Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 21
Dermot Murnaghan – Breaking News with Banter
Legendary Anchorman Dermot Murnaghan joins The Humourology Podcast to share stories from his seasoned career delivering the news and interviewing A-List world leaders and celebrities. Dermot discusses how a sense of humour can help you keep your humanity through the hardest of times.
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Paul Boross is joined by the UK’s all-action anchor of the news, Dermot Murnaghan. Dermot has built a career on being a trustworthy voice in the hardest of times. He shares how his sense of humour has helped him herald in some of the hardest news to the nation. Murnaghan knows that building a trustful relationship with your audience is all about being your authentic self and finding humour along the way.
“Be yourself, whatever you are, and, and by and large, there is some humour in you somewhere.”
Join us this week as we dive into the decorated history of Dermot Murnaghan and discuss the power of humour in building connections with guests and audiences alike.
To find out more about Dermot you can:
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Sometimes we prefer to read rather than listen, so here is a full transcript of the podcast for you to enjoy.
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Dermot Murnaghan on The Humourology Podcast
Demot Munaghan (00:00):
So, if you don’t show, you’ve got a bit of a sense of irony. I think, I just think that is such an essential British trait. If you don’t show you don’t take yourself entirely seriously. Well, yeah. You know, not all that serious sometimes. Yes, it is serious in many cases, but, hey, you can have a laugh at yourself. I don’t think you do very well.
Speaker 2 (00:22):
Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and entertainment who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business and your life Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals increases the value of your laughing stock and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is a multi award-winning Baron of broadcasting from the BBC to ITV, to CNBC Europe, to Sky News. He has built a legendary career presenting the nation’s most important news. In addition to being one of the most notable newsreaders in the nation for many years, he mirthfully measured man’s mastery on the BBC quiz show eggheads. Not only can he leave audiences laughing as master of ceremonies whilst hosting huge conferences around the world, but he has also been trusted to break some of the world’s most meaningful moments to millions Dermot Murnaghan. Welcome to the Humourology podcast.
Demot Munaghan (01:47):
It’s very nice to be here, Paul, what a nice introduction. I’ll take that ‘Baron of broadcasting’.
Speaker 2 (01:55):
We like alliteration here, but you are the Baron of broadcasting. You can now put it on your cards. Yes and the Lord of the airways. Well, talking of the airways, you’ve worked for many years predominantly on live TV where things frequently go wrong and it can be very stressful. Do you think that having a sense of humour is important in those situations,
Demot Munaghan (02:23):
Paul, it’s more than important. It’s essential. I mean, it really is absolutely essential if in your head when something goes wrong – and it can be, you know, a million things – I mean, I can’t actually think of a single day that goes by in the live sphere when you know, something and it would usually be fairly minor, goes wrong. But if in your head you can’t imagine yourself as the viewer quite enjoying it or thinking, poor sod at the other end then you’re not able to deal with it. You kind of have to have an out of body experience. I think I and also a forgiving, forgiving nature because some of my colleagues with a less forgiving nature and I won’t name any names… of definitely not. You know, can get a bit cross about it. And I sometimes see people on air who are signalling to the audience that they’re cross with their producer. I’m sure you never get cross with Simonof course, but it doesn’t work because all they can see is you and they think you silly old sausage, it’s you that’s messing it up. What are you… what are you blaming your producers for?
Speaker 2 (03:22):
Yeah. Well, that’s really interesting, isn’t it? But that’s called leadership to me, isn’t it? Because you have to bring the team together because there’s a big team that puts the news on screen. And if you are one of those people who actually starts blaming and pointing fingers and also your face is in a very large way, responsible for communicating the information.
Demot Munaghan (03:52):
I mean, that is a really good point. I just want to pick on that instantly Paul cause that really chimes with my beliefs is that it’s, it’s kind of leadership, but it’s about being collegiate as well because just because you’re the Billy big boots appearing on screen and, you know, television, however good the technology gets, nobody gets on screen without at least, you know, 25 people somewhere probably more doing exactly as difficult a job as you do to get you there. So you ain’t the most important thing there. You’re just part of that, that great machine that puts it on air. Yes, you are the face of it, but it’s your job to deal with it. And let me tell you, it’s better than a real job. Um, reading out loud and dealing with the odd cockup or two, you know, who wouldn’t want to do that. And then, you know, the poor people who worked really hard all day on a graphic or on whatever it is that perhaps doesn’t go, right. Well, don’t blame them for if it doesn’t go right, they’ve tried their best by and large. And it’s not just because you’re on screen, doesn’t make you the person who can then, you know, point the finger of blame.
Speaker 2 (05:01):
Well, it’s interesting from a leadership standpoint and you’ve seen a few thousands of leaders come through the studio and you’ve had to work with them. How important is a sense of humour to good leadership on that level?
Demot Munaghan (05:17):
Well, it’s essential. In terms of… in terms of the leaders and I, by and large, interview leaders in some way, shape or form mainly politicians. But in my past, I was actually a business journalist and interviewed an awful lot of so-called leaders of industry. And yeah, humans, you know, I don’t know about their own, their own companies or organisations behind them and how often they employ humour. But if they’re in a way using which they usually are using my medium to get a message across… Yes to the wider public, but also it’s back, isn’t it to your own organisation, then humour is essential, absolutely essential. And to communicate to the audience, if you don’t show, you’ve got a bit of a sense of irony. I think, I just think that is such an essential British trait.
Demot Munaghan (06:10):
If you don’t show you don’t take yourself entirely seriously. Yeah. You know you know, you’re fully across your brief and all the rest of it, but you understand that. Well, yeah. You know, it’s not all that serious sometimes. Yes. It is serious in many cases, but Hey, you can have a laugh at yourself. I don’t think you’ll do very well if you, if you can communicate that when you’re sitting in my studio and it can be difficult because I’m an ornery, bastard who’ll try and put you on the spot, but then… but then you can break through the interviewer as well. You know, you can actually prick the pomposity of the twit. That’s sitting there across, I mean, I’m that twit, I’m asking you silly questions that they haven’t researched hard enough.
Speaker 2 (06:49):
So, do you think there’s a link between humour and humility in that, in the way people come across?
Demot Munaghan (06:56):
Yeah, absolutely. You know, whether you are humble or not. I mean, I know for a fact, some of the, some of the hardest hardest… people with hardest reputation in the city or whatever, have sat in with me and come across as people you’d like… this is the test, isn’t it? It goes for politicians, the test you always do is in the focus groups, you ask people, would you like to go and have a drink with them? And you know, I’ve sat around with people who afterwards my producer goes, you know they’ve just come into the studio after sacking 250 people in a single day, clear their desks instantly, you go, oh, okay. Right. Yeah. Seemed a nice person to me.
Speaker 2 (07:43):
Well, that’s really interesting because you have interviewed extraordinary cross range of people from heads of state, to leaders all over the world, but also Mike Tyson and Desmond Tutu and everybody in between. So what are your tips? -because our audience, want something to take away – for people, being interviewed on TV.
Demot Munaghan (08:07):
Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s it, you know, first of all a little, a little sense of irony. You mentioned Mike Tyson, basically don’t interview Mike Tyson, cause he might hit you, which he nearly did live on air. When I suggested to him that he hadn’t apologised enough for his prison sentence. I won’t go into that there, but it was live television and Mike, um, Mike was a millisecond away from demonstrating the power of his right hook live on air. Which actually, afterwards I came trembling off air. It was live television. I came trembling off air after quite seriously. He had told me that he decided not to hit me. I came off air trembling, went into my editor’s studio, who’d watched it all, I said, that must’ve been a good watch. He said, yeah, it was brilliant. I said, do you know what he was going to hit me at one point?
Demot Munaghan (09:00):
And the editor goes, yeah, it’s just a pity he didn’t. Thank you very much indeed. I would certainly have had no teeth probably have been unconscious. I think the other thing, I mean, this is… yeah humour, irony, preparation in terms of, you know, kind of questions that are going to come your way, but that’s obvious. You’re always going to do that, but have the knowledge in your head that you’re always going to know more – because it’s your organisation or your policy or whatever – you always going to do more than the interview, you really are. They’ll have some more tricks. They may ask you what the price of milk is or something like that, but if you haven’t prepared for that, then you shouldn’t really be in the studio. And you know, don’t baffle them with… don’t baffle them and therefore the audienceb with technical-eze, but just be approachable. Say that you’ve got it wrong there. And these, these are the true facts about my organisation and my business, but don’t ramble. Make the point, move on, put the interviewer in their place. Yeah. This, this is media training. We’re getting into here.
Speaker 2 (10:13):
Well, it is, and it’s very interesting, but I wonder because I mean, knowing how you work and how quickly news organisations work, you’ll literally, as I’ve been… you’ve interviewed me and wheeled into the studio and that’s the first time you see. You’re sat down, the interviewer like yourself is being talked down the line or something by his producer. So you get a chance to say hello, but somebody who walks into a studio has to be aware that there’s still got to be some kind of building of rapport with somebody like you.
Demot Munaghan (10:52):
Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s a good idea if you can, but you’re right. I mean, a lot of it, what I do is live television and and live events. And so, you know, you, yes, we, I remember you, we we’ve talked together quite a lot, you know, um, in different spheres and it can happen with 30 seconds notice in terms of I know that I’m interviewing you or not. And building that rapport is terribly, terribly difficult beforehand. One way not to do it by the way is, in terms of the media training thing, I’ve seen quite a lot of people come in to my studio. Who with that 20, 30 seconds we’ve got before bwe go live, say, what’s your first question, two things on that. I probably don’t know what it is. And secondly, if I do know what it is, I’m not going to tell you.
Demot Munaghan (11:38):
so I’ll tell you the wrong question and then ask you a different one. Because they’ve clearly got a prepared answer and that’s not been nasty, no, no, no. It’s not be nasty. It’s just, I don’t want a pre-prepared answer. I want you to be natural. And that’s the real thing. That’s all I want you to be. So, if I tell you my question and you give me a pre-prepared answer, that is dull, that really god-damn dull. Now, if you’re clever, I’ll ask you a different question and if you… it’s the old Tony Blair trick, isn’t it, the absolute grand master of I’m seeming to answer a question without doing that. I’ll ask you the different question and you’ll still be able to tell me your pre-prepared answer by, you know, a little bit of zigzagging around and you get to, well, Dermot, what the point really is is this. And then I’m sitting there going, you swine!
Speaker 2 (12:22):
But that ‘s much more prevalent now, I mean, I see you interview politicians all the time and you know, a lot of the time I keep thinking your job is getting harder and harder and harder because they’re not answering any of the questions. And they’ve got all this preamble waffle that used to just be, ‘I’m glad you asked me that’, but now involves huge amounts of like I’m talking so you can’t interrupt me while I’m… we’re just using up the time in order to be able to get to that.
Demot Munaghan (12:57):
Yeah, you’re right. It is a real problem. And you know, there’s been a couple of phases. I think in the evolution of that during the course of my career and we’ve moved on from the kind of Paxman/Humphreys era, I think now just getting, sticking the boot in and, and in a way they’re not hearing anything at all from the politician and more from… not just those, those two men, but, you know, plenty of others. I myself have indulged in plenty of interrupted interviews in the past. Then I think we moved into, okay, well, let’s try it this way. Let’s, you know, listen and listen and listen and listen, and then you’re right, you end up with these four or five minute answers. You think this isn’t a party political broadcast, address, address the question and have a conversation which never happens with a politician.
Demot Munaghan (13:44):
It never happens. And you’re right. We’ve now reached this this phase – and I hope it is just a phase – where all the politicians we seem to have got in senior positions are so scared of, you know, the bosses at the top and those that advise them. I mean, they’re terrified, that they stick to the party line and you’ve got to remember this about the L word about lying, which, you know, you can’t use in parliament. And it’s seen as, you know, even outside it, it’s seen as let’s say difficult, problematic to call politicians liars, but in a sense, and I’m just going to caveat this, in a sense, they all are certainly at cabinet rank because of collective responsibility. Now, you know, once somebody gets into the cabinet, they’re bound by collective responsibility and therefore have to support a policy that they don’t necessarily support or that they might have within the space… after there’s been a reshuffle, as there has been recently… within the space of the last few weeks have spoken against, but they will then appear in your studio on the airwaves, supporting that policy and telling you why it’s a very good idea.
Demot Munaghan (14:49):
And, you know, and if this is the definition of lying, maybe it’s broader than that. But they are saying something that they personally don’t believe in. Is that lying or isn’t it? I don’t know, but I don’t think it helps with the world of public discourse.
Speaker 2 (15:05):
I don’t think so either, but do you think, I mean, continuing that theme is humour and essentially charisma now essential to get on in politics.
Demot Munaghan (15:18):
It’s the opposite. It used to be. I mean, we all knew, you know, those wonderful politicians of all parties but they’ve come into the studio and even if they were going to discuss a difficult policy, then you’d know, they’d have a turn of phrase, they’d have a bit of an ability to say something in a way, you know, not necessarily humorous but in a way that was engaging and showed that they had, you know, wider interests, hinterland understood the difficulties. I mean, you know, I can, it’s dangerous if I start naming names, but you know, they are, they are, they are in the past, the more parties I see, very few of them now and any of them that are left in parliament now are, you know, kind of older lacking or not needing you know the greasy pole of the party they’re not looking for advancement anymore, so they feel freer to speak, but, you know, they’re getting winnowed out rapidly.
Demot Munaghan (16:17):
I should say, though, you know, while we’re talking about humour in politics specifically should point out the prime minister again, you know, I’m not talking to any, in any party political way, but look, there is an example of all the kind of robotic people that, with the best will in the world, do surround the prime minister and indeed in other parties as well. He’s not one of them. How has Boris Johnson got so far? Because of his engagement with the public, the public don’t know, Boris Johnson as a politician first and foremost, they knew him as a kind of entertaining media guy. Have I got news for you, the columns. I mean, the millions of words he used to write, that’s how they know Boris Johnson. And he’s continued with that. And a lot of, you know, political professionals and people in my industry criticise him for his lack of grasp of detail and policy, but focus group after focus group, which they do on a daily basis, comes back and say on that test, I mentioned earlier, who would you like to have a pint with? Would it be, you know, they name all the party leaders and number one by a street is Boris Johnson and he has harnessed that ability. The dissembling, the shirt tucked out, the messy hair, you know, it may or may not be studied, but it has worked for him so far.
Speaker 2 (17:35):
Well, it’s a brand, isn’t it really? And it’s a deliberate brand. I mean, it’s kind of what I meant by the question like that, to get to the true pinnacle of politics is that what you have to do now, because you’re being judged against what we’ll called the Boris factor of charisma or perceived charisma and perceived humour that you are now being judged by. So anybody who is up against him doesn’t stand as much of a chance. Is that fair or is that real?
Demot Munaghan (18:08):
It’s an impossible question, Paul. I just think it’s impossible because cometh the hour, cometh the person to paraphrase. It depends what times you kind of live in. You know, Boris is a booster as, as he said, you know, he’s ‘Tigger-ish’ – is the latest phrase to describe his cabinet. And it kind of, since the times, everyone’s a bit gloomy and he’s continually, continually trying to lift things. But, you know, my view is that if things get really bad, you know economically particularly then the time for these so-called technocrats comes along, you want someone, dull as ditchwater, wearing some very dull glasses, speaking in a monotone who will actually sort out the mess,
Speaker 2 (18:57):
You got your first degree was in history, wasn’t it? And so I suppose history does show us that that does happen, that suddenly you get the grey man comes in and takes over when it’s all gone to pot.
Demot Munaghan (19:15):
Yeah, that’s precisely it. And, um, in terms of the configuration of the conservative party at the moment with Boris Johnson at the top, with those, with those features we described there, but most of the rest of those around him, absolutely sending off the well… Indistinguishable signals to the public that, you know, the polling of the public on who do you, who do you know, in the cabinet is, you know, they’re in low double figures and that’s, that’s the best of them. And plenty of them are in single figures and some of them are the absolute when they bring the substitute on a football. WHO?! I think, I think that is the way I think that is the way Boris Johnson, Boris Johnson likes it. To challenge him within his party or from another party, would they have to be, you know, even more ‘Coco the clown’ than him? I just don’t know.
New Speaker (20:13):
It’s an interesting idea. Do you go the opposite way and just play it straight as it were, which is, I think what is happening at the moment?
Demot Munaghan (20:21):
Well, it’s that definition and it is, you know, it’s younger people, isn’t it? You know, it’s about authenticity. People whiff now. That’s the thing, whether it’s humour or not, you know, if your a dull person stay dull, don’t try to be funny. I mean, as you know, you must know from the podcast there’s nothing worse than somebody who’s actually just not got a funny bone, tryingto pretend they have one. be yourself, whatever you are. And, and by and large, there is some humour in you somewhere… I’m sounding like a kind of Mary Poppins!
Speaker 2 (20:51):
Oh, well, what do you think there is humour in everyone on some level then?
Demot Munaghan (20:58):
Yeah. It’s whether it’s whether, you know, you’re being laughed at or laughed along with, isn’t it?
Speaker 2 (21:06):
Well, yeah, but it’s an interesting thing. Cause you’ve spent sort of many years on the news and on quiz shows and as an accomplished awards, presenter and host, I know that you’re valued for your charm, your confidence, your professionalism, to win over all manner of audiences, but do you think that is enough or do you think to be truly successful, you need a facility with and an understanding of comedy
Demot Munaghan (21:35):
Comedy and absurdity. And I think, you know, I don’t want to get too philosophical about this, but you know, about existentialism and especially, you know, where you exist in, if we’re talking about, you know, our society in the developed, in the rich part of the world, you know, however bad things get it ain’t as bad. Sure, It’s your mother telling you to, to finish your food because there are people starving all around the world. It’s that sense of grounding of the absurdity of the lottery of life, which is kind of serious and humorous as well. I do a test on my, on my children when, when they were growing up when we’d talk about these things – what fun it was around our dinner table – and you know, we talk about they talked to me come and say, dad, you know, they’re like all young people, you know, we’re really, really worried about the situation.
Demot Munaghan (22:32):
We’ve seen this on the news and we’re worried about the situation in this country or that country and, and of course, climate. And you know, not too very long ago, we were talking about migration and they’re saying, wow, you know, wow, what what do we do about this? And I put this test to them. I said, how many people do you think… you know we’re lucky enough, we’ve got a garden, I’ve got a lawn, I’ve got a shed. I keep my lawn mower in it. I’ve got a cat. And I said, let’s put these two things together. And our shed which I’m obviously every now and again, get to get put out in. So the lawnmower is there as well, but it has electricity and it has a little water tap. So there you are, you know where I’m going here.
Demot Munaghan (23:18):
I said to them, how many people in the world do you think if they were allowed to come here, we’d come and live beside our lawnmower and eat what the cat eats, because I’m told the cat food is, you know, heat treated, and it’s not the best cuts of meat, but it won’t kill you. And it’s nutritious protein for the cat. The cat lives off it. How many people do you think would live off cat food and sleep in my shed if they, if they could, if they could come here. And you know, they go, oh, I don’t know, a thousand, a hundred thousand or whatever. And I said, well, you know, you just look at UN statistics about the number of people who are at proper poverty levels and indeed at starvation levels and you’re into… you’re into the billions and that’s that, that’s the thing. I kind of hope I put in front of them. And that’s the thing I’ve always carried in my journalistic career.
Speaker 2 (24:10):
No, and that’s brilliant. And it certainly reminded me, of my father, God, rest, his soul, who was an economist. And he was a Hungarian refugee, and he came over here. And when he used to work in statistics, he said, when I was having my worst day, I would go in and look up the statistics for the world when it was still in books. And he’d go even at my poorest, I was still in the top 8% of the world’s wealth. And that is… and humour does give you a perspective on life.
Demot Munaghan (24:50):
That is good. 8%, right. I’m going to have a Professor Boross, right? Yeah. I’ll have that.
Speaker 2 (24:57):
Well, this was, this was a while ago. Unfortunately he’s passed. But those kinds of things stay with you. So I mean, to do that with your kids, I think giving them a sense of humour and a sense of perspective is key to a long and happy life, which is what the Humourology project is all about. So, what makes you laugh, Dermot?
Demot Munaghan (25:19):
Oh, well, we’ve been touching upon it, isn’t it? The absurdity of the human condition and how people point it up? Isn’t that the very basis, I guess, of humour,
Speaker 2 (25:30):
Humour is truth, isn’t it? You know, or they say humour is tragedy plus time. So,nbut also it has to have a kernel of truth in it because you have to go all that could have been me or that’s what I do or understand. And I also think understanding the ridiculousness of everything and, you know, you, and I know each other and we look at our careers and go A. Lucky bastards, but B ridiculous ways to earn a living for both of us.
Demot Munaghan (26:09):
Oh, that’s for sure but yeah, let’s not be, you blew a bit of a smoke towards my fundament back it’s also, it’s also hard work. You know, in terms of, in terms of the area you’re in, if you want to shine in an environment, it goes for anything. And if you want to be good at humour, I mean you can, you can work at it, you can polish it. As I say, you know, there are some people who are naturally going to be way, way, way funnier than others, but they can be even funnier. And we, we see that in, well people like yourself Paul.
Speaker 2 (26:45):
I ask everybody this on the podcast. Can you tell me a true, funny story about something that’s happened to you?
Demot Munaghan (26:53):
Well, they’re all excruciating, you know, as we discussed earlier, nary a day goes by without something awful or potentially awful happening on air. I mean, I’ve had utter utter… the autobiography hasn’t come out yet, but, you know, it’s already bulging with files. One of the most… they’re all so embarrassing, one of the worst experiences of my life was… but also afterwards I had to see the humour in it – which nearly ended my career before it had started – was way back in, I started way back in the eighties and I was lucky enough at the end of the eighties to get an assignment to Japan. I was so excited, I’d never been before,for, the death, not exciting a death of the old war emperor, Emperor Hirohito.
Demot Munaghan (27:44):
He was, I don’t know, he’s late eighties or nineties then. He was dying in the Imperial palace in Tokyo…this is a really funny story, isn’t it?! But as things happened the way of the Japanese then covered, it was all the coverage you’ve got about the state of health, of the emperor, including his bowel movements may I say were posted on a little sheet of paper every morning outside Kokyo Imperial palace in the centre of Tokyo. And that’s all, you’ve got typically you know Emperor Hirohito hanged on hung on for a very long time. So, I was there for about six weeks and my producer’s going, you’ve got six weeks of staying in Imperial hotel, overlooking the Imperial palace, you’re chewing up all this money. You’ve got to go out and do some reports for us on other things you can’t just go every morning to the Imperial palace and read out stuff about the Emperor’s bowel movements, which we can’t broadcast because you know, they’re a little too intimate and we’re not interested.
Demot Munaghan (28:53):
Anyway. We just want to know when the old war criminals dead and then assess his legacy. So, as a result, we were sent out doing some features. This is the late eighties, very technologically advanced in Tokyo. So here’s the story we decide to go to, and it doesn’t sound revolutionary now, but it was in 1989 to one of the biggest department stores. I forget its name in central Tokyo. We set it all up with the management. It’s all very bureaucratic. And we filmed cashless payments – unheard of in Europe at the time – you know, 32 years ago, they had cashless payments, card and everything we’re familiar with now. So, 32 years ago, and as you know, shooting these sequences, it takes a time, you know, so we’ve got endless amounts of time as well, because the Emperor’s, as far as I know, still doing handsprings around his bedroom and not dying.
Demot Munaghan (29:47):
So, we’re I’m filming this from all angles, we only got one camera guy he’s shooting it this way and getting the light there. And we had a young shop assistant her hands a photo of her hands, a close up of the card, a close up of the till and a close-up… all shot, and it’s taking four or five hours. And I’m redundant at this point, shooting all the technical stuff as the reporter. So I had got a little Japanese phrasebook and had used the four hours to learn some Japanese phrases. I knew a bit, but we obviously had a translator as well, a fixer. And at the end of it, finally, you know, the young assistant, you know, we bow and she speaks no English. I speak Japanese and out of my phrasebook, I say in Japanese to her – I spent four hours learning this phrase – Thank you very much indeed. You are a very good actress.
Demot Munaghan (30:46):
The manager who’s standing beside her rushes over to punch me. He is restrained by our fixer. She bursts into tears, the assistant, I mean, uncontrollable floods of tears and runs off. And my fixer, who’s been standing some way off me with the phrase book goes, what have you done?! And we’re ejected. The tapes are taken from us, the whole report we’re ejected instantly from the department store. And he goes, what have you done? Like I said, all I said to her was, thank you very much. You’re a very good actress. And he said, show me, show me, show me, show me the phrases. And I had said, thank you very much – managed that – you are a very good and used the… how do I put it?… The archaic phrase for actress, which actually you think about it in the UK Nell Gwyn was an ‘actress’ and I’d called her a hooker. So yeah, that went swimmingly well, yeah, neartly ejected from the whole of Japan.
Speaker 2 (31:49):
Oh, well that is a lovely story. And what’s the hidden value in that or learning it that?!
Demot Munaghan (31:56):
Yeah. Just if you’ve got to fixer who can speak fluent Japanese, don’t try it yourself.
Speaker 2 (32:04):
So what would the world be like without humour?
Demot Munaghan (32:09):
Very dull. I don’t think humanity would exist. Is this, one of the… is just one of the traits, the characteristics that set us apart. I don’t know. Maybe, you know, maybe birds do have a sense of humour, I’m not entirely sure. Yeah. I mean, it’s essential. It’s… it more than greases it lubricatesb human relations. That’s how we get on.
Speaker 2 (32:38):
Well, I think you’re a hundred percent, right. Because I think if we didn’t have any humour, we have no perspective on the world. And I think maybe that’s what it does and isn’t it, isn’t it strange that you’ve interviewed all these people. And of course,
Demot Munaghan (32:54):
when you get into… sort of people who are trying to… Totalitarian states let’s say – they try and get rid of the humour, don’t they, because it worries them. That’s a really good point, actually. As you can guess, I’ve reported on a few totalitarian state to my time. In actual fact, this is what I fun guy I am to be with, I just took on my recent holiday reading a book called The Grey Men, all about the Stasi in East Germany and just how they haven’t actually gone away but you know, the description of that society, precisely as you described there, the whole point, you know, humour is dangerous because what do we want to do with humour? One of the main planks of it is you want to slightly take the out of the hierarchies, terrible idea in any totalitarian state that’s disloyalty. And then you end up with, you know, I think this is one of the awful things about, you know, they’re about a state like that was that you end up – and they’ve found out an awful lot about it when the, you know, where they searched quite a lot of the archive not the majority of it – and then you find out that, you know, your children were literally grassing you up, or you were grassing your children up for making the odd joke or two about the Politburo.
Speaker 2 (34:20):
Yeah. I mean I used to have, I had a friend who was from South Africa and who actually put on comedy nights and then had to escape in the middle of the night because he was warned that they were coming to get him. It was just like, wow, just for putting on comedy. Yeah.
Demot Munaghan (34:42):
Yeah. Well, I guess your dad, I mean, you say your dad was, was Hungarian. Did he, did he escape before it the uprising?
Speaker 2 (34:49):
No. He escaped after 56, because he was, when I say involved in the uprising, he was one of many people on the streets and they basically said, you know, they’re rounding people up, you better get… so he got a train as far as he could, and then walked for four days in the snow to get out, um, leaving everything behind, literally. So, um, but funnily enough, he said that the thing that got them through was a sense of humour. Yeah.
Demot Munaghan (35:22):
But you see, that’s the point isn’t it, but it’s also so undermining to leadership. It’s back to the point I made earlier. It’s that point. Are you laughing with us or at us? If you’re laughing at us and you still see it in plenty of these so-called populist parties left or right. I mean, it’s amazing how many of them are… how many of the leadership are actually from a comedy background or a light entertainment background? I mean, we’ve seen it in Italy, obviously seeing it in Bulgaria at the moment and plenty of other, plenty of other countries as well. And it’s just so undermining of leadership. I think it’s quite interesting when you get to, obviously, you know, we’re not a totalitarian regime we’re the very opposite of that be aware of where a bastion of human rights and democracy with all the faults or whatever, but, you know, you actually got the funny guy, the funny guy who’s not a comedian in charge.
Speaker 2 (36:12):
Yeah. It’s interesting. Isn’t it? The way that swings, I just wanted to ask you before we get onto quickfire questions, I wanted to ask you… in the old days, we had the, “and finally” stories at the end of the news and that seems to have gone a bit for a burton. Is humour important to help people cope with the torrent of bad news? And do we need more rollerskating ducks?
Demot Munaghan (36:42):
Yes, we do. Yeah. I totally agree with you. We are… we’re snowed under with people feeling depressed by watching the news. Yeah, Climate change isn’t very funny. COVID isn’t isn’t very funny, there’s a long, long, long list of awfulness that I deal with on a daily basis, but within that, within that, there are those skateboarding ducks, you know, there are the water skiing squirrels, let’s, let’s have a little bit more of them because people can take light and shade.
Speaker 2 (37:17):
Well, and I don’t, do you think it’s incumbent on to put more light into live television or into news television? Because, I mean, because the phrase, if it bleeds, it leads.
Demot Munaghan (37:33):
Yeah. That’s it, that’s a tricky one. Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s not entirely true, but yeah, the awfulness, you know, I’ve heard various members of my community – the news reading community – news, anchor community suggesting, yeah, we need good news shows and somehow they don’t kind of work because people… maybe they want to hear the bad news first. I think the, “and finally” is the right place for it. I think within some of the other stories, you could actually insert a little bit more, it’s not humour, but it’s back to that… you know, the irony I suppose is the phrase.
Speaker 2 (38:17):
But isn’t that… I think that’s one of the ways you do your job so well that even in the midst of a serious interview, you can find a little time for levity – appropriate levity. Is that not true?
Demot Munaghan (38:33):
Well, with me quite often, it’s sarcasm, I must admit, which is maybe not the lowest form, but it certainly isn’t the top. But I just find myself, I think, yeah. You know, my family was quite sarcastic. I think it’s quite a trait around these parts of the world just to, just to bring you down and it is and I find myself particularly with politicians, you know, when they… I’ve got a trigger now you know, back to the, robotic artists, I’ve got a trigger, there’s two phrases. I shouldn’t give this away, which actually trigger me. I go newsreader Hulk, here I go, all green underneath the, I’m not sure I’ve got the muscular chest to match, but they are, we are listening carefully to their proposals. You think, are you… that means, that means you’ve thrown it in the bin. And the other one we’re going to do everything we can, I’ve heard that phrase today a lot. We’re going to do everything we can. So particularly with that one, I go, right, so everything you can, so would that be diverting the entire budget of the United Kingdom to this issue? Because you could do that because you’re the government and then they just go, don’t be ridiculous , Dermot. And I just I’m triggered by stock phrases.
Speaker 2 (39:57):
Well, that’s really interesting because I think what you do really well is in psychology, we call it meta-modelling where you go, okay, how specifically are you going to do everything you can
Demot Munaghan (40:16):
Exactly that you just ask very simple questions. And they say, well, we can’t get into the detail. I said, well, that’s what people want. You know, like going to build 400,000 more houses. I mean, you know, the hundreds of thousands of houses have been going to be built in every single manifesto by every single major party for the last 25 years. And you see precious few of them, but so you just say, well, just tell, just tell me how there’s a plot of land at the back of my house. How would you build affordable housing on that? Well, I don’t know the area it’s like, no, no, no, but it’s a general. I’m conducting the interview in my own head.
Speaker 2 (40:53):
Yeah, it’s, it’s brilliant. And I love when you do that, now we come to the part of the show Dermot. We like to call quickfire questions. Oh dear. *Quick Fire Questions* (musical sting) Who is the funniest and actually I’m going to even go a little bit deeper, the funniest and the most surprising actually I’d like this funniest business person, you or politician or somebody you’ve interviewed, but also the most surprising somebody who surprised you and you thought everything you’d heard about them was that they were quite dour, but they turned it around and surprised you,
Demot Munaghan (41:36):
Business… Straight business person. There is, a guy, a very, very good business operators, perhaps, um, particularly well-known, a guy called Wilf Walsh who fits that category. He used to run a big bookmakers used to run Coral book makers. And I remember once bumping into him thinking, you know, he’s going to be quite a lot of horsey people and bookmaking people are pretty, you know, up and down here, bottom line, how do I make money out of those sad punters Wilf Walsh. He’s got all the qualities that we’ve mentioned during the course of this chat irony, self-deprecation, seeing the funny side in everything. He now runs… I think he now runs Carpet Right. Or something like that. But Wilf is a top guy, you know and not to be confused with his namesake, Willie Walsh and not so funny. I
Speaker 2 (42:30):
Well, we’ll, we’ll leave it there on that
Demot Munaghan (42:32):
Oh Michael O’Leary as well. I think he’s very funny. Perhaps not good for his brand, but I do. I do laugh. I mean, the first time I interviewed him was back shortly after Ryan Air had been set up, about, you know, the classic, tell me Mr O’Leary what is it about you’re not taking complaints seriously. And he said, Dermot, of course, we take our complaints seriously, who, who said that, like, I’ve read out this long list of complaints, so we’ll let you just look here. There’s 400 of them or whatever. Well, he said, how dare they say that our complaints line is open every third, Wednesday of the month from 1145 to 1146. And we won’t have it any different. I just thought,you’re mad,
Speaker 2 (43:24):
But it works. Doesn’t it? Because it shifts people’s attention somewhere else. And once they’re laughing. It’s much easier to play that game. Brilliant. What book makes you laugh?
Demot Munaghan (43:37):
Um, loads. I think one which really…, one from way back when, I must’ve read it 30, 40 years ago, A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole. He very sadly committed suicide shortly after writing the book. I think it won a Pulitzer prize posthumously before, but really, I mean, yeah, not, not an attractive main character, but really, really quietly hilarious.
Speaker 2 (44:08):
Brilliant. What film makes you laugh?
Demot Munaghan (44:11):
It’s gotta be hasn’t it. Anchorman, one and two, if I can have two, yeah. For, for someone in the business, it’s actually not a comedy. I think it’s more of a documentary.
Speaker 2 (44:25):
Okay. We’re going to take a shift to the other side now. What is not funny?
Demot Munaghan (44:32):
Yeah. Well, things that I don’t find funny in terms of attempted humour were Nazis. Never found Allo Allo funny, I just, I can’t, I can’t go there. I can’t …maybe as a historian, I just can’t find any humour there.,
Speaker 2 (44:52):
Well, that’s interesting… The Producers?
Demot Munaghan (44:56):
Yeah. I was going to say that. Yeah, I do. I think, you know, maybe Mel Brooks found a way of doing that, but yeah, by and large, no. Actually yeah The Producers would be on one of my…one of the all-time funniest films, so you’ve got me there, Paul. Yeah, that’s it really.
Speaker 2 (45:16):
Okay. What word makes you laugh?
Demot Munaghan (45:24):
Wow. Vercingetorix de Gaul? That’s three words,
Speaker 2 (45:30):
What, say that again, because I missed that,
Demot Munaghan (45:34):
But it might be mispronouncing it Vercingetorix de Gaul, it’s from the Asterix books. You always, They always used to make me laugh. Yeah. That’s free association. I have no deep…
Speaker 2 (45:47):
Oh, well, I remember reading Asterix when I was young, but I had no memory of the, those words, to be honest with you. Vercingetorix.
Demot Munaghan (45:58):
Maybe getorix, probably that that’s that’s the free association nature of this quick fire round. Absolutely. I never knew that was going to come out,
Speaker 2 (46:07):
But as, Monty Python said, free Association Football. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Demot Munaghan (46:20):
Well, I’m sure everyone says ‘and’, but, yeah…don’t you have to be, I mean to be funny. I think you have to be a bit clever. Certainly, if you are funny, people think you’re clever. So maybe funny because I’d like to be both
Speaker 2 (46:35):
Well, yeah. And I actually think that that’s a really good point because I think I’ve met very few comedians who aren’t actually very sharp on that level because you have all the synapses of the brain have to be firing very, very quickly to make those associations in order to be funny. So I think, I think your choice is correct, actually. Thank you. And finally Desert Island Gags, if you could only take one joke with you to a desert island, what would it be?
Demot Munaghan (47:15):
I can hardly remember any jokes but one that sticks with me and I’m mentally editing this because this is one from way back when my dad told me, which I didn’t understand when he told me it but I now do cause I was about six or seven. I’m just mentally editing this, Paul because yeah.Mmy dad said, did you hear about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac who used to lie awake at night worrying if there is a dog? Yeah, I think that’s okay. But I thought that was very clever of him to tell me that so young, because I used to lay awake at night going, why is that funny?
Speaker 2 (48:09):
Well, It actually took you on a journey to discovering and learning.
Demot Munaghan (48:16):
Yeah. Until I got a dictionary and until I could read a dictionary.
Speaker 2 (48:19):
Oh, that’s brilliant. Dermot. Thank you so much for sharing that joke, that knowledge and your great humour with us on the Humourology podcast.
Demot Munaghan (48:32):
A pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 2 (48:35):
The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.