be gone, but there will probably be a new Iggy album.

THE MEATMARKET TURNED VEGGIE

Depressingly evil waking moment: Apple computers have control of my body! My fingers, eyes, ears and lumpy arse have been borrowed at a price by this corporation that constantly bangs me over the head telling me, “No, we’re not a corporation, but your friend. Look how well designed our products are, look how good they go with any room in your house. Doesn’t your dog look cooler standing beside the MacBook Pro? Quick take a pic with your iPhone. Hey is that Gun Club on your iPod?”

Typical though, I am such an old hypocrite, railing against the MAN for all these years, and it turns out the MAN is a geeky fucking hipster who sees even a mess of a human like me as an integral part of his marketing strategy. Apple have since the early nineties forced their oh-so-cool products on a wanton sector of society, the ‘we didn’t have that shit when we were young’ crowd. The age profile for the highest consumers of iPhone and iPad? 30-50, my age-group.

We are willing computer and internet junkies. We don’t see the little adverts flashing through our heads. Every site we go to has a shopping basket, ‘inviting’ us to exist in a global department store. We are the ‘cooler than our kids’ generation and being hooked up to the net, it is mournful for us because we remember the time before. The time before we lost our ideals, that golden time when we ran around fields and wished we had something to stop us from running around fields. Here’s an iPhone! Look! With this app, you can not only control your bowel movements, you can control other people’s too! That’ll be 99c, please.

STUCK IN THE MEDIA OF A SHITSTORM

We are always being informed by the media that we have a unique culture. Do the people who leave comments on the Journal have culture? Those poor bastards can barely raise their knuckles off the floor to actively miss the point. Yet, these are the people who engage with media, my compatriots.

Culture can be video games; gigs; sport; Hello magazine; drinking yourself to sleep after a hard day’s work; the occasional night out surrounded by massive televisions showing footballers at actual size in bars that used to be nice; hoping you will stay alive long enough to finish the many boxsets you are watching and hating Ryan Tubridy because, y’know, he’s Ryan Tubridy.

However, the Irish Times weekend magazine seems to think that the nation is full of upper middle class people who knit their children’s clothes, then wonder why the poor itchy fuckers get bullied at school. Do these things relate to my generation? ‘What to wear when killing foxes. How to stop people killing foxes. Are foxes spreading diseases and killing livestock? Are we too quick to dismiss the ways of the countryside even if it even means the odd fox will get ripped to pieces? How to make fox risotto, with cranberries and chestnuts, YES! CHESTNUTS!’

On the other hand, I am supposed to care about Georgia Salpa, Kate Middleton, Rosanna Davison, John Terry, David Beckham, Tom Cruise, Adele, Susan Boyle, Una Healy, Gerard Kean and Simon Cowell? The question is: would Michael Collins have made this country better or if he lived would he be just another big wanker? Look what happened to Bono.

HERE’S YOUR CHRISTMAS PRESENT SON. NO, THERE WAS NO CELLOPHANE WHEN I GOT IT

While some people are out on their mountain bikes, orienteering their fit bodies around grim mountains, others are spending large sums of money in restaurants to eat chips that just don’t fit in your mouth. A few still sit around and pray to gods who have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning. But then there are those who can tell key events of their lives based on what version of FIFA football they had at the time. Alternatively they are racking up bodycounts so impressive that their Level 50 status brings them to the attention of various military dictatorships, leading to their dream job: John Cusack’s character in Grosse Pointe Blank. The only downside being the eventual marriage to Minnie Driver’s enormous head.

Teenagers of 2013 have more problems than they realise. Not only are they dealing with the adolescent nightmares of peer pressure, alcohol/drug abuse, fraping, and pus all over their visages, now they’ll have to fight for control of their own game consoles from a growing population of aging gamers who remember playing Sonic and Mario and are damned if they’re going to miss out on the latest gems on the gaming market.

Adults my age play computer games. My Dad didn’t. Your Dad didn’t! The supposedly productive hours in our lives racked up in gaming universes mean that to ignore the incredible new games and game engines wouldn’t be fair on us.  These worlds are so advanced that they transcend the divide between traditional adult entertainment of movies and television. The ability of some games like the Call of Duty series to sell more units than any traditional media is pushing them into a prominent area. Pong is gone. The games developers know that their audience are not just kids, but stressed out adults with disposable income who demand quality and the ability to shoot someone in the face.

Alan Moore, the comic artist who created Watchmen and V for Vendetta, has talked about my generation’s retreat to infancy, pointing out that we didn’t really want to take the responsibility of being an adult in the world we live in, since it’s a pretty shitty world. Middle youthers, although that label is redundant, exist in some horrific Judd Apatow version of reality – minus the misogyny. We are immature, yet have mortgages. We don’t sacrifice our enjoyment of the world in order to survive. We vote the lesser of two evils then vote them out when they become all scaly monster. The church didn’t own us like it did our parents so the guilt isn’t really there. But middle age is real, it is coming and it will be interesting to see how the market is preparing for our generation’s needs. What games will we need? Which bands will still be touring? How will we fill our days? Is it wrong to read the New Yorker on the toilet? The country is a mess, but the market is depending on us not to grow up for a little longer

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (ALL YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW)

Who ever met anyone like Sean Sherlock, the Minister of State for Research and Innovation (Ministry of made up ministries)? Where did he come from? Why does he represent my interests in this internet age? He is three years older than me, looks twenty years younger and smiles like he’s telling you to fuck off. I have never met anyone like him. Maybe I could befriend Sherlock, force-feed him brandy and digestive biscuits and while holding his hair over the toilet bowl as he vomits, demand to know why he is representing me. I might just get an answer. More likely, through the tears and snot he will tell me that he has no idea why at our age I am wearing a Cramps t-shirt, smelling of rum and covered in his sick.

182870_527665477279926_395253768_nThis bunch of words I did wrote was published in the summer issue of CULT magazine 2013.

 

Vicious cult leader escapes from belly of the Holmes – Is unhappy.

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Wee wee weee all da way home…

Stretch hee-yuh!

If you are about in Irlanda for your sins and happen upon what they call a siopa (pronounced shoooooo-pa or if you end up in the German enclave of Munshter where it is pronounced Daplacewegetsalldaskittles by local goat-molestahs), you may encounter the mythical CULT magazine. In its wet, sticky pages you will find many obscene things, including my alter-ego’s piece on what it is like to be oh-so old with the mind of a four-year old child or sumthing. Jesus fuck! At least one person likes it. Anywaysbut, there was one section that the editor thuggily insisted be taken out largely because it was irrelevant to the piece on levels so very, very, very, very basic as to make the sub angry. Naturally, my AE became all pissy, self-aggrandising and talking like a spurned 1920s film noir gangster shitting on the mag and its evil legion of followers when all he really wanted to say was this…

Who ever met anyone like Sean Sherlock, the Minister of State for Research and Innovation (Ministry of made up ministries methinks)? Where did he come from? Why does he represent my interests in this internet age? He is three years older than me, looks twenty years younger and smiles like he’s telling you to fuck right off. I have never met anyone like him. Maybe I could befriend Sherlock, force-feed him brandy and digestive biscuits and while holding his hair over the toilet bowl as he vomits, demand to know why he is representing me. I might just get an answer. More likely, through the tears and snot he will tell me that he has no idea why at our age I am wearing a Cramps t-shirt, smelling of rum and covered in his sick.

He fucking defies anyone, ANYONE who says that this paragraph does not fit in with the rest of the article. A key ingredient missing from a potentially mystical cake, which in the end reads like a steaming pile of brack, and who wants that? Well, who? You Sean, that’s right you you sanctimonious little lizard.

You can find them on Twitter too. Just click here, just….just.

this is cult

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Here’s a link to a Hunter S. Thompson piece my alter-ego wrote in an Irlanda magazine. The magazine is called Cult, not to be confused with Cubt, which means an unmanagable barrel of oddly strong smelling hops (in German). The mag is well worth seeking out as it contains things that other publications don’t, like good stuff to read. However the dearth of pages to rub off my face and chest before I go out to Over-40s nights in Coolock was slightly disappointing. But, as Mussolini said, “You can’t have everything in life.”And he should know.

Here be the website THISISCULT

 

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