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Saturday 1 November 2014

Our comedy history is a funny business

I should probably begin today's review with the line "Stop me if you've heard this one before", because the chances are that you have. TV3 originally screened Having a Laugh! Great Irish Comedy TV Moments around last Christmas.

I gave it a miss back then for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was having a little time off. Secondly, it sounded suspiciously like a clip show. I have an in-built aversion to clip shows, and especially clip shows about Irish comedy, a topic that has already been clip-showed to within an inch of its life.

Well, it is time to hold my hand up for a slap on the wrist. Despite tons of clips, Having a Laugh! was more than a mere clip show; it was nothing less than an attempt to give us a comprehensive history of Irish television comedy.

Having a Laugh! adopted the scattergun approach of raiding the archives for every fragment of funniness it could lay its hands on, and rounding up practically every notable Irish comedian who's ever drawn a breath, let alone a laugh.

The clever juxtaposition of old-school and new-school practitioners threw up some hilarious contradictions. "Hal Roach, to me, was the Daddy," said Brendan Grace, with a straight face, "a real trailblazer." Cue Hal, in a velvet dinner jacket, telling a gag so old it requires a daily shave.

Dara O Briain expressed his hatred of the kind of broad-Dubalin-accent comedy typified by Twink. He didn't mention her by name; he didn't need to, because Having a Laugh! kindly treated us to a clip of Twink playing a cleaning woman in an old toilet-roll ad.

Twink, in turn, expressed her hatred of the kind of Paddywhack comedy typified by Killinaskully (again, without having to mention it by name), which she finds insular, embarrassing and lacking in sophistication.

To underscore the point, we saw a clip from the 1970s of a very sophisticated Twink in blackface, pretending to be soul singer Gladys Knight.

Having a Laugh! deftly latched on to the truth that if there's one thing funnier than professional funny people being funny, it's professional funny people taking themselves far too seriously. A hoot.

Frankly, I'd have grabbed a laugh from any source I could find after watching Dispatches: Orphans of Burma's Cyclone, which was far and away one of the most upsetting documentaries I've ever seen.

Filmed by local cameramen at constant risk of imprisonment (or worse) at the hands of Burma's repressive military regime, it focused on just a handful of the tens of thousands of Burmese children left orphaned and starving since the May 2008 cyclone that killed more than 145,000.

The country's ruling generals, who have shut out foreign aid, have simply abandoned these children to a fate that, for once, really is worse than death.

STACEY'S STARS

Having a Laugh! Great Irish Comedy TV Moments * * * *

Dispatches: Orphans of Burma's Cyclone * * * * *

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