Mario Rosenstock, 51, grew up on his grandparents’ farm in Co Waterford. He attended Ashton School boarding school in Cork City. As an actor he appeared in Glenroe in the 1990s. In 1999 he began doing the Gift Grub comic sketches on Today FM. He will be performing his Very Best of Gift Grub Live! Cork Opera House nationwide tour 12-16 April. See: www.corkoperahouse.ie.
My earliest memory of seeing something funny on TV is probably Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. Frank Hall and Frank Kelly and men dressing up as women. I found that interesting. It definitely informed my lack of fear of dressing up as a woman or as Miriam O’Callaghan. If they did, I could do it. I loved that door too: Frank Hall was speaking into the camera and then somehow there was a door to his left and that door led to, say, a meeting of the local Ballymagash party. I loved the idea of magic and madness happening through that door.
Growing up, I was influenced by sketches and funny voices from shows like The Muppet Show and Sesame Street. For example, the idea of Kermit doing Muppet news flashes: “I’m live from Jack Be Nimble and Jack Be Quick. What are you up to, Jack?” “I’m going to jump the candlestick.” “Really?” “Ok, here we go. Jack’ll be nimble…” They nurtured my first understanding of what a comic book sketch is. There was an adult sensibility there too — on Sesame Street they did sketches for kids, but they played on adult characters that American adults would be familiar with. Also, the sketches were two minutes long, which fed my sensitivity that a sketch had to be two or three minutes long to get people’s attention.
I was influenced, to a lesser extent, by Monty Python when I was 13 or 14. Comically, I was aware that it was funny, enough to make me laugh, but I didn’t fully understand all of her humorous references. The absurd has always interested me. I always thought that Gift Grub worked best when you took something right, but you make it a little absurd.
Monty Python opened doors. Everyone has to make mistakes. Her genius was wrong so many times. If you watch the Monty Python TV series, the sketches are mostly missed and only half hit. But when they struck, it opened huge new doors for everyone else. People said, “I never knew you could do that.” They brought the philosophy to the comedy: where do we stand? What do we do? does this happen They freely flaunted their educated minds without fear of being seen as elitist. There’s nothing wrong with being smart. In fact, being smart is the exact opposite of being stupid, and being really stupid is funny, too.
The best actor I’ve ever seen in a version of himself is Clint Eastwood. The idea of taking who you are and applying what you are to everything. “So the new movie is going to be about ‘this,’ but it’s going to be Clint. He’ll have those steely eyes. He’ll sound the same and look the same,” but you believe in him. Like John Wayne who used to be the same in every movie. John Ford was once asked, “What’s so good about John Wayne?” He said, “No one plays John Wayne better than John Wayne.”
I’ve always loved Michael Moore. I love his podcast Rumble. He is passionate about fixing the world and America. He is a protester and activist. Notably during Trump’s presidency, he started an episode like, “My friends, this is an emergency podcast. I didn’t want to do this podcast, but my friends, we must act now. I didn’t think I would ever hear myself say that, but Trump is the devil. We have to stop him. My friends are now calling this number: 2020494. This is your local Senator. Tell him you’re going to march.” You listen and you think, This guy is on the ramparts while America is on fire. He is melodramatic but intelligent and caring. He’s a fucking liberal and I’m also a hippie and a social justice fighter.
I love Eamon Dunphy’s podcast The Stand. I’ve always enjoyed Dunphy as an expert. I enjoy when Dunphy tries to understand things and listens to people. I enjoy his about turns and how he changes his mind. Dunphy helped teach us that it’s okay to change your mind. People say, “Ah, Dunphy. did you hear him One minute he’s saying this, the next minute he’s saying that.” Yes, that’s because he changed his mind, you idiot. do you ever change your mind Do you believe the same thing you believed when you were 14, you idiot? Smart people change their minds.
A book I’m reading right now is Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald. It records every single Beatles song. It describes what is happening in the world right now as the song is being written; what each of the Beatles is going through as this song is being written; how the song was written; where it was written; who wrote it; who played on the song, including all session musicians. You can almost feel like stepping back in time when they composed these amazing songs.
We Don’t Know Each Other by Fintan O’Toole is a wonderful book. I know some people like to mock him but he is one of the most important voices in Irish journalism that we have had for many years. He’s at his peak now. He has a productive mind that manages to bring different strands of learning together, link them and make them fit. He makes his ideas accessible. I often use his columns and turn them into sketches. Many comic sketches stem from a core of fundamental truth. He’s going to write about a basic truth, and then I’m like, “Well, if you turn that on its head, it actually gets funny.”
For example, I remember Fintan O’Toole writing something about Cancel Culture – that it was Gladiator. I came up with a sketch called Cancellation Coliseum, which is a Roman coliseum set in the modern world where poor people are picked and brought to the center of the coliseum and the public cancels them by giving the thumbs down: “This woman was found at Lidl not wearing her mask properly! What shall we do with her?” And she was thrown to the lions.