The Late Late Show has become a rehab centre for prominent politicians whose careers are hitting a downer, providing a home-grown Oprah moment to give a little lift to flagging reputations.
It’s did the trick for Bertie (his LLS show appearance in the run-up to the 2007 campaign did him no harm at all as he showed himself expert at striking exactly the right balance between serious politician and man of the people).
Tonight will be very important for Cowen. There has been no substantial interview with him for two months and tonight will tell us a lot about the measure of the man. He’ll have to be able to give a strong impression to the public that he is in command and knows how to get the country out of this crisis when Pat Kenny asks hard questions (and, with his current affaris edge, he will ask hard questions).
He’ll also to be able to lighten up and show a little of his human side, his talent for mimickry, his quick wit.
And as sure as rain on any give day this summer and autumn, Brian Cowen will be prevailed upon to belt out a song… which he will do!.
It’s the Late Late and it’s classed as light entertainment. But don’t let that fool you. This is an enormous test. The history of the show is littered with dead political stiffs like Padraig Flynn’s spectacular gaffe about Tom Gilmarting and then Northern secretary Peter Brooke’s disastrous decision to sing ‘My Darling Clementine’ only days after an IRA bomb had killed several people in 1992.
Cowen is a bit like Eamon Dunphy. You are so mesmerised when they are outraged or outspoken or on the warpath that you forget how incredibly dull and boring they can be at other times. Cowen is ultra cautious and always on guard. So his biggest danger when asked about the economy will be giving long indeterminate and rambling answers, kicking to touch in slow motion.
The problem with the human side of the interview is that he just won’t lighten up. He was on with the supreme witterer and interview-lite merchant Ryan Tubridy early this year and came across as stolid and wooden. The same happened with Pat Rabbitte. This kind of chat show dross is well outside their milieu and their comfort zone… unlike the chameleon Bertie who thrived.
Of course, it’s important to hear what Cowen does say. Knowing his paranoid caution, he’s going to let no cats out of any bags. But he needs to be able to communciate the sense of where the Government’s thinking is and the kind of strategy they want to implement. And despite the Government media handlers dismissing my story about a State of the Nation address at every turn, you know, if it works out well for Cowen tonight… this might in fact be it.
But it will be keenly watched on all kinds of levels. This will be our first real chance to assess whether the dauphin prince of many years is really a king, or merely another man who would be king.
If you want another listen to his rendition of Paddy’s Green Shamrock in Tullamore (with cartoon accompaniment!) here it is: