Mario Rosenstock of Gift Grub fame chats with David Moloney about his not-so-stereotypical childhood and being labelled as an impersonator
Mario Rosenstock from Gift Grub is a cautious man; seconds after answering the phone call from Otwo, he quickly seeks to establish our credentials. After being satisfied with our vague and somewhat inaccurate responses to his pseudo-interrogation, Rosenstock gives the all-clear for the interview to proceed. Perhaps as mysterious as he is cautious, for a man who has been in the public eye (or should that be ear?) for over ten years, there has been very little discussion about his background and how exactly he managed to become a comedy staple in the Irish entertainment sector.
Armed with pointed questions and a blunt pencil, Otwo was ready to paint him as the clichéd comedian; a class clown who was never really enjoyed school, but Rosenstock assures us that this was not the case. He “started doing voices around age five. It was a good way of getting attention from my folks really. You know if your folks were having an argument in the room and you’re a kid it’s very difficult to get their attention? So I started getting my dad’s attention by doing an impression of him, acting the way he was standing up or the way he puts his hands in his pocket. That was probably when I started doing it first but I never was really a joker in class. I never used to do the teachers or anything like that. It was mainly my friends and family who I used to do.”
So Rosenstock wasn’t the typical child comedian, but surely he must have been arty or in to acting when he was younger? Again, our naiveté is galling. He was “sporty and was really into football and tennis, I played a lot of tennis up until the age of fifteen” and it was at this age that his life’s focus changed and he finally began to fit into Otwo’s preconceptions. It was when Rosenstock moved to boarding school in Cork that he was “mesmerised by the sight of the school stage and was completely captivated by the whole thing and started doing school plays”.
It was during these school plays that Rosenstock decided that he wanted to go to college to take up acting, but due to some peculiar rules in Trinity College at the time, it wasn’t as simple as one would imagine. He told us “I didn’t do the acting course in Trinity because I learned that if you did the acting course you couldn’t do Trinity Players, and that was what everyone wanted to do because it was the really famous thing. I thought it was weird so I did Politics and Economics instead and basically spent my four years acting”.
While acting with Trinity Players he acted with Dominic West, now famous for his role as Jimmy McNulty in the American television series The Wire, in many plays. The pair were even in a car crash together, where, thankfully, no-one was hurt. After college he found himself in a situation experienced by many aspiring actors; with a lot of time spent waiting by the phone almost willing it to ring. He acted in various plays around the city and also played a doctor in Glenroe, but his big break came when he was living with two “Kiwis” who were working in radio and overheard him doing his voices around the house. They invited him in to the station and got him to do a few samples of his voices for the show’s producers.
Then along came Ian Dempsey from Today FM and the rest is public history. Having spent so long working in the area of comedy, to such an extent that he was awarded the ‘Annual PPI Radio ‘Outstanding Achievement’ Award’, Otwo was curious as to what gems of wisdom we could steal from Rosenstock and pass off as our own at a later date.
Firstly, Rosenstock disagrees with the term ‘impersonator’ being used to describe him because impersonators, to him, are “like one of those guys, like the David Beckham impersonators, they get out of the car and they have blond hair and people go ‘there’s a David Beckham impersonator’”. He admits that this is part of what he does but is quick to point out that “you have to perform, act, write, invent things to say and be funny” in his position. What he aims to do is to “try to say what everybody might be thinking in the back of their head but they haven’t realised it yet and that you try to paint an audio picture that shines a little light of truth on something.”
While speaking about the effectiveness of his satire in changing people’s opinions, as his mimicry tends to endear his subjects to the public as opposed to turning opinion against them, Rosenstock claims that he is not unique in that respect. He states that “there has never been any outrage at any satire”, adding that the images painted of Thatcher and Haughey by Spitting Image didn’t make any such difference either.
When challenged on his satirising of Bertie Ahern, Rosenstock admits that he could have been a lot harder on him, but says that there was no appetite for it among the public at the time because life was good and the repetition would have been boring for people to listen to. From the efficiency of his replies, Otwo gets the feeling that it is a topic he has had to deal with before.
In a desperate bid return to his good books, Otwo finishes the interview with two silly and semi-sycophantic questions; what is his favourite gift and what is his favourite grub? Flowers (Roses-if-in-stock), and chocolate cake he replies, just in case you’re thinking of sending him inappropriate gifts or enticing him to dine with you.
The new Gift Grub show begins on the 14th of November in the Olympia Theatre and will run for twelve nights. Tickets are priced from €35.70