- Film & TV
- 22 Apr 20
25 years ago this week, the first episode of the iconic series Father Ted aired on Channel 4. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting our classic 1994 interview with Dermot Morgan – which offers a fascinating glimpse into the man before he became forever known as "Ted".
Don't make me laugh – that would certainly seem to be the policy in RTE, where the hugely successful Scrap Saturday was ditched and Extra Extra promoted as A GREAT IDEA. Widely considered Ireland's most talented and controversial comedian, Dermot Morgan has suffered more than most in a climate where safety remains the bottom line. Here he talks about Teasey and Haughey, Bishop Casey's bedroom habits, Chris de Burgh's ladies in bed, the loves Labour have lost in government and what makes a legitimate target – along the way excoriating RTE for their unwillingness to take even the slightest risk in the cause of decent comedy.
Dermot Morgan doesn’t buy into any of that crap about all comedians being manic depressives behind their painted smiles, silently screaming, “hey, Ma, look at me, please”, to paraphrase Lenny Bruce. Nonetheless, Morgan sure is maniacally driven. That’s patently obvious as he settles into an armchair in Dublin’s McGratten’s restaurant yet leaves his jacket on and keeps one ear tilted towards the door awaiting the demand that he journey dowstairs and attend the press launch for his new video Jobs For The Boys.
Soon after the launch he will continue the rocket flight which began with the phenomenal success of Scrap Saturday three years ago and take off for England to start work on a new television series, written by ex Hot Press employees Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan. With this in mind one obviously expects him to show due deference to Hot Press. But, no, right there in his new video Morgan mocks a comment Michael D. Higgins made in this magazine last year.
Joe Jackson: Okay, smart-ass (Jesus I’m scared, Joe – Ed). What’s wrong with Michael D’s suggestion that U2 should be studied in schools?
Dermot Morgan: Jaysus, is there no getting away from them?
Hardly, when you insist on wearing your Bono gold lamé jacket on the cover of the video, and also slagging them in your show! So, c’mon, answer the question!
I’ve no problem with U2 being on the curriculum but it would kinda turn rock ‘n’ roll on its head. (Adopts Dun Laoghaire student’s voice) ‘I’m into the alternative scene, man. I’ve got this string quartet that’s really ace and I saw the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the SFX last night, they were fucking brilliant’. And outside exam halls they’d be saying “Ah shit, Unforgettable Fire came up again! I thought they’d go for War!” But, seriously, I see no valid reason why rock shouldn’t be studied in schools, because it is the form of expression young people have chosen since, at least, the 1950s. But, on another level, it would be bad news for rock if it was completely subsumed into this middle-class, middle-aged academic culture which already sits on Irish life. But then film is now studied in schools so maybe all electronic media should be in order to bring a full critical faculty to bear on these forms.
It’s also been suggested that Shakespeare should be shafted and replaced by Roddy Doyle on the curriculum.
No, the answer is to hybridise them, so you could have Hamlet saying “To be or not to be/Me Bollix!” Get Roddy to write every second line of Shakespeare. Everyone could relate to that!
You, yourself can be a bit of a bollix in your show, attacking everyone from Travellers to poor Labour politicians who, you say, ‘have their heads in a big swill and their arses in the air – with some arses higher than others’.
Poor politicians, me arse! In that line I’m slagging the Labour Party who have turned out to be just like Fianna Fail in terms of setting up jobs for the boys, for their party members, and relatives. That’s the swill I’m talking about. Look At Dick Spring. He’s been a huge disappointment. He went for Foreign Affairs because he wanted the toys. U2 are honest about it. They go out and do rock ‘n’ roll, earn money and buy whatever they want, but Spring is a public servant. Yet what did he go for (adopts Spring’s voice): ‘I’ll have the biggest car, please, and a Táiniste’s office that’s twice as big as the last one’. He deserves a kick in the arse for that. And as for the “arses in the air – that’s simply a line about untoward events in the Phoenix Park, and a suggestion of at least bisexuality, which I have no problem with. I do have a go at travellers and gays in the show because I think it would be discriminatory to exclude them! I think you should slag everybody. But I do set about all this with a very clean pair of hands in that I’m not homophobic, if that’s what you’re asking me!
So when you were cruising in the Phoenix Park yourself, did you make a lot of money?
I was dressed as the Pope and I did bloody great! There’s a couple of fetishists up there alright. Especially the ones who say “do the bit on your knees where you say (pope’s voice) ‘Young people of Ireland, I Love You’.
But, on a more serious level, in the second, pilot show of your Newshound series – which RTE cancelled – there was a skit about Michael D. Higgins which, it has been suggested, some people would not have found funny and, indeed, wasn’t funny.
The camera crews were laughing. Whereas, on the other hand, the RTE management view of comedy is what brought us Extra Extra and Gortnaclune. So, don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining! And the invidious aspect of Newshounds is that RTE put out all these different reasons why it wasn’t funny and said that’s why they dropped it. But my reading of it – which has helped me work up my vitriol for the present government – is that their arrival coincided exactly with the time Newshounds was cancelled and negotiations for another series of Scrap Saturday fell apart. And the big lie RTE have put out is that negotiations for Scrap Saturday fell apart over money. It’s said we were ‘greedy’ – but on a logical basis, anyone can see we wouldn’t be stupid enough to lose our profit leader, Scrap Saturday.
How much were you asking for?
A 20% increase. Yet, having said that, I’m not prepared to say what we were on, for the show. But this time round we never got as far as negotiating money. To begin with RTE were very enthusiastic about the return of Scrap Saturday and had even given us our slot in the schedules. In the middle of all that, Newshounds went down and I wrote a satirical piece about RTE and like that (snaps finger) Scrap Saturday negotiations were off.
But in that piece you wrote, Comedy at RTE: A Very Short Story, you did have civil servants saying “public service broadcasting is not about having the country laughing up their sleeves about people in authority.” Do you really think RTE is that worried about upsetting politicians and is, now, by extension, in the pocket of the government?
Of all governments. They are creatures of government and don’t want to upset the government in any way. I think, particularly, they wouldn’t have wanted to upset Michael D. Higgins. And, he is both patronised and served poorly by that. I don’t believe, for a moment, that he would invite that kind of arse-licking.
Because of all this, have you anything specific against Michael D. Higgins?
I don’t have anything personal against Michael D. Higgins. Indeed, I have made submissions to him about his Broadcasting Green Paper and he was most courteous. And he went out of his way to stress that he had nothing to do with Scrap Saturday being pulled. And I believe him. So, as to who actually pulled the show, you can pick between the clique that exists at management level – though I think Kevin Healy wanted the show done.
But fundamentally, what’s wrong with management in RTE doing their jobs? You could argue simply that it’s their responsibility to make decisions about what goes out over the airwaves.
What really worries me about this, on far more than a personal level, is that in Ireland television obviously is the most important cultural medium there is. For it to be dominated by a handful of people is inherently wrong. What if U2 ran the music industry here or there was only one newspaper, with one editor? It would be ludicrous. No body of people should have that kind of monopoly. And when the satellite boys really get going – as in Murdock – who’s going to protect the integrity of Irish television. Liam Miller? Joe Barry?
Surely that kind of argument, as expressed through your very public support for TV3, also damaged your relationship with RTE
Well, I wouldn’t be loved for it, that’s for sure. But what’s the implication in that question? That one should (Michael Noonan voice) “keep your head down and maybe you might get on television with Cynthia Ni Mhurchú and what’s her name? Claire McKeon?” I couldn’t do that. My father was the same. He didn’t get on in the Civil Service because he was a blatant, open dissident.
That said, watching you on The Late Late Show recently I certainly got a sense that Gay had warned to you in advance “Dermot, you’re a nice lad, but would you keep your more pointed comments to yourself this time round? Particularly after the Eamon Dunphy “bollix” song you sang during your previous appearance, which some viewers may have found offensive.
I didn’t have a “bollix” song to sing this time round. And I certainly wasn’t aware of being restrained by Gay Byrne. I had a crack at everybody, as usual. If I was playing the ‘safe’ game I’d have been ‘in’ RTE years ago. But it honestly would be unpalatable for me to kiss the management’s arse in RTE. And the public seem to know that. If I pulled my punches now, just to protect my career, the public would notice that too and I’d soon be out of business.
It has also been suggested by a “colleague” in RTE that you are “a Hitler”, who needs to control everything and be actor, producer, director, writer – and that this is what contributed to your deteriorating relationship with RTE.
I’m not saying that I’m a wonderful guy and all these other people are shits. But the difference is, who is trying to be a Hitler and grab control simply for power’s sake and who simply knows what they can do and does it – even when the person they are dealing with is incompetent? And isn’t it interesting that such comments came from “unspecified sources” in RTE. Yes, I do want to keep control of things but only because, at the end of it all, the producers who make a bollix of it are promoted. That’s usually what happens in RTE. And the artist is left with, not egg, but shite all over their faces.
Some would say you deserved to be left with shite on your face when satire in Scrap Saturday gave way to personal attacks on people like Sile de Valera, whom you described as ‘Sumo.’
I guess we were very bold at times. But John Cleese did say – and I agree – that if you start getting into the notion of ‘you can say this but not that’, then the whole thing is knackered. Political correctness, in this sense, is a real pain in the arse. And part of the spectrum of our attack, with that Sile de Valera thing, was a weight-ist gag. That’s all par for the course.
You speak with obvious pride in relation to Scrap Saturday. Does it still mean that much to you?
Definitely. I remember one woman, working in a washeteria, said, when I went to pay her the tenner I owed her: ‘don’t give me any money, just keep after those bastards’. So, there was this kind of peoples’ agenda to Scrap Saturday, no matter how self-aggrandising that may sound. And Gerry (Stembridge, Morgan’s co-writer) and I loved going out and, when something really infuriated us, taking it on satirically, which is obviously part of the reason we were sidelined.
But you would say that, Dermot, because Scrap Saturday made you lots of money and also made you relatively famous!
That is true! (laughs). But although I do have a vested interest in saying it, the show also was a vocation. And I think it is extremely wrong that that show was taken off and no attempt was made to replace it. It was so fucking wrong. And you people in the Press shouldn’t be asking me about it. Go ask the people who decided to take it off why they made that decision? Say to RTE ‘you are getting £60 plus million in licence subscription and the same again in advertising backing and you have the cross-promotion between RTE radio and television and the RTE Guide – so why do you have no sense of noblesse oblige with all this?’ They should be made to respond to these questions – and not in rumours. I think it was Mary O Rourke who was told by senior RTE producers that story about me being “greedy”. Lies, fucking, lies. And Gerry nailed another rumour, which was that we didn’t deliver in time. We fucking delivered in time and never got them one libel. And this is a bone I don’t intend to let go. Not just because Dermot Morgan wants his show back but because RTE is delivering poor value to the public and must answer for that.
In terms of RTE’s comedy output, most people regarded Gortnaclune and Extra Extra as, to be kind to them, “poor value”. Did you?
The extraordinary thing about Gortnaclune was that they ripped off their own format. Nighthawks was extremely successful and they discontinued it. That strikes me as an incredibly bad decision. And, in terms of the Extra Extra thing, I’d put out a challenge to RTE now.They said they pulled Newshounds because it wasn’t funny. But if we distributed even the roughest cut of Newshounds on a VHS video, I think the punters will say ‘develop that and not Extra Extra’. But nobody answers for shows like that? Who was the producer on Extra Extra? John Lynch? How could he, and his bossman answer for that show? It had a very good cast but was just unwatchable, as far as I was concerned.
I ran out of drugs! Two tabs and you’re usually delighted with yourself! But not watching that show! It had the potential to become a cult show but, as a situation comedy, it basically lacked two of the fundamental factors – a situation and comedy! And I understand it was pulled, not by the powers-that-be but by rebellion! There was an actual revolt among the cast, who could see their careers suffering because of it. Mind you, I don’t think Pauline McGlynn was hurt by Gortnaclune. She’s my housekeeper in the Channel Four series, Father Ted.
And that is, what, a six week series, with options on a second series?
Yeah. And it’s wonderfully written by those two lunatics, Arthur Mathew’s and Graham Linehan who, as you know, came from your organ- what? – from Hot Press. But, to me, that is interesting in itself because it shows that RTE needs something like Hot Press as a strand of programming, in television terms. If something like that had been in operation as long as your magazine and RTE had taken in guys like Arthur and Graham and let them develop and build their craft, then maybe we’d all be better off now. But there is no strand like Hot Press in RTE. What they have is Frank Patterson and Extra Extra and Bibi Baskin! Though, Bibi’s gone now, so she’s certainly gone up in my estimation!
Incidentally, what drugs were you using watching Extra Extra?
Lots, lots! But you could clear out a warehouse of Amsterdam’s finest and still not be ready for Extra Extra.
But, seriously, Dermot are you on cocaine right now? Do you use speed to get through shows. Is that, as it’s claimed, all part of the territory for comedians these days?
No, I’m fucking not on cocaine! And unlike Bill Clinton when I smoked dope in College I did inhale. But there was never the supply there, in UCD, to use it regularly. Yet I did enjoy it. But I never touched acid or speed because I really do find it hard enough to keep my fucking sanity at the best of times, without giving myself over to drugs like that. A nice little, gentle, smoke is fine but things like cocaine, no. And I almost never even have a drink before going on stage because one night, after having a pint and two large whiskeys, I did and all I remember is that the audience kept slipping away from me. So, I’d never do that again.
How do you deal with putting on a show when you are depressed?
I still get a high from just reminding myself that I am in this business and I did become a comedian – which is what I always wanted to be. I didn’t end up in insurance. I didn’t end up as a teacher. So I do have a professional pride that pushes me through those moments when you do have to get up on stage even though you’re feeling shite.
That said, there apparently have been times in your life when you suffered from deep depression when domestic bills would all come rolling in at the same time and you were basically starving.
That is true and I don’t recommend that to young comedians! I wouldn’t ever try and sell anyone that shite of ‘if you want to be a comedian, you must first have a rough life’. Bollix to that. Obviously it is much more fun to be like Graham Linehan, who is hugely successful and he’s only 26. The bastard! However, there is something wonderful in having a hard time, not going out of business and managing to survive. That does give me a certain sense of gratification. And my biggest fear this time ten years ago was that I honestly didn’t know where I would end up, or if I’d ever really be successful. And success did come relatively late to me- when I was near 40.
You, apparently started acting the joker in college. Was that, as with novice rock stars, simply a desire to impress women?
Absolutely. There must have been the element of wanting to attract attention along those lines. I was fuck-all use at football and wasn’t going to be the Young Scientist of the Year, so that was a way of carving out my territory, I guess.
But were you also fuck-all use at fucking? (laughs, then adopts Charles Haughey accent). I’m not prepared to discuss my sex life. However it is significant that the Agricultural Morgan Department removed the sheep from Belfield during my first year. That’s all I’m prepared to talk about.
Ah come on, Dermot, do you have groupies?
Just one, but she’s 73 and she does take her teeth out occasionally, when I invite her to. No, but when asked what’s the best part of his being a comedian recently, Frank Skinner said ‘shagging attractive women!’
You’ve suddenly become very coy, hiding behind false accents and other comedian’s lines. What’s your problem with this question. You are, after, all the guy who goes on about Charles Haughey getting blow-jobs. What about yourself? Are you a closet womaniser? Or a closet anything?
I never, never gave Charlie Haughey a blow job! And as for being a closet anything, I certainly never use public parks, I’ll tell you that! But the point is that Charlie and I never discuss our sex lives. Now fuck off!
Is it true you were told to fuck off by people who objected to you presenting skits on Scrap Saturday that had “Teasy” Keane as Haughey’s lover?
There was one supplication from a friend of the family but, when that happened, we went back on it twice as bad the next week, to make the point ‘don’t piss us off’. A friend of the Haughey family rang up and said ‘it’s a bit hard on the mammy’, as in Mrs. Haughey. But as Himler said to the S.S. as he stood in one of the concentration camps ‘it’s tough work but someone’s got to do it’.
That’s a bit rough, considering you got all coy when asked about your own sex life a minute ago! Didn’t you ever stop and think that jokes about Haughey in Kinsealy – where he’s speaking to his minions at a Christmas Party and forgets his wife’s name – are grossly insensitive to the woman in question?
That was a bit nasty but it’s no different than making any joke at the moment about Chris de Burgh. It’s tricky because Diane de Burgh is a really nice woman and I know her. So, Jesus, you don’t want to do anything that’s going to aggravate her. But this is the job I do. And as Chris de Burgh’s business with the baby-sitter was right in the public domain, I would have to slag him off.
You sound like you feel sorry for de Burgh.
I think he has had a nasty kicking.
So you sympathise with him?
I haven’t decided about that yet. But it really did release a fund of bad will towards him, here in Ireland. Yet, at least, he can console himself by saying ‘they still love me in Germany and places like that’.
But most people probably agree he doesn’t deserve consolation, especially with the more recent revelations about him giving oral sex to another woman five months before he slept with Marissa.
I suppose he is being shafted for his smugness and making a virtue of his “virtues” before all this but – I would still say, Jesus, he got his digs in spades. But there is another line of thought to all this, which is, who cares about what his business with his babysitter is? Leave him alone. Why should it be brought into the press. That’s a legitimate line of thought. But the point is that The Sun targeted him and this story came out.
What’s the difference between that and you targeting Charles Haughey and “Teasy” Keane, in skits, depicting her as a vampire soaring over the walls of Kinsealy?
Read the back of the Indo on Sunday. Unless one is a fucking eejit the stuff that is being trotted out there would lead you to believe that she, indeed, had a relationship with Charlie. So we just picked up on that. So, rather than coming to Dermot Morgan and Gerry Stembridge and saying ‘ah, it’s not fair on the missus’ then, if Charlie Haughey did have an affair with that woman, why doesn’t he pick up the phone and say to her ‘fuck off, with that stuff in the back of the Indo’? So that was something exceptional, as opposed to the de Burgh thing.
Do you live in fear that any extra-marital affairs you have may become public knowledge?
No. (laughs). But lots of people have relationships other than what is deemed to be their declared relationship. The reason these stories don’t come out here is because there is the agreement that the first to go would be the editors of newspapers and magazines! Yet, in a way, I think the sexual mores of people are of the least interest to the public. In the gossip sense, yes, but in terms of the public interest at large, no. The reason the Emmet Stagg thing hit the papers was because everyone wanted to throw him to the wolves. If that was a legitimate matter for public concern it was because there seemed to be a repeated lack of judgement, in terms of leaving himself open to censure from Guards. But as to the substance of what people suppose Emmet Stagg to have been doing – I couldn’t give a bollix.
Likewise, you mock poor Bishop Casey during your video, suggesting that he impressed women by saying he had a prick that was “specially blessed by St. Peter.” You’ll never get to heaven if you keep up that kind of blasphemy!
I got a great hit out of him being revealed along these lines because it was like the final shedding of all the shite – in terms of sex – that we were burdened over with in school. To think that these guys had been pushing this on us, in a most doctrinaire way, saying ‘if you touch yourself you’ll go to hell’. Bollix! In the next show I’ve got a new piece about my first wank. And it’s about the whole trauma I went through the first time I whacked off! I’d believed all that fucking Catholic stuff. The other lads’d be wanking there beside me and saying ‘you haven’t joined us yet, have you?’ and I’d go ‘I’d love to, but I can’t’. And (points down to prick) he’d be pleading with me, in the night ‘take me now’ and I’d be screaming ‘I can’t, I can’t, I’d love to touch you, but I can’t or I’ll go blind!’ You think I’m joking, don’t you? But I was 37 when I first had a wank! No, it was late in my teens!
The night I did it, I knew I had a good few hours to go before I’d have to confess the sin in confession, so by that time two paramedics had to wheel me into the Church because I’d whacked off so much I was fucked! I’d caught up on all the years I missed. And, from them on He took over and would say ‘you’ll pull me off, now, or don’t dare go to sleep’. It was wonderful. But, in the beginning, I really believed that if I touched myself I’d burn like a whore in hell. So, in a way, Casey has really, finally, blown all that shite apart. Because we know he probably whacked off himself, and worse, did it with a woman!
That is the most disgusting story I ever heard! Is it any wonder they won’t let you on RTE?
I wouldn’t get on RTE if it wasn’t for Gay Byrne. I’ve always said he’s a hero of mine because he was such a major liberalising force in Irish society. So much so that he and I could even have on television the kind of conversation you and I had today. Or, at least, most of it! But he also has been very supportive to me. The fact that I appear on Irish television at all, is very much courtesy of Gay Byrne. And I think the vibe to stop me going on The Late Late Show is, for example, one that he would resist. Let me say that that is an inspired guess. And may I end, Joe, by saying, thanks for not mentioning the AIDS thing.
Sorry, I forgot. How did you react, when you were told you had AIDS?
I said “that’s all in me arse.”
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