David McSavage stirs some strong feelings in people. Some like him, some don’t, others don’t know who he is. What is certain though is that after 17 years in the comedy making business he’s finally made the break through to proper TV star.
Taking the form of a mock documentary “The Savage Eye” proposes to answer certain questions about Irish society in often surreal and occasionally outrageous fashion. It takes aim at national establishments like the church and education system while getting in a few pot shots at conservative attitudes to things like homosexuality along the way. It does so in pretty unflinching fashion. McSavage can be something of a controversial figure.
Speaking from his office on Capel Street, though, he’s polite and articulate and like many comedians when divorced from the energy of a vast audience he gives a lot of thought to each answer, often pausing mid-sentence to consider his reply. Or he could just have a really short attention span.
He’s currently writing the third series of “The Savage Eye,” which features a number of other Irish comedians like Declan Rooney, Pat McDonnell and Eleanor Tiernan. After taking so long to find his way onto our screens, the calibre of what he puts his name to is something he worries about.
“I care a lot about the quality of what we’re producing because with comedy people take it very personally if you get it wrong. If they see something that’s supposed to be funny and it’s not people direct a lot of scorn in your direction.”
McSavage is no stranger to dishing out the contempt either. Having already ripped into national institutions, politicians and numerous public figures during the show’s first two seasons it was thought that McSavage and team might have reached an end to the things that they could excoriate. While he admits that good ideas are not necessarily easy to come by, he has hit upon a vein of topics for the new series which seem ripe for comedic taping. It will look at things like education, family and the media, while posing such questions as “why is Ireland no good for the Irish”, “why do the Irish love Christmas”, and “why are the Irish so ugly?”
Another topic which sets him off whistling through a host of different topics is “what’s so grand about the Irish family?”
It leads him from questioning the inordinate influence of Irish fathers over their offspring to that old institutional cornerstone of Irish life, the Catholic church.
“I don’t drink anymore but I still consider myself an alcoholic (his last drink was in 2003), we don’t go to church anymore but we’re still Cathoholics, we’re still dealing with the echoes of all that repression.”
In fact looking into the bones behind the satire of modern Irish life is something that, not surprisingly, brings out the bile in the self described “contrarian.”
“It does get you going.” he says before launching into a spirited attack on the nations most sacred of cows the, eh, bankers.
“As a result of being such good academics they got good positions but they didn’t have a morality or a back bone or a sense of cop-on. They were efficient in the area of making money but they’re lack of principal or morals has got us to where we are and that is something that angers me.”
McSavage first got noticed as a street performer in Temple Bar. With guitar in hand he would sing, joke and insult anyone who crossed his path, gathering big crowds as he did so. It’s been over a year since he took to the streets to perform and now that his TV career has taken off it isn’t something he’ll be going back to anytime soon. In fact he feels he probably should have called a halt a bit sooner.
“I was doing the same routine in the same location for a very long time and the same people were seeing me again and again and I wasn’t doing myself any favours by doing that. So I knocked it on the head, it’s a chapter of my life that is over now it was good while it lasted,” adding, “I did it for too long.”
The free-wheeling structureless nature of his street performances is something which has fed into his stand-up routine. He freely admits there isn’t exactly a point to his current show. something which might or might not hinder a performance.
“In my stand-up there are lots of funny bits to it but they don’t necessarily relate to each other and it doesn’t necessarily have a point... you go in odd directions and be spontaneous and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It makes it feel like it’s tailored to the occasion.”
His current tour amounts to no more than a few shows but will feature characters from “The Savage Eye” as well as a few other “set-pieces.” You get the feeling that let loose on stage any pretense at organistation will disappear as he gives himself over to the spontaneity of the moment, often the making of a great comedy show.
The lack of an extensive tour is due in part to the demands of writing the third series of “The Savage Eye” which will air on RTE in late January 2012. The show forces him to write to a predefined structure which his other comedic pursuits have lacked while also writing with other people. It is of course his greatest success to date and in it he has realised the error of his early solitary ways.
“Now I’m writing the TV show and I have to work with people which is good as well because co-operation with fellow humans is the only way forward.”
David McSavage is in the Riverbank Arts Centre on Thursday June 16.
Tickets are €16 from (045) 448327.