Nearly 30,000 people have signed an online petition to stop a TV company making a comedy series based on the Great Famine in Ireland.
The idea for the comedy was put forward by Irish writer Hugh Travers. He was commissioned by British TV company Channel Four to write a show set in 19th century Ireland. Mr Travers decided to write a series called Hungry and set it during the famine, which cost the lives of more than a million people between 1845 and 1851. Mr Travers told the Irish Times: “We’re kind of thinking of it as Shameless in famine Ireland.”
The idea has caused outrage in Ireland and across the world. Dublin councillor David McGuinness said the idea was intended to denigrate the most tragic period in Irish history.
He told the Irish Independent: “Jewish people would never endorse making a comedy of the mass extermination of their ancestors at the hands of the Nazis, Cambodians would never support people laughing at what happened to their people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and the people of Somalia, Ethiopia or Sudan would never accept the plight of their people, through generational famine, being the source of humour in Britain.”
He urged Irish broadcasters to shun the project.
James Dempsey, from Irish radio station Newstalk, said: “A lot of people have been very quick to be outraged and say this is absolutely insensitive.”
Other commentators have pointed out that there have been successful comedies about other sensitive subjects, such as Mel Brooks film, Springtime for Hitler, and the British comedy series, Blackadder, which was set in the death-filled trenches of the First World War. Comedians have also explored taboo subjects. Joan Rivers was even able to use humour as a way of dealing with the suicide of her husband.
However, Mr Dempsey said Hugh Travers was not well known enough for people in Ireland to have confidence in his ability to tread such a difficult path, assuming that it was even right to pursue the project in the first place.
Mr Travers won an Irish radio award for his play, Lambo. He explained that Channel 4 had given him an open commission which meant he could choose any subject he wanted. He chose the famine because “comedy equals tragedy over time”.
He said: “I don’t want to do anything that denies the suffering that people went through, but Ireland has always been good at black humour.”
A spokesman for Channel 4 said: “We have commissioned a script set in 19th century Ireland by Dublin-based writer Hugh Travers and Irish-based production company Grand Pictures – however this is in the development process and is not currently planned to air.”
The petition calling for the programme to be scrapped is organised by Glaswegian Fairlie Gordon who said: “Famine or genocide is no laughing matter, approximately 1 million Irish people died, and another 2 million were forced to emigrate, because they were starving, any programme on this issue would have to be of serious historical context not repeat not a comedy.”
If the comedy series is given the go-ahead, it’s unlikely to be broadcast until next year.
To access the petition click here
Discover more about the history of the famine in Ireland.