When I was a 15, and again when I was 16, I was on a team that my school entered in the TV schools’ quiz show, Blackboard Jungle, presented by Ray D’Arcy who wore mid-90s jarringly brightly coloured suits. (I miss mid-90s jarringly brightly coloured suits.) On both years, we got through three rounds, but we never got to the final, never winning the first prize (a minibus) or even the second (a camcorder). We did, however, get far enough to win a discman one year and a dictionary the other.
Anyway, I don’t really remember all that much about being on TV, other than meeting “celebrities” Mary Kingston and Joe Lynch in the grounds of the RTE studios. And then, in January 2014, a producer from Second Captains (a sports TV chat show) rang me up. She had found me via Facebook. One of my opponents from Blackboard Jungle in 1997 was now a Sports TV presenter and she wanted to know if I would be interested in coming on the telly for a skit of some sort about Blackboard Jungle. Clearly, I was interested. TV is one of my favourite things, and being famous is basically the reason I get up every morning. I found my two teammates from 1997 and put them in touch with the TV people and waited for my moment to happen.
And waited. And waited. And waited. And then, 15 months later, they got in touch again. This time via Twitter. Yay! They hadn’t forgotten me! Phew!
The same producer was in touch with me and even though I was going up to Dublin anyway, she offered to book me a hotel. And it was a swanky hotel. This hotel was so fancy that it had a pillow menu. There was a list of pillow options (shape, size, filling, arrangement) and you filled in the pillow menu and left it for the turndown service. THIS is the kind of life I was born for.
I sat in my swanky hotel room, trying to decide what to wear. I decided not to go crazy. I wore a plain white t-shirt. This is a sports show after all. And I’ve been (by one of my celebrity friends) told that patterns and stripes don’t really work on TV. My face was causing me problems. I had stubble, but I also had chin pimples. If I shaved, I would cut them. Stubble or blood? Which is better on TV? I decided on stubble, figuring that I would be plastered in make-up anyway. When we’d done Blackboard Jungle, they’d used make-up to paint the pimples off our teenage faces before filming.
I was surprised that I wasn’t going to the RTE studios. I arrived at the address I’d been given. It was an office building on Baggott Street. There was no make-up room. No catering. No studio. There was a room at the front of a building facing onto the street, with a sheet in front of which the filming was being done. The windows were thin. Whenever a bus or a motorbike passed, we had to stop filming because of noise. At one stage a cleaner came into the building and started washing up next door and we had to ask her to stop being so loud with the cutlery. This was not the glamour I expected!
While the camera and sound guys got their equipment ready (which mainly consisted of adjusting a bed sheet hanging on the wall), the producer tried to put me at my ease. She asked me what time I’d got up. I thought that was a weird question to ask, as it was nearly 7:00 pm and I’d never met her before, but I’m polite so I answered. It turned out that she was asking about what time I’d got up to Dublin, not what time I’d got out of bed.
I was the only person being filmed. The idea was that I would do a commentary/reflection on the episode of Blackboard Jungle, and they would intersperse clips of me talking with clips from the show. But I hadn’t seen it since 1997, and they didn’t show it to me. The production team had watched the show and written a script for me.
I read the script. It was pure fiction, but parts of it were funny. I had to pretend that I really wanted a pair of Wrangler jeans, and that I was really old. Apparently I’d got a question right about En Vogue, which surprised me, because I can’t remember a single thing they sang. The script read “As you can probably tell by looking at me, west coast rap and R&B was my specialist subject, so of course I knew it was En Vogue”, which I thought was the funniest thing I was being asked to say.
I found the script quite hard to use. I can tell jokes, but it’s weird to tell jokes that have been written for you. Especially when the jokes have been written in a bloke-ish “wa-hey!” tone. I have said many times that I don’t do banter, I do sass, and these jokes were not sassy. Still, I was getting to be on TV! So I did exactly what I was told. I had to do some of the lines quite a few times, but I got them all right in the end. One line required me to shake my head at the end. For five solid minutes, I forgot how to shake my head. It’s weird what pointing a TV camera at you will do. I said the line perfectly, again and again. And again and again. But it took me five minutes to remember how to shake my head. At one stage, I shrugged my shoulders instead. Other times I sighed instead. Eventually I did it. When it comes time to name a disease that involves an inability to shake your head, it will probably called “O’Donoghue Syndrome”.
Of course, I couldn’t contain my inappropriacies for the whole hour of filming. When the nice middle-aged sound man was taping the microphone to me, I started making comments about how his tape was removing the hairs from my chest, and accidentally embarrassed the life out of him. As well as this, I had to shoot every line twice, once “wide” and once “tight”. This means that they said “Let’s go in tight” at least ten times. And every time they said “Let’s go in tight” I sniggered. I couldn’t stop myself. And after a while they realised why I was giggling. And they got embarrassed. I really should be locked up.
It turned out to be great fun. I’m glad I did it. The producer (who was adorable – she couldn’t get through a phonecall without pissing herself laughing), said goodbye and told me the segment probably wouldn’t go out till the next season. I could already be famous by then.