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17 January 2024

What on earth is LOL: Last One Laughing?

This game show, in which some comedians are stuck in a room together for six hours, seems to me to be symbolic of something truly awful.

By Rachel Cooke

When people talk of late capitalism, I sometimes find myself wondering what kind of heinous decadence this term might denote precisely. Is fast fashion involved? And what of AstroTurf or electric toothbrushes? More to the point, how late is late, exactly? When will we know that late capitalism is over, and we’re into early something else? While I can’t fully answer these questions, I do know this. LOL: Last One Laughing Ireland, a game show in which some comedians are stuck in a room together for six hours, seems to me to be symbolic of something truly awful – and perhaps that something is indeed late capitalism.

Watching it on a particularly dark January afternoon – a month during which, admittedly, it’s never good to think about economic structures, or anything else – depression (or was it shame?) crept over me. A stand-up called Tony Cantwell had just appeared from behind a curtain dressed in a skin-tight green body suit that made his genitals look like they’d been fashioned from Play-Doh. In his arms was a ventriloquist’s dummy, who “spoke” with a French accent and was wearing a beret. “My hat is full of cream,” announced the dummy, to one of the other comedians, a woman. There was a pause, and then (boom-boom) it said: “I bought it in Eclairs Accessories.” When the woman didn’t react, it asked if she would mind if it touched her “left tit”.

Soon after this, the whole group was invited to play a version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, except the donkey was a vulva, and they were to attach to it paper cut-outs of, among other intimate bits, the labia minora – cue a joke about Jewish candlesticks from the guy with the Play-Doh penis. During this game, a comedian (apparently) called David McSavage said he knew all about women’s pleasure zones, and in order to prove it, he pulled a baked bean from the pocket, into which, moments before, he’d tipped a tin of them (no, I don’t know why). I won’t explain what the bean was meant to denote, but it made me feel kind of sick.

The format of this show began its life in Japan, and having since been replicated around the world, it now arrives as Amazon Prime Video’s first original Irish series. It is presented by Graham Norton, in a camouflage blazer that may come in useful should any eggs (or baked beans) be thrown, and British viewers may also recognise… Hmm, let’s see. You might know Aisling Bea from the panel shows, and possibly Jason Byrne, but that’s about it, I expect. Anyway, at the start, there are ten comedians, and in the cause of trying to win €50,000 for a charity of their choice, they must try to make the others laugh, but never laugh themselves. If they do laugh, or even just snicker sarcastically, Norton, who’s watching throughout (poor sod), quickly arrives with his red and yellow cards. Two yellows, and you’re out, which sounds like the dream once you’ve seen the show, but in fact just means you join Norton in the viewing room.

There, the rejected comedians can enjoy all the fun, safe in the knowledge they can hoot freely. Though why anyone would laugh at any of this is beyond me. I watched in stony silence as McSavage filled a different jean pocket with cereal (“snap, crackle and cock”); as Paul Tylak wandered about reading comedy “poetry” from a small book (“You don’t need a doorbell… I learned that at the school of hard knocks”); as Byrne attached a huge false nose to his face, into the nostrils of which he then inserted two frankfurters. But perhaps I wasn’t the only one who was unamused. When the puppets Zig and Zag were wheeled in, together with Dustin the Turkey and Ray D’Arcy, who is (I googled) an RTÉ presenter, I sensed panic on the part of the producers.

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“It’s like watching the Beatles on a rooftop,” said Bea, apparently a major fan of Dustin et al. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you if she, or anyone else, went on to emit a puppet-induced snigger. I’d had enough. Opening another window on my laptop, I ordered a copy of a big, fat book called Capital and Ideology by France’s superstar economist Thomas Piketty. Even if it doesn’t answer any of my questions, I’d bet my life it’s funnier than LOL: Last One Laughing Ireland.

[See also: Yesterday’s man]

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This article appears in the 17 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Trump’s Revenge