Belfast Telegraph

Jokes on Stormont hill for new TV show

Case of Yes, First Minister, as comedy takes a satirical look at Stormont

By Sara Neill

On-the-runs, tense debates, and being grilled by Stormont committees.

Northern Ireland's newest comedy series sounds remarkably like a day at the Assembly.

Number 2s, which debuts on our BBC screens this evening, follows two fictional civil servants struggling to support their ministers through local and office politics.

This Northern Ireland twist on Yes, Minister, written by the team behind the Hole In The Wale Gang, casts a satirical eye over life on the hill.

It may ring a bell with BBC Radio Ulster's listeners, where an audio version of the show ran during the summer.

It's been seven years since the end of the gang's last comedy show, Give My Head Peace, which finished after a 10-series run. The show - fuelled by Troubles-related humour - ran from 1998 and was a popular homegrown hit for BBC Northern Ireland. But comedy fans believe there has been something of a gap in the market since its demise, and very little of attraction to a wider national audience.

While sitcoms like Father Ted and Mrs Brown's Boys have brought Irish humour to a UK-wide audience, local programming has failed to produce a hit, so there are high hopes for Number 2s.

Writer and producer Kieran Doherty is the man behind shows such as The David Meade Project, Find Me The Funny, and Sesame Tree. He says finding a programme that can make people laugh is challenging, and channel executives are less willing to test the waters.

"Comedy is very difficult to do," he said.

"It's very hard for a commissioner to put comedy on because it's so divisive. If you watch and don't laugh, you are outraged. But with a drama, even if you're not keen on it, you will still watch the second and third series."

Kieran acknowledged the problems in selling the Northern Ireland humour to wider audiences.

"People in Northern Ireland find humour in the darkest places, but sometimes it becomes too niche, and then it doesn't sell beyond our shores very well," he added.

Actor and director Dan Gordon, who appeared in Give My Head Peace, said: "Take Spitting Image - that show meant a whole generation knew the names of the Government ministers, it made them famous. Maybe this new series will make people wonder who the characters are supposed to be, and there may be a person up in Stormont who's very uncomfortable."

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