This post originally appeared in VICE UK
The story goes that in the years before The Room made him famous, actor/director Tommy Wiseau paid for a gigantic billboard with his face on it to be displayed along a Los Angeles highway. After a while, people were so baffled that they started looking him up, and a star was born.
Mattress Mick is Dublin's answer to Tommy Wiseau, with unforgettably loud posters for his mattress warehouse dotted around the city. Against a background of retina-searing yellow, the "mattress pricefighter" himself appears with one arm outstretched, wearing a green shirt and brown blazer. Mattress Mick's posters combine the aesthetics of the Argos catalogue and the One Weird Trick banner, with the relentlessly enthusiastic mattress salesman appearing on every one.
Everybody in Dublin knows Mattress Mick, but no one is sure if he's serious. He lately moved from mattress selling into music, with his debut, " BACK WITH A BANG: The Mattress Song," attracting more than 51,000 YouTube views. The video features a plot about time travel and 70s disco, a DeLorean car, a dance troupe, and an anthropomorphized mattress, as well as the line "I take two spoons of mattress in my mattress-y tea." Halfway through, former Voice contestant Kerry-Lee Dermott arrives to belt out the chorus in the style of those women on 90s house tracks, howling in a throaty soprano: "Let's talk mattresses..."
I called up Mattress Mick to do just that. "We had this idea," he explains, "that Ireland is back with a bang, that life here is getting better. That's why we decided to release the song on Budget Day." Ireland's Budget 2015 indicated, in the words of our minister for public expenditure and reform, Brendan Howlin, that "the end of an era of budgetary austerity" is here. It is the first budget not to cut social welfare since 2009.
Mattress Mick sees himself at the forefront of the recovery of Ireland's Celtic Tiger–mauled economy. "Mattress Mick is here to help the Irish people get a good night's sleep," he tells me, speaking of Mattress Mick as a character, not in first person (his real name is Michael Flynn). "Irish-made mattresses are the best-made in the world, and I wanted to get across the message that if you sleep well at night you can come back fighting every morning. We can get Ireland back on its feet."
His own best advertisement, Mick has turned himself into a living, walking meme on a shoestring marketing budget. "I didn't have a massive budget to work with; I'm not the superstores out there like Harvey Norman. So I decided to invest in myself instead." The mattresses he sells connect him directly to the national well-being, and to the unstable property market: "The more Irish-made mattresses I sell, the more jobs can be created, the more money Irish people have in their pockets. And it's proven itself to be true: More houses are being sold, more apartments are being rented, and in each one there's a bed and a mattress. My concept is becoming a reality." (Such is his zeal when you speak to him that I momentarily forget our looming housing crisis.)
Mattress Mick's videos become hypnotic through their sheer insistence on the mattress cause. In one he appears in front of an Irish flag, transforming salesmanship into a kind of propagandist theatre. In another he is "Lost in Space," with a homemade house-music backing track. Featuring more use of the word "mattress" than any other song in existence, "The Mattress Song" imagines a world turned to mattresses, where simply falling asleep at night becomes a patriotic act. He has built up something of a celebrity status in Dublin—"I'm stuck being Mattress Mick forever. It means that I can't ever get my hair cut"—and earned a profile in the Irish Times earlier this year.
Mick's popularity is hardly surprising. There is a readiness in Irish culture to embrace the "character" or "chancer"—an eccentric, usually male figure who is impossible to live with but beloved in fuzzy memory. YouTube has been kind to Mattress Mick, applauding previous videos as "bonkers," "a fucking LEGEND," "good aul Mick," and "advertising done right." One comment compares Mattress Mick to "Gerald Kean with a wig on," invoking the socialite and "celebrity lawyer" infamous for his spending habits and Celtic Tiger–era parties (he showed up to his 50th birthday, famously, dressed as the Sun King). For every detractor ("what a plonker"), Mattress Mick himself fires back a witty response, replying, "I am a legend" to one commenter, and to another, "For you I would recommend a waterproof mattress."
There are times when Irish self-parody is unintentional. Take, for example, Crystal Swing, or Brian McFadden's ill-fated solo career, or Jim Corr's celebrity afterlife as a conspiracy theorist. Assuming Mattress Mick has a sense of humor, I ask if he sees himself fitting into the tradition of Irish musical self-parody, alongside acts like the Rubberbandits and Father Brian & the Fun Lovin' Cardinals. He is flummoxed: "I wouldn't want to compare myself to them. They're professionals. I'm just an ordinary guy trying to sell mattresses."
Nevertheless, "The Mattress Song" now occupies a place in our history of cultural self-examination through comedy. The Rubberbandits riff on the most sneered-at stereotypes of Irish people, inviting us to distance ourselves through laughter from rural weddings, armchair republicans and feral children who ditch school to " get wrecked on bags of glue." The tradition of campy spectacle begun by Flann O'Brien'sThe Poor Mouth,and kept alive by iconic comedy figures like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted, let us work out our cultural demons. It helps us confront the fear that we will be judged by England or the rest of the world as old-fashioned, vulgar, or for want of a better word, gammy, an Irish slang word that translates roughly as "useless."
A parody or not then, I ask if he'd ever consider doing Eurovision—the ultimate opportunity to export his particularly Irish brand of camp. He protests: "But I can't sing!" Previous contestants in my lifetime include a puppet turkey, Dustin, and on two occasions Jedward. I assure Mattress Mick that, in Ireland, stranger things have happened.
Follow Roisin Kiberd on Twitter.