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Andres Poveda
Ryan Tubridy

The good, the bad and the Tubridy: A look back at Tubs' tenure as Late Late Show host

Ryan Tubridy was stronger when interviewing forces far less powerful than he.

LAST UPDATE | 26 May 2023

TONIGHT MARKS THE end of Ryan Tubridy’s 14-year stint as host of The Late Late Show. 

Having taken over from Pat Kenny in 2009, Tubridy has established himself as RTÉ’s top earner, one of Ireland’s most recognisable faces, and a divisive figure among the public, many of whom either love or hate him.

The Late Late Show’s strange parameters do not make for an easy job. RTÉ’s flagship programme can see the host interviewing an upcoming Irish comedian promoting their new film 20 minutes before interviewing the victim of a tragic and violent assault. The strange format often means there is little cohesion between one segment and the next.

Its rapid thematic and tonal to-and-fro from celebrity to sport to social and current affairs means it sits uniquely segregated from shows hosted by the likes of Graham Norton or Jimmy Kimmel.

In that respect Ryan Tubridy, not exactly charismatic, but undoubtedly elastic, seemed like a good fit.

He was never an interviewer who leaned heavily on his desk, bearing down on his interlocutor, and demanding answers. He is also neither a comedian nor a natural entertainer who can carry the show on the strength of his own wit, as is expected of late-night hosts across the Atlantic.

Hollywood star Jonah Hill once paused a Late Late interview with Tubridy to ask “Are you nervous? You seem nervous,” labouring on the point a little more than was comfortable. 

As an interviewer, Tubridy was stronger when interviewing forces far less powerful than he. For that reason, he coped well with the chaos of The Late Late Toy Show (more on that here), and gave a particularly strong performance when interviewing one child, Sophia, who had been bullied at school for being different. 

These moments – interviewing GAA stars, Irish people who climb faraway mountains,  cystic fibrosis campaigners, Mario Rosenstock et al. – were Tubridy’s bread and butter. He was more likely to struggle when the stakes were high.

Bad decisions were made, certainly. Having already interviewed her once while she was on her fat-shaming publicity tour, Tubridy invited provocateur Katie Hopkins back after the election of Donald Trump to talk about her delight over the rise of the far-right.

Tubridy challenged her as best he could on the matter, but even by allowing her toxicity on air, the show had done a disservice to the Irish public at a pivotal time. He also interviewed Donald Trump’s former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, when it might have been argued that interviewing a key player in such a dangerous regime might have been better handled by a tougher pair of hands.

Tubridy juggled his Friday night slot with daily weekday hosting duties on RTÉ Radio One, where he has more licence to meditate out loud on topics that call for further thought than he seems to apply, once saying of climate activist Greta Thunberg: “It just got to a tipping point last night where I just feel she needs to be brought home and watch a movie.”

More recently he caused consternation when he said of the war in Ukraine: “I kept thinking ‘They all look like us. They look our neighbours. They look like us. That could be anyone I work with, or who I buy things off in my local shop, or someone I could be related to. It just feels so real.”

An early adapter of Twitter, Tubridy swore off the medium years ago, and at the beginning of the Late Late Show’s final season, he told The Journal he’d given a directive to his team that they “did not make The Late Late Show for people on Twitter”.

Of course, it wouldn’t be accurate to characterise all criticism of Tubridy to a handful of people on Twitter. His pay – as the top earner at RTÉ for many years, at one point earning €723,000 – was annually the subject of derision. His current contract with RTÉ is worth €440,000 a year, having taken several pay cuts since the financial crisis.

It was this apparent imperviousness to criticism that meant The Late Late Show did not alter its direction under Ryan Tubridy. He operated within the strange confines of a show that has changed little since it first aired in 1962, content to interview a raft of RTÉ mainstays and the occasional big name, responding to the cultural moment rather than driving it.

While it can no longer dominate the Irish media landscape as it once did, the Late Late Show still regularly pulls viewing figures of around half a million a week. This is by way of saying that at no point has The Late Late Show, or its host, ever been anything but a position of enormous influence over Ireland’s national conversation.

This status is something that the public continues to associate with its original host Gay Byrne.

Owing to the longevity of his tenure, Byrne presided over events of enormous social change in Ireland, hosting conversations around sexuality, AIDS, and raising questions about the influence of the Catholic Church at a time when such a thing seemed unthinkable.

Tubridy did not have the same captive audience as Gay Byrne, but when the mood took him, Tubridy had the experience and the sensitivity to navigate tough moments with the required depth.

His first show after the beginning of the Covid lockdown was an example of what he could do at his best. His monologue was empathetic at a time of great fear, and firm in its conviction to do the right thing for public health at a time when many sought to sow discord. 

Tubridy turns 50 this weekend, and is far from done as a public figure, though he is keeping his cards close to his chest.

From a political family, his grandfather and uncle both served in Dáil Éireann and two of his cousins currently represent Ireland as a TD and MEP respectively. One could quite easily see him using his name recognition to explore a career in that arena – perhaps following his hero John F Kennedy in a tilt at presidential politics.

His time as Late Late Show host is over though, and he will be replaced by Patrick Kielty. Ryan Tubridy leaves a show that has endured in its strangeness, retains its relevance in an era when so many institutions have fallen away, and yet, has the potential for so much more.

Could it have been worse? Absolutely. Can it be better? We live in hope. 

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