The many faces of Mario revealed

We’re used to hearing him on the radio, but now, at long last, Mario Rosenstock is moving to TV.

MARIO Rosenstock is excited. His eyes light up as he eagerly shows me photos of himself made-up and dressed-up as characters in his new TV programme. As I howl with laughter, he nods his head confidently. This show will be very funny.

“I am very excited. I have my dream team together, we have really ramped it up with new characters, new writers and other actors, so if it isn’t funny blame me,” he explains.

“But I hope, given the chance, the TV show will do well and I could see myself doing it for the next 10 years.”

We meet for coffee at the Library Bar, in the Central Hotel, Dublin. Rosenstock, 41, is early and wanders in, headphones on, looking more like a mature student than a multi-award winning comedian and actor.

Open, honest and very frank, Rosenstock is great company. When I play back my tape recorder, it is full of my laughter at his amazing impersonations and stories. I am shocked at how expressive his face is, as he quickly changes from male to female characters.

As I study his photos, I can see how his face morphs into that character and I can honestly say he looks good as a woman. Cheekbones appear, his lips shimmer with gloss, and he is dressed immaculately.

“I think I have a cross-dressing tendency,” he admits, smiling. “I feel perfectly comfortable in women’s clothes and I get a great kick out of it.

“Miriam O’Callaghan is going to ‘genuinely’ be one of my big TV characters, so for her we just went to Pamela Scotts and got clothes in a large size.”

Rosenstock also promises there will be some hard hitting sketches, ones that he hopes will make people think.

Looking quickly around the bar, Rosenstock leans forward, and lowers his voice. “Can I trust you?” he asks.

I nod my head, and he quickly whispers the plot and characters of the first of these sketches. It certainly is shocking.

“It is a risk,” he admits. “It is close to the bone, people will wonder, ‘Am I meant to be laughing here?’ But you don’t want it to be all ‘Ha, Ha, Ha’, you want people to think.

“RTÉ have not interfered at all — if they had I wasn’t going to sign up. They have been really helpful, very supportive, full of encouragement, so if it doesn’t work it’s my fault.”

Are there any topics he wouldn’t joke about? Rosenstock frowns and then begins to list them. The Middle East, anti-semtisim, abortion, paedophiles, and the Catholic church.

“There are loads,” he stresses. “I don’t see the first scene of my show with me dressed as Jimmy Saville saying, ‘Dear Jim, Please will you fix it for me to have my own TV show — The Mario Rosenstock Show’. I know many other comedians would do that, but I won’t.” As well as lots of new characters — Dr James Reilly, Minister for Health, being one, the old favourites will make an appearance or two. Roy Keane, Joan Burton, Enda Kenny and, of course, Bertie Ahern.

“We had lots of conversations about Bertie. Is he yesterday’s man? Or is there a legitimate reason we can use him in the programme and we found one,” he explains.

Suddenly Rosenstock puts on his Bertie voice, surprising the couple on the next table, and describes how our former Taoiseach will be portrayed. It really is very funny.

Does he have a limit on how far he would belittle our politicians? Rosenstock considers the question carefully, after all on his Gift Grub stage show he depicts Enda Kenny as a dog being trained by a German master.

“I do have a limit, but it depends on how far the politicians have gone in belittling us,” he admits. “So for example, if I think that somebody is a real bollocks and sold us down the river I would probably be stronger on them.

“But if I believe somebody is doing their best, that circumstances are beyond their control, then I would probably be a little easier on them.”

Rosenstock first realised he had a gift for impersonation at the age of five, when he mimicked his father. Much to his parents’ amusement, the young Mario quickly perfected his father’s walk, posture, and the way he stood.

“I did it to get attention from my mum and dad. Then I discovered I could do voices,” he recalls, laughing.

“At Christmas time, my younger brother and I would do a show for our family. We would impersonate our parents, they would be falling around the place with mortification, and we would be loving it.”

Rosenstock grew up on his grandparents farm in Co Waterford. He says he had a happy childhood and credits his grandmother with giving him the self-belief necessary to perform.

“She had a real deep faith in me and what she thought I could do. When she saw me in Glenroe she told me I was great, that I was a matinee idol,” he says, smiling.

At the age of 14, he was sent to boarding school, where he discovered a love for “acting and girls”. Then after spending his college years at Trinity “living and breathing” acting, he hoped to make a career of it.

“But it was a pain in the arse. It is a really hard life, basically you are standing around waiting for the phone to ring,” he says.

In the end Rosenstock’s career break came, thanks to his two female flatmates listening to his daily shower routine.

“I would be doing these voices, and they would be standing there, thinking who is in the shower with Mario,” he recalls, smiling. “I used to do Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, they would be washing parts of the body, and I’d say: ‘You missed a bit Martin.’ My flatmates would be outside laughing.”

One of them was a producer for the former Radio Ireland, so persuade Rosenstock to do the voices for her show. When the station was re-branded as Today FM, he was one of the few to still have a job and began doing his Gift Grub sketches with Ian Dempsey on the Breakfast Show.

“My success would not have happened without Ian. No question at all. I wasn’t heading down that area. He opened up a whole new world to me.

“I had never intended to write or do funny voices. I only saw them as a means to an end to being an actor,” he explains.

On Monday, Rosenstock will watch his new TV show at home with his wife, Blathnaid. They met 15 years ago at the Kitchen nightclub in the Clarence Hotel in Dublin. Their eyes met across a crowded dance floor and apparently it was love at first sight.

“The first thing we ever did was kiss,” he says. “Then we spoke and then we kissed again. I knew she was the one.

“I had felt at a stalemate with the whole girls business. I probably wasn’t very good at revealing myself so I would only go so far and then it would end. I was too insecure and preoccupied with myself.

“I think I did acting to hide behind characters, so I could pretend to be something I wasn’t.

“Meeting Blathnaid was great because I was able to tentatively reveal a side of myself and hoped that she didn’t hate it.”

The Mario Rosenstock Show starts on Monday on RTÉ Two at 9.30pm. Gift Grub 13 is also now available on CD.

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