Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay ...

This is not a man caught out inflating a reality. This is a man caught out believing nonsense, writes Terry Prone

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay ...

MY MOTHER came in from the hall to say that a man claiming to be Donncha Ó Dúlaing was on the phone.

She seemed mystified as to why someone as famous as Donncha Ó Dúlaing would be ringing her 15-year-old daughter.

Within seconds of lifting the phone and hearing the suede-soft Cork voice, I understood and played along for a few minutes before losing interest.

“OK, Niall, your Donncha Ó Dúlaing is really good,” I said.

“Big round of applause. Now, why are you ringing me?” Silence.

“Niall?” I asked, confident that the caller was the actor Niall Buggy, who was a mimic par excellence and a pal at the Abbey Theatre, where I was studying to be an actor.

(A genius and a lovely man, he has appeared in almost everything worth appearing in during the ensuing 40-plus years.)

“Here’s my number,” the voice said, before dictating a series of numerals.

“Maybe you’d ring me back so you could be sure who I am?”

“Of course,” I said.

“No bother.”

I put the phone down and a cold chill went down my neck as I looked at the Cork number and countenanced the possibility that the man on the end of the phone was the real Donncha Ó Dúlaing.

I rang back.

He was.

I flustered apologies at him.

He offered me the best broadcasting job in the world, a weekly programme called The Young Idea.

I was weak at the knees after the phone call because of the realisation that I had nearly lost the gig because I had accidentally let a famous person know that he was expertly impersonated, I never asked Donncha if he was offended to find out that he was mimicked.

Nobody ever should be.

Michael Noonan’s whispery conspiratorial tones have been a staple of comic mimics for 30 years and it has not done him a ha’porth of harm.

From the outset, Michael indicated that he thought being imitated on radio was flattering.

Being delighted that someone takes you off is the only way to go, although the first time you tune into a TV programme and find an actor doing it using phrases you didn’t know you favoured, mannerisms you didn’t know you deployed and a wig that makes you consider a close shave, it does require a little teeth-gritting to be positive about it.

The mimics, on the other hand, are always threatened by the possibility of their victims popping their clogs, in survival terms or in career terms.

Mario Rosenstock, for example, has to be happy that Miriam O’Callaghan is probably not even halfway through her career at this point.

You don’t want your pet subject to keel over.

Melissa McCarthy, on the other hand, must be kicking herself at the moment.

The Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters star achieved a new level of popularity with her mimicry of Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live.

Spicer had barely established himself as a briefer of the White Office press corps when someone had the idea of having him impersonated by a female cast member.

The make-up alone must have taken hours, but up she popped, did Melissa, at the podium, talking rubbish in the way Spicer talks rubbish and hitting high doh in rage terms just as he does.

McCarthy’s version of Sean Spicer — or Spicey, as she called herself on screen — was so astonishingly good the viewer moved from amusement to disbelief.

Many of us who had never registered much about Sean Spicer, possibly because his ultimate boss the president was so bizarre, went back to view clips of him to see how exaggerated was Melissa’s version.

Turns out, it was a faithful rendition of the craziness of Spicer’s approach, which, even before his female colleague advanced the possibility of “alternative facts”, had no more than a tangential relationship with the truth.

To observe of of Spicer’s press conferencees shortly after the inauguration is to be mesmerised by his ferocity in promulgating the unsupportable notion that more people turned out to attend the inauguration of Donald Trump than had turned out for any previous president, and that more people had watched it on TV.

This is not a man caught out inflating a reality.

This is a man caught out believing nonsense, and possessed of the conviction that if he asserts that nonsense with enough force, it has to be believed.

Trump may succeed in persuading his followers to believe three impossible things before breakfast, using Twitter and coating his outbursts with “very” and with exclamation marks, but persuading a conference room full of political journalists to believe those things was never going to be possible for Spicer.

His claims about the attendance at the inauguration were easily and immediately disproven by aerial photographs of the Washington Mall, packed to the hedges for Barack Obama’s inauguration and at best half-full for Trump’s.

Similarly, when Spicer claimed that not even Hitler had ever used chemical weapons against his own people, the horrified disbelief and intelligent questioning of the journalists made the idiocy of his observation so patent that he was reduced to a an incoherent babble.

It is possible, given Trump’s skewed cognitive processes (or, to put it more simply, pure craziness) that Spicer’s headbanging incompetence might not have resulted in the loss of his job, but Melissa McCarthy’s version of the press secretary cut across that and make it clear that this guy was one thing above anything else.

He was laughable.

And if there’s one thing an inflated shallow ego like Trump’s cannot stand, it’s direct or indirect mocking laughter.

He didn’t like Melissa’s satire.

The person for whom we have to be sorriest, in all of this mess, is Melissa McCarthy.

Her five or six performances as Spicer will go down in television history, as will her journey down Fifth Avenue on a motorised podium, bellowing at normal traffic to get out of her/his way.

But the very excellence of her work has made her current run as a mimic redundant.

Now she has to look at the new guy, Anthony Scaramucci, who sounds like he belongs in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and who loves Donald Trump.

Four times in his first presser Scaramucci announced his love for Donald Trump.

Can you imagine the new head of government information services arriving out in the autumn and saying four times that he loves Leo Varadkar? Scaramucci also loves and respects Spicer, the guy who resigned rather than report to Scaramucci.

Oh, and don’t miss the karma thing.

According to Scaramucci, the president has really good karma and the world turns back to him.

You may ask where the world has been turned to up to now, but the guy’s too busy blowing kisses, I kid you not, to the media to answer questions like that.

Melissa’s bunched, is my view.

How do you parody a pre-existing parody?

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