Belfast Telegraph

Channel 4 television comedy based on Great Famine sparks fury... and it hasn't even been written yet

By Claire Williamson

Is there ever a time when it's safe to create a comedy about tragedy?

A sitcom about Ireland's Great Famine commissioned by Channel 4 has been met with outrage - before it's even been written.

Dubliner Hugh Travers is in the stages of writing the show, entitled Hungry.

In an interview with The Irish Times he said it would be a "Shameless-style sitcom based in famine-stricken Ireland".

Shameless was about a feckless family led by a drunken patriarch living in Manchester.

It was a massive cult hit and was later adapted for an American audience.

Earlier this year the 31-year-old Traver's play Lambo was adapted for an award-winning radio production.

The writer was given an open commission by Channel 4 after it read another of his scripts.

He said: "Any idea I wanted - which was a massive opportunity, and at the same time seriously daunting."

When asked why he chose the Famine, he said: "Well, they say 'comedy equals tragedy plus time'.

"I don't want to do anything that denies the suffering that people went through, but Ireland has always been good at black humour.

"We're kind of thinking of it as Shameless in famine Ireland."

Shameless was an offbeat drama about the rollercoaster lives and loves of the dysfunctional Gallagher family.

But people have taken to social media in fury at the proposal.

One said: "Channel 4 are making a comedy sitcom about the Irish Famine. What is funny about the starvation of millions?"

Another said: "An Irish Famine sitcom on Channel 4? Well that's the worst idea I'll hear about all day and it's still morning."

Northern Ireland actor, writer and producer Damon Quinn - from The Hole In The Wall Gang, which has tackled comedy around sensitive issues over the years including the Troubles - said the Famine was a difficult subject, but it would depend on how it was handled. He added: "The Famine will be a tough one.

"People used to say to me you can't write about the Troubles because it's too tragic and it's a serious subject.

"My answer to that was always Mash, which is one of the most successful sitcoms ever about the tragedy of the Korean War."

He added: "There are lots of comedies that are set against the backdrop of serious subjects or serious tragedies, but it really depends on how you do it. We will need to wait and see it."

Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan said the Famine should not be used as a "vehicle for comedy".

He added: "An Gorta Mór was one of the greatest tragedies experienced in Ireland and its impact can be felt to the present day.

"This decision to commission a so-called comedy series based around the Famine has sparked anger in Ireland and among Irish communities across the world.

"Such a national tragedy is hardly an appropriate vehicle for comedy, regardless of where or when it happened."

The Irish potato famine of 1845-49 was a disaster for the poorer people of Ireland who depended on potatoes for food and income.

As the Great Famine tightened its grip, one million people died from starvation and another million were forced to emigrate.

Background

Other comedies based on sensitive issues:

Give My Head Peace - The Troubles

Mash - Korean War

Blackadder Goes Forth - First World War

Dad's Army - Second World War

'Allo 'Allo - Nazi occupation of France

The History Of The Troubles (According To My Da) - The Troubles

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