Deirdre O’Kane tells Ed Power why it was so important to put an Irish spin on the show that has us watching people as they watch TV.
Deirdre O’Kane is looking forward to the unique challenge of narrating Gogglebox Ireland. The popular UK reality series in which members of the public comment on television shows has been remade for TV3, with the first episode airing Thursday night. O’Kane has a very specific task: she must milk humour from the situation without scoffing at the participants.
“There is no mocking in the British version – it is all very gentle and in a good spirit,” says the Co Louth comedian and actress (she will share narration with Rory Cowan of Mrs Browns Boys, who takes over from episode five). “Which is at it should be. It’s not about watching other people and passing judgement on how they are living. It’s about the funny side of their situation. Sneery would be a very easy road to go down. But I won’t be doing that.”
Quietly slipped onto the Channel 4 schedule in March 2013, Gogglebox has become a sensation, with local versions airing in 36 countries. The format is almost ludicrously straightforward: we watch people slumped in front of the telly dryly commenting on what they see. Viewers have built up a relationship with the regulars on the show, coming to regard them as good friends whom they welcome into their homes.
“It took three years for Channel 4 to come around to the idea,” says Simon Procter, producer of the Irish series. “It was very low key. Initially they put it out late at night because they weren’t quite sure. It has grown and grown. ”
From Prosecco-glugging poshos Steph and Dom to Liverpool pensioners Leon and June, Gogglebox has turned unknowns into reality television stars. If anything, Procter believes the Irish lineup — whose details have been kept mostly under wraps — have the potential to make an even bigger impact.
“People here are used to watching the British one. They are familiar with the format. The Irish can really talk and they love telly. We should be flying.”
In casting Ireland’s Goggleboxers, Procter was at pains not to slavishly replicate the Channel 4 formula. There will be no Irish Steph and Dom, no equivalent of the Reverend Kate and hubby. Why give people something they have seen already? To stand on its own feet, Gogglebox Ireland must forge its own path.
“We want to make it different from the British one, while hopefully finding some new favourites, said Procter”
The participants are from all over the country. There will be two old male friends from rural Cork, a pair of Polish pals living in Tallaght, four Crumlin ladies who like to kick back with a bottle of wine. The goal was to find individuals who were unaffected yet entertaining. Would-be celebrities were weeded out at the first hurdle.
“When we first announced we were making the show we were inundated with people saying, ‘I’ll be brilliant’. A lot of people wanted to be on TV or the stars of a reality show,” he says. “You can spot them very quickly. They’re not right for something like this.”
“What makes the Gogglebox is that the people come across as unaware they are being filmed and respond quite naturally. They’ve done it in over 30 countries now – and in some places it hasn’t worked. On the American version, it’s a real Kardashian thing… everyone is made-up and looks too perfect. “We weren’t interested in going down that route. We went through two or three layers of casting – you’d chat with people by Skype, show them a picture of Father Jack from Father Ted and ask them to react. You very rapidly got a sense of how interesting they were.”
The Googlebox volunteers are filmed with unobtrusive cameras, with the footage then rushed to Dublin so that it can be edited in time for the Thursday night broadcast. They are instructed on what to watch, with the producers focusing on television that will chime with audiences at home.
“We show them watching stuff everyone in Ireland can see,” says Procter. “So it may have been the All-Ireland final. If the Late Late Show was returning we might do that. Where it’s a BBC show we try for something with an Irish angle.”
When the footage is recorded the hard work begins in earnest he says. “Over the space of a week you are looking at over 100 hours of footage. You have to be very strict and disciplined as to what you include. We will have them watching eight or nine programmes - you want the best reactions but also a diversity of views. You can’t have everyone raving over something.”
Channel 4’s Gogglebox was originally narrated by the late Caroline Ahern. O’Kane will be at pains not to mimic her style. In comedy you have to put your own stamp on something. Otherwise it simply won’t work. She respected Ahern – but doesn’t want to inflict a made impersonation of her on Irish viewers.
“That would be a huge mistake,’ she says. “She had such a distinctive voice. You can’t incorporate someone else’s personality. If this is done right, I believe it would be better than the English one. We are very funny people — there’s a very good chance this could be awesome.”
O’Kane is based in London, but next week brings her new stand-up show to the Cork Comedy Festival.
“I’ve actually enjoyed it more than anything I’ve done before,” she says. “The great thing about writing is that you don’t get worse at it as you get older. There is a good chance you will get better with age. I love taking the new show out to people — it’s a great feeling to say to yourself ‘oh I’ve like to be sitting in the crowd and watching this myself’. You don’t always feel that way about your stuff. Sometimes you’re bracing yourself knowing that a weaker segment is coming. But I’m very proud of this and I’ve really enjoyed performing it.”
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