Subscriber OnlyTV & Radio

The 2 Johnnies might act like jokers, but they’re laughing all the way to the bank

Radio: 2FM’s drivetime duo, who turn raucous rural references into ratings, know their listeners – and the value of their brand

They may not be to everyone’s taste, but the 2 Johnnies don’t try to attract listeners under false pretences. At the start of Tuesday’s Drive It with the 2 Johnnies (2FM, weekdays) Johnny “B” O’Brien makes a particularly lame gag involving a tennis-related song title – You’ve Got the Love, geddit? – prompting groans from his codriver, Johnny “Smacks” McMahon. “That’s the worst joke I’ve ever heard,” he laments. “The joke’s on you: you’ve got three more hours of this,” O’Brien retorts chirpily. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

For the uninitiated, even this caveat may be insufficient. For their late-afternoon slot McMahon and O’Brien don’t so much do comedy as let rip an unrelenting barrage of raucous observations and random references, all filtered through the prism of two Tipperary natives for whom there’s no such thing as too much craic. This might sound as funny as a Mass card, but the duo’s patter is consistently accompanied by howls of appreciative laughter – from themselves, admittedly, but it means the fevered pace rarely flags, no matter how dud the punchlines.

Subtle wit and understated delivery might be in short supply when the 2 Johnnies are behind the mic, but to quibble about this is akin to complaining that Morning Ireland could lighten up a bit. Two years after the podcasting pair first arrived at 2FM, their blueprint remains the same, but what’s different is their status at the station. They have overcome a rocky start and underwhelming early numbers to consolidate their position as 2FM’s most highly rated presenters, without noticeably tempering their approach.

Hence McMahon and O’Brien still open the programme with shout-outs to townlands across Ireland, somehow managing to come up with new, if increasingly tenuous, rhyming puns every day: it’s hard to know if pairing Kilfenora with señora is an act of genius or desperation, but it deserves a certain respect. They then riff on a particular topic, such as the trials of getting older, no matter that both men are still only thirtysomethings. These items aren’t overburdened with originality, but amid the raucous approbatory cries of “100 per cent!” there are instances of singular verbal dexterity. “It would want to be some sort of a lozenge for me to take on a hard sweet now,” says McMahon, explaining his ambivalence towards “sucky sweets”.

As these turns of phrase emphasise, the duo remain defiantly rooted in their small-town milieu. Tuesday’s edition of the daily Parish Quiz features a contestant from the Co Tipperary village of Mullinahone, not far from the 2 Johnnies’ base in Cahir, resulting in a swap of local GAA intel. “He’s some unit,” O’Brien says of one particular player, seemingly oblivious to being on air. (That said, the presenters’ unapologetic devotion to the grassroots of Irish life highlights how closely people are connected here. Wednesday’s quiz features Ardboe, in Co Tyrone, coincidentally this writer’s maternal homeplace: my mother’s name even gets a mention.)

McMahon and O’Brien’s frantic style may not be to everyone’s taste, but they know their demographic, and indeed the value of their brand: in addition to their radio show, they also have podcasting, television and live ventures. The 2 Johnnies might act like jokers, but they’re likely laughing all the way to the bank.

Although she has lived in the United States since the 1980s, the actor Roma Downey is firmly focused on her hometown of Derry when she appears on Sunday with Miriam (RTÉ Radio 1). Given that the programme goes out on Easter Sunday, Miriam O’Callaghan’s choice of guest is perhaps appropriate. Downey, who’s best known as the star of the 1990s US television drama Touched by an Angel – “a faith show”, in her own description – talks about the importance of her beliefs, particularly after the death of her mother, when Downey was 10.

But while Downey’s faith is a central part of her life – she highlights the Christian themes of her new series, The Baxters – O’Callaghan doesn’t delve too deeply into this aspect of her guest’s personality, or indeed any others. Instead she keeps the mood on a feelgood setting that only just rises from lukewarm to a simmer. She raises poignant matters such as the recent death of Downey’s brother, but rather than pursue any revealing lines of conversation on loss and belief, she quickly switches to fluffier questions about the TV sitcom Derry Girls. Whether her guest, who combines down-home Irish charm with glossy American optimism, would be receptive to such personal inquiries is another matter, of course, but it’s surely no harm to ask.

O’Callaghan has hosted memorable interviews on the show in the past: Leo Varadkar came out as a gay man in 2015, and more recently Patrick Kielty spoke about the murder of his father. But the gauzy ambience that envelops her conversation with Downey is more representative of the talkshow of late. That O’Callaghan doesn’t wish to discomfit her Sunday-morning audience is perhaps understandable, but given she’s a seasoned interviewer, she might equally aim higher than a pleasantly generic chat.

There’s a moment on Lunchtime Live (Newstalk, weekdays) when Andrea Gilligan seems to be on the receiving end of a prank call. Gilligan is conducting a discussion on whether Dublin Airport needs a third terminal when Shane, an estate agent from Monkstown, in south Dublin, unveils a scheme “that will solve all the problems in Dublin”: he plans to build a new international airport in Arklow. It sounds fanciful, but Shane is serious, claiming the process is at “a good stage of procurement”, with an ultimate goal of building “a brand new city” beside the Co Wicklow town.

Gilligan hears out her caller with indulgence and curiosity, and just a soupcon of scepticism. It’s so bizarre that the listener has to check that it’s not April 1st, but no, it’s Tuesday. Anyone with such ambition deserves good wishes, but it’s the oddest thing on radio all week, no joking.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here

Read More

Recommended