“Two lovers, one dream, no potatoes” - Can the tragedy of the Irish famine ever make it as a point of comedy in Ireland?
The Sunday Times magazine recently revealed that Irish comedy quartet Dead Cat Bounce has been approached to create a full-length show around an 8-minute sketch they’ve been touring since 2008 named “Famine! The Musical.”
The four-piece part-band-part-comedy group has uploaded a recording of the shorter sketch (below), thus getting ahead of their eager critics by allowing people to make up their minds for themselves before hearing how terrible the notion of a famine comedy is.
While it’s not tears-to-the-eyes funny (I’m generally just not a fan of musical comedy anyway), there are certainly some jokes in there that hit perfectly.
The jokes that earned the biggest laughs may also be the ones that will have Irish Americans up in arms. (And we’re called the snowflakes!) It certainly demonstrates that there is an opportunity to make such an attempt, if the people involved are willing and able to endure the wrath that will follow.
There certainly will be a negative reaction among some. A funny Famine musical will sound like an oxymoron to many for starters. You might remember that back in early 2015 news that UK TV station Channel 4 was set to produce a sitcom based on Ireland's Great Hunger caused uproar, with many protests coming from Irish America, in particular.
That Irish famine TV comedy project was quickly abandoned as C4 came to the decision that whatever viewers they’d earn through the show would never be worth the hassle of having a country and it’s extremely large diaspora complaining bitterly about it forever more.
What about the funny Famine musical? The Sunday Times' Eithne Shortall thinks the time has come to set a comedy in Famine times, which begs the following question:
Could an Irish writer or comedian tastefully create Great Hunger comedy?
Shortall thinks the time has come that somebody was given the opportunity to take that plunge.
,“Travers’s idea [the Irish writer behind the C4 sitcom] was not to poke fun at the event, but rather to situate a comedy within it,” Shortall writes.
“The First World War doesn’t strike you as an obvious setting for era-defining comedy, at least not until you’ve seen "Blackadder" do it. "South Park" managed to get a memorable episode out of Aids.
“It might seem a tall order, but I would like to see what comedians come up with. Maybe it just needs to be made at home.”
Or maybe it doesn't need to be made at all.
On a serious note the British drama "Victoria" showed how TV can work in our favor in terms of educating people about the Great Hunger
While you may think that the famine will for forever and a day be off-limits, let’s think about the benefits (and there are some) that could come from engaging with the Irish tragedy in this way. As we saw with the BBC series “Victoria” (on the 19th century queen), which addressed the Great Hunger in one episode, TV has a remarkable educational ability when dealing with subjects that viewers may not naturally interact with.
I may pick up a book on famine history, attend a lecture, go to an exhibition, or watch a documentary about the famine because I know it’s a part of history I’m already interested in, it’s one I think deserves the time we spend on it, and I feel the need to support those who work in spreading awareness of it. Many Irish people would feel this way.
But that is not the case in an international context.
There were large numbers of British viewers of “Victoria” who now know more about the Great Hunger than they did before watching that one episode (although the complete depiction of Queen Victoria’s response may not have been entirely accurate).
A comedy will also have this power and access to a different type of audience and, as Shortall argues, just because a work is set in a certain time period does not mean that the comedy will constantly revolve around the famine itself.
It may also be true that “it just needs to be made at home.” If a comedy is to be made, then who better than our own self-denigrating, occasionally Brit-hating selves to bring our own brand of dark humor to the fore?
Dead Cat Bounce are the latest to chance their arm at famine humor
While Dead Cat Bounce’s wigs and Aran sweaters are possibly a bit much, they have at least introduced the name Trevelyan to others who may just know it from a line in the song the "Fields of Athenry. "
This isn’t some dubious sketch on Ireland from "Saturday Night Live" writers. Ireland has a multitude of incredible writers and comedians who could do it justice. Surely it’s worth a shot if we want to educate as many people as possible.
What do you reckon? Has the time come where we can make certain jokes about the famine or is it still inappropriate? Where there ever be a time when we can produce sitcoms and sketches about the most tragic point in Irish history? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.