Coming soon, an explosive new Irish sitcom

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I see they are at it again. Who are at it again?

The people who make all the money out of Irish comedy.

I'm not with you.

Surely you must have noticed the plethora of comedies set in Ireland? Ballykissangel and Father Ted and all those?

Oh, those. Well, you must set comedies somewhere. Why not in Ireland?

Oh, sure. But why now? There hasn't been a comedy set in Ireland for 30 years, and now suddenly they're coming along the airwaves like juggernauts on the motorway. There's Ballykissangel and Father Ted and The Mahaffys...

The who?

That's what I was saying. They're at it again. There's a new comedy series on Radio 4 this Wednesday called The Mahaffys. Here's what the Radio Times says about it. "Welcome to Tubberbiggle, a small town in the west of Ireland that is the scene of some surreal goings-on in this new comedy. The priest does a phone-in confession show for local radio..."

Tubberbiggle? Was that name made up by the same man who thought of the name "Ballykissangel"?

I don't know. But doesn't that summary remind you of something?

Yes. It reminds me of every other new comedy set in Ould Ireland.

Right in one. And why are they all set in Ireland? I mean, why are they all set in the Republic of Ireland? When did you last see a comedy set in Northern Ireland?

Ah well, that's different. Northern Ireland's a serious place. Can't joke about death and violence.

Oh, really? Did you ever see an episode of MASH?

Hmmm. So why are all these comedies set in the Republic of Ireland, since you ask?

Because it's another form of British colonialism.

Pardon?

All these comedies are manufactured by the English and inflicted on the Irish. They are visions of an unreal, long gone, simple-minded sunny Irish countryside which exists nowhere except in the innocent minds of English TV executives. Go to Irish writers and what do you find? You find gritty stories set by Roddy Doyle on Dublin housing estates. Go to reality and what do you find? You find Irish journalists being shot dead by Irish drug barons. You find corrupt and pederastic priests being shielded by the Catholic Church. You find 100 yards of good road being built by EU money which should have built 100 miles. You find...

Hold on a minute.

And it's always been the same. The English have always done delightful little unreal comedies in Irish settings. Somerville and Ross's Tales of an Irish RM, Spike Milligan's Puckoon ... But it was always a colonial view of Ireland. The Irish don't see it that way. The Irish have mostly found only tragedy in their own land, which is why we had Sean O'Casey and Samuel Beckett and WB Yeats and all those gloomy fellows. Most of them got so depressed by the place that they had to leave Ireland, leaving it free for fantasists like JP Donleavy to come in and misdescribe...

Hold on, hold on. What about the people you've left out? The comic Irish writers? Brendan Behan? Flann O'Brien? The JM Synge of "The Playboy of the Western World"?

Nothing very comic about that lot, deep down. Brush away the froth and foam from the top of a Brendan Behan play and you find a dark and bitter mix beneath. The Synge play is all about failure, not success. And so on.

So what are you going to do about it?

Ah! I'm glad you asked me that! I'm going to break new ground. I'm going to produce the first English TV sitcom with a Northern Ireland setting. And it's going to be set in an IRA cell!

WHAT! So all the characters are IRA members?

That's it. And in the first episode they plan to blow up the local McDonald's, like the McDonald's that was blown up in France last week, in St Jean- de-Luz.

But why would the IRA want to blow up a McDonald's and kill innocent people?

Ah! That's the whole point. Nobody is killed. The place is empty. It's the middle of the night. The IRA blow it up to gain intellectual respectability among all the chattering middle classes who hate burger chains...

Hmm. I don't know...

And the Northern Ireland Film Commission is offering generous start- up grants to any TV drama set in the province, up to pounds 40,000.

Ah! Why didn't you say so in the first place? And what are you calling this sitcom?

"Ballymurphybeamish".

Fair enough.

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