Après Match member Gary Cooke on Joe Duffy, body piercings, and the perils of impersonating Ireland’s most belligerent broadcaster. Playing intermediary Paul Nolan
In terms of quality material, diversity of appeal and sheer consistency of output, Après Match have emerged as quite possibly the finest comedy act in the country over the past five years, and have certainly remained one of the very few elements in RTE’s humour output to continually merit the description, “unmissable viewing”.
In addition, during those times when the media completely loses the run of itself and covers, say, the almost comically funereal Tommy Gorman/Roy Keane interview with the sort of gravitas more usually associated with impending nuclear apocalypse, Mess(e)rs Cooper, Cooke and Murphy have revealed a genuine flair for satire, their gloriously demented brand of surreal parody frequently reaching Dr. Strangelove-levels of genius.
However, given that the original Après Match brief was to fulfil a few short, moderately-resourced post-match comedy slots during RTE’s coverage of France ’98, is Cooke ever surprised at the troupe’s exponential growth in popularity over the intervening years?
“I suppose I am to an extent, because there was never any master plan to turn it into something really huge,” Gary explains. “We actually didn’t start doing any live stuff as a trio until late ’99, and it was only really on the back of those gigs that we started to develop the show. But to be honest, live performance felt like a very natural progression for us at the time – Barry (Murphy) was a stand-up, and Risteard (Cooper) and myself were actors, so we were essentially performance people, y’know? It was just a question of whether or not the public were going to be into it, and thankfully they were.”
In yet another example of the national broadcaster’s notoriously cumbersome approach to comedy production (“It’s true, RTE have made absolutely no attempt at all to develop the show over the past few years,” sighs Cooke), five years down the line, the trio’s TV appearances are still confined to a few snatched minutes during Network 2’s soccer coverage. Nonetheless, they remain phenomenally popular, with sketches such as Liveline-piss-take The Three Joes attaining near legendary status, despite – or perhaps that should be because of – some wildly incongruous non-sequiturs.
“I suppose something like the quasi-mythical, Riverdance-style climax to the Joe Duffy sketch is quite off-the-wall, but I think it’s getting at something that’s true,” Gary maintains. “It has a certain kind of warped logic to it. Even though I think Joe Duffy is extremely good at what he does, and a lot of people enjoy his show, there is still something utterly absurd and ridiculous about it. I mean, they have these shows in every country in the world, but Joe Duffy does a certain brand of Irishness – or Oirishness – better than anybody else.
“For instance, he had a guest on recently who was quite heavily into body piercings. I could see where the whole thing was leading – all Joe really wanted to ask him was, ‘Do you have a ring through your cock?’ But of course, Joe just adopted this mock-coy attitude, and it was all (adopts pitch-perfect north-soide whine), ‘But tell us now, where don’t you have piercings?’ and ‘Where’s the most exotic place you’ve been pierced?’ And eventually, your man just says, ‘I’ve got a ring through the eye of my penis, Joe’.
“So Joe replies, ‘Would that be through the foreskin, there?’ The body-piercer fellow answers, ‘No, right through the top of my penis.’ And Joe just goes, ‘Mother of God…’ So he’s playing off that public expectancy of a certain kind of twee Irishness, and he does it brilliantly, but that’s in a way what we were getting at in the end of that sketch – we’re not just throwing in something mad for the sake of it. I think that kind of surreal stuff is sometimes the best way to make the point, it actually says more than words can say.”
Cooke himself, of course, is perhaps best known for his ingenious interpretation of the Eamon Dunphy persona, which sees the famously belligerent broadcaster reinvented as a pouting, preening – indeed vaguely camp – media tart. Dunphy himself would appear to have taken exception to this depiction, or so his recent outburst following the Ireland/Albania game (“That’s fucking shit!”) would lead one to deduce.
“What he was pissed off about was that there was less of him and more of us,” says Gary. “It’s an air-time thing. He’s got all these points he wants to make, so he’s just thinking, ‘Fuck these arseholes. They’re putting on comedy at this point? I’ve got to start a new industry slagging Brian Kerr!’ Gilesy was pissed off as well, but we’ve had all this before – there’s always going to be an issue about the amount of time we’re allotted.
“But to be honest, I don’t believe for one minute that Dunphy likes it. I mean, I’m sure he appreciates part of it, but I just don’t think anyone likes having the piss taken out of them. I suppose with Dunphy, in the beginning it was more affectionate parody in a way, and gradually the whole thing became more and more sort of hard edged, really instigated by his own, er, behavioural quirks.”
When you make a living as an impressionist, there must exist a very odd kind of symbiosis between you and your subject.
“Oh yeah, totally. If someone’s making a living out of, y’know, ripping the fucking piss out of you, that’s an extraordinary thing, and there’s a very strange relationship going on there between… pissee and pisser.”