The Savage Eye; Battle of the Sexes

by John Boland

Am I imagining it or have Podge and Rodge curbed their enthusiasm for potty talk in the last week or two, and if so could this be due to the dismay expressed by myself and a few others at the duo’s recent inability to distinguish the ribald from the rancid? 

Given RTE’s unwillingness to heed criticism, especially from upstarts in the print media, that’s unlikely to be the case and anyway our national broadcaster has now given David McSavage carte blanche to carry on where the foul-mouthed puppets left off.

Last week’s first episode of The Savage Eye (RTE2) was notable for the hit-and-miss nature of its gags (some brilliant, some duds) but even more so for their demented delivery: there’s a furious energy to this man’s comedy, and with an unsettling quality to it which suggests that it’s the fury – at ideologies, old pieties, institutions, attitudes and probably himself – that creates the energy. God knows what lies beneath the rage (for one thing he’s a politician’s son who mercilessly derides politicians), but whatever the reason he’s a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at the slightest provocation.

That’s what gives his comedy its edge, but it’s also what too often topples it over the edge, as in this week’s series of sketches about Irish sexuality. In one of these, McSavage and three male colleagues, who were dressed as the Sex and the City quartet, turned to a demure-looking young Irish woman called Patsy and asked how she was finding New York. At which Patsy, in a thick rural accent, delivered an account of her sexual experiences so explicitly detailed and so scatological that my instincts – not to mention my features editor – persuade me I can’t reproduce here.

The joke, in so far as I could discern it, lay in the stunned reactions of the listening Manhattan socialites, seemingly so forthright in their sex chat but suddenly confronted by the unsayable, but it simply wasn’t funny and all I could picture was McSavage’s glee at RTE allowing him to say this particular unsayable – an indulgence I can’t imagine the BBC, or even Channel 4,  extending to him.

So if these venerable broadcasters would veto it and it would be deemed unprintable in a responsible newspaper, why does RTE think it just the ticket in a programme that’s expressly aimed at the mainstream viewership that RTE2 comedy constantly courts? 

I had the same thought when watching a sketch in which a mother told her daughter-in-law how to treat her beloved son, culminating in a bedroom scene in which the wife, about to perform oral sex on her husband, was interrupted by this Irish mammy with advice on how exactly to orally service her son, the intimate technical pointers followed by the assurance that “he’ll really like that.”

Or how about the sketch of an afternoon television show presenter conducting an interview while a naked baby dangled between her legs, as if just born there and then? Or of a publican relating in anatomical detail how a bee descended on his private parts as he was “ridin’ a woman.”? Or, indeed, of a former female President of Ireland describing in posh tones how she masturbated and how it provided “a tremendous way of taking the edge off a heavy week.”

When it comes to comedy, of course, one man’s Bernard Manning is another’s Oscar Wilde, but ultimately there’s a limit – if not in nightclubs, then on television – and I certainly hadn’t realised that among RTE’s demands on its viewers was to request them to sit through stuff that so blatantly crosses that fine but recognisable line dividing the risque from the unacceptable.

By contrast, the second episode of Battle of the Sexes (RTE1) seemed a model of restraint, but that was possibly because of Ray D’Arcy, whose listless hosting of the debate had viewers in constant danger of nodding off. The cliches emanating from most of the contributors were sleep-inducing, too, not least those of Joanathan McCrea (journalist and broadcaster, the caption informed me), who gave the introductory spiel.

Women, this genius informed us, “have made men’s lives miserable since the dawn of time.” Furthermore, “they’re never happy,” and while men confronted by a beautiful woman think “Wow, she’s gorgeous,” women think “Wow, she’s gorgeous, the bitch.” If women are intelligent “you’d never know it from their mindless chatter,” while in the bedroom “they’re either tired or have a headache.”

This is what passes for sexual and social analysis out in RTE, and the programme got no better when D’Arcy turned to his male studio audience and asked them their views on marriage, monogamy, child-rearing and equality. What’s RTE on about?

Surprisingly there was real substance to this week’s A Little Bit Showband (RTE1), in which blandness usually reigns. But Derek Dean, former lead singer with The Freshmen, was engagingly frank about his alcoholic and sexual past. “The drink was always more important than the women,” he recalled, “but the availability of women was phenomenal.”

He was just as forthright about the band’s repertoire (their big hit, La Yenka, was “appalling stuff, pure drivel”), its final disbandment after a bleak gig in Boyle, his subsequent life as a failed businessman and then on the dole, and the failure of his two marriages (“I’d put the destruction of my first marriage down to showbusiness and alcoholism and the ending of my second down to the pain of recovery”), but there was nothing self-pitying about him and viewers could only wish him well as he embarked on a new musical career with his son.

Cogar (TG4) brought three former pupils back to the St Louis convent in Monaghan, where they’d been boarders in the early 1950s. Nowadays, and understandably, we tend to view all religious institutions with deep suspicion, but these three women recalled only benign nuns and happy times. “It’s like another world,” one of them wistfully said, “but that’s how it was and we enjoyed it.” And some evocative film footage from the period supported their fond reminiscences.

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