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Sunday 24 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
# eyes of the nation
Why we can't look away from Tubridy's Toy Show
‘Nation’s collective mental health held together by prospect of rapping rural child’

THERE IS AN increasingly prevalent idea that the Toy Show primarily exists for parents and nostalgia-seekers, rather than for the children. It’s an idea that Ryan Tubridy, now in his thirteenth year as host of the Late Late Toy Show, firmly rejects. 

“Everywhere I go children recognise me as the toy man. I was in St Finian’s School in Finglas the other day, and you could see their eyes go wide.” While Tubridy agrees that the show is designed in such a way that it appeals to the sensibilities of all generations, he is steadfast that it is and will ever be “about the kids.”

In particular, Tubridy says that he prefers his interactions with kids who are “off the beaten track, couldn’t care less that they’re on the telly and utterly uninterested” in who he is.

The gaggle of journalists gathered in the green room of RTÉ’s television studio to preview the set of the Toy Show, however, could not be more interested in the man, who was swept into the room with a dramatic “Ladies and gentleman… Ryan Tubridy!” like he was the president of the United States. 

The walls of the green room are adorned with portraits of Tubridy in his various guises – fox, lobster, bear, nutcracker. If some future generation were to discover this room in the centuries to come, they would surely conclude that it was a place where animals were sacrificed to a shapeshifting God. Here, the press huddle are on Tubridy like chestnuts on an open fire.

It seems uncontroversial to suggest that outside of these Montrose halls, Ryan Tubridy is a polarising figure. There have long been critics of his salary, his style, suggestions that he takes some things too seriously, that he doesn’t take other things seriously enough, and, as is the case for any broadcaster, people who simply don’t like him.

Say what you will about Ryan Tubridy, but he commits to the Toy Show.

Toy Show reveal 002 Andres Poveda Andres Poveda

While giving a tour of the set Tubridy shoots a Nerf gun at random in the press pack, at one point yelling “Say hello to my little friend!” like Tony Montana in the denouement of Scarface, something that is worth considering for next year’s theme. Over the course of the day, his facial expressions are erratic and he tries out various voices, prepping for Friday night’s performance, a sort of Heath Ledger’s Joker for six-year-olds.

As the Nerf bullets rain down on us, one young reporter describes the scene before his eyes as a “fever dream”. He’s not wrong, and yet, this still seems more coherent than past iterations of the show.

Tubridy, of course, inherited the role from Pat Kenny, whose tenure as Toy Show host was a bit like watching the Warden from Shawshank Redemption do tricks at a child’s birthday party.

Where Kenny had a tendency to stand awkwardly by while things fell apart around him (as things inevitably do on the Toy Show), Tubridy, by his own admission “leans into” the chaotic spectacle, seemingly aware of strange balm the show seems to provide for a public that is often deeply disaffected with its other institutions.

Alluding to this year’s Toy Show theme, Yellow Brick Road, Tubridy says that “Things are a bit gloomy. Ireland feels like Kansas. The Toy Show is Oz.” 

‘Nation’s collective mental health held together by prospect of rapping rural child’, it’s a compelling idea and there is probably more truth to it than any of us would care to admit. 

The Toy Show is an indelible element of modern Ireland’s mythos. It always has been, but in the age of social media, it allows us a nearly monocultural moment of shared community, like a watch-party with 1.56 million other people, all of them pumping their best jokes and memes and observations into their phones for your enjoyment. 

There is a sociological question to be asked about why that might be and what it says about us. More interesting, though, is the how. The Late Late Toy Show, even in these dark and fractious times, still feels like something we all do together.

It is usually hackneyed and inaccurate to suggest that the things we think of as unique to Ireland could only happen in Ireland. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether The Late Late Toy Show – in all its dysfunctional, Billy Barry, John-Joe-the-bespectacled-eight-year-old-horologist glory – could only happen in Ireland. We’re just very fortunate that it does.

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