Interview: The Rubberbandits

They wear plastic bags on their heads. Their smash hits consist of a song about a horse and one about the IRA. They go by the names ‘Blindboy Boatclub’ and ‘Mr Chrome’, collectively known as ‘The Rubberbandits’. Their act consists of comedy and music, which primarily satirizes  the stereotype of the Irish chav (or ‘skangers’ as they are known in Ireland). Heard of them? The answer’s probably no, unless you come from Ireland, where they are very very popular.

Comedy in Ireland has a long history, as you would imagine in a country with so many pubs. We’ve seen many Irish comedians achieve much success over in the UK – Ardal O’Hanlon and Dara O’Brien spring to mind, and then there’s the recent BBC hit Mrs Brown’s Boys, with its own brand of gross-out, yet sidesplittingly excellent gags.

Ireland also provides a fertile ground for satire – and this is made assisted by two easy targets – the Catholic church and its political system. Both have had ongoing corruption scandals and both have contributed larger-than-life figures who can be easily made fun of for the public’s enjoyment.

Blindboy and Mr Chrome (real names Dave Chambers and Bobby McGlynn) have  had something of a following in Ireland ever since the early 2000s, when they gained cult status through recording prank phone calls in their native city Limerick and distributed the CDs  to friends. 

In 2010 they achieved national recognition after gaining a slot on the prime time television show  The Republic of Telly —  one of RTE’s (Ireland’s national broadcaster) premier comedy series. In the same year they achieved YouTube fame with the viral hit ‘Horse Outside’.

Moreover they are due to make it big in the UK this year. At the Edinburgh Fringe festival  they received rave reviews, and earned some coverage on BBC3. At the end of last year they put out a pilot TV show for Channel 4.

All encouraging, and it looks like we can expect to see them build on the cult following they’ve already built up over here. Expect  good things if you haven’t seen them yet. Father Ted appeared in the 1990s on RTE,  before going onto Channel 4 and both acts have been directed by the same person  — Declan Lowney. Indeed the pilot show is the first Irish production at Channel 4 since Father Ted.

I’ve been told that the Rubberbandits interview better when they answer to questions in character.“[The idea] literally arrived into my head one day when I was 17, I was in the shower. We’ve never questioned the name.”

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You might have thought that this would have something to do with their plastic headgear.  But no:  “It’s an existentialist statement concerning the inevitability of Death and the futility of Happiness, and it also means that no one knows what we look like.”

I move on to ask them about their rise to fame and eventual appearance on Irish national  television. “We started off as street performers. We would feed small bits of metal to trained gulls and  then catch them with kites that had magnets attached. Onlookers would offer us scraps of food and clothing as a reward for our magnetic gull bothering.”

 “One day we caught the attention of ex-Westlife member Brian Mcfadden, who immediately insisted that we move into his house, such were our gull charming talents. It was on Brian’s suggestion that we got our first break on Irish Television. Gulls are  considered racist on Irish television because they look a bit like skinheads so we did songs instead.”

By now you should already have a taste of their brand of comedy. Surreal, irreverent and  yet absolutely hilarious — it’s a perfect mix. The sketches on RTE feature a segment on visiting various Irish cities and towns. Their  take on Limerick is by far the funniest. This is after all, where they grew up. Blindboy and Mr Chrome met each other here while still at school — and satirising Ireland’s ancient city  forms a running theme in their act.

I  inquire about how important the city is to them. “We technically only live in Limerick at certain parts of the day. We have a large house which sits exactly on the borders of where counties Limerick, Clare and Meath intersect. The television is on the Limerick side, so we are only in Limerick when something good is on TV.”

Some of their work has shocked audiences, for instance “Up the Ra” — a send up of sectarian Celtic football chants. I ask whether they think this kind of satire is inherently controversial. “No it’s an accurate document of Irish History. Are you calling Irish History controversial because it differs to what you were taught in England?” The Rubberbandits are unafraid to poke fun at themes in Irish politics. The politics of  Ireland has received much international attention in recent years, what with the recent Eurozone crisis. I ask them how they would handle the situation.

“That’s easy. You put the names of all the Eurozone nations into a big hat. Then pull out  two names. Lets just say it’s Germany and Italy.

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“Then you introduce a law that forces  the Germans to behave like Italians and the Italians to behave like Germans. Imports  and exports between the two countries would skyrocket. With the Germans importing  Moustache wax from Italy and exporting Lederhosen to Italy and vice versa. If every EU  country had a special relationship like this then there would be definite economic growth.”

And their current government, led by prime minister Enda Kenny?

“Enda Kenny isn’t real, he’s digital like Shrek. Ireland just pretends to have a Prime Minister to the rest of Europe watching us on television. Our real leader is an elderly Goat who lives on a mountain, political decisions are based upon the length of his beard.”

The height of the Eurozone crisis provided the backdrop for their biggest hit so far in 2010. If you’ve heard about the Rubberbandits before, its most likely because of their Youtube hit, ‘Horse Outside’.

This was released in the same year that they first appeared  on television. It climbed to the No. 2 position in the Irish charts, and almost beat Matt  Cardle to the Christmas No. 1 spot. In the UK it reached the far more modest position of 130.

The song describes an (eventually successful) attempt to win over an attractive bridesmaid  at a wedding in Limerick, with the promise of a ride home on a horse. The song lyrics are very explicit. It features 17 uses ofthe word ‘fuck’ —and as like much of their material, it’s not shy about referencing drug abuse.

I ask them where they got this bonkers, yet brilliant idea. “We have an ideas tree, the seeds of which we found in an old library book. “When we want an idea, we eat a piece of fruit from the ideas tree. Ali Campbell from UB40 has one too.”

Naturally this hit catapulted them to success and earned them a massive internet  following.  “We both bought bottles of champagne and then smashed them off each others heads.  Then, while recuperating in hospital we ate nothing but bowls of money, despite doctors orders.”

And so I turn to the final question – is the UK ready for this act to take it by storm? Their  material is controversial, explicit and bizzare – but at the same time, it’s ludricously funny,  razorsharp satirical and just downright silly. What’s not to love? They’ve been to Oxford before, and they’ve played at the O2. Could they see themselves ever studying here? “I suppose, if you videotaped it.”