First forensic, then cringemaking: Pat Kenny lays down the law

Presenter by turns forensic and toe-curling, while Seán Moncrieff’s ironic style hits a wall

When the verdict comes, after all the legal arguments, it's a surprise: having tussled over points of criminal law, Pat Kenny delivers his scathing judgment on lawyers. On Tuesday's programme (The Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk, weekdays), the host indignantly tells a solicitor that "people in your profession" will "use anything you can to get your client off". It's hardly the first time the legal profession has been thus charged, but it's surprising to hear Kenny say it. For one thing, as a journalist he belongs to a group that jostles with lawyers in the public opprobrium stakes. Moreover, on this showing, Kenny would make a good lawyer.

His interview with solicitor Fergal Boyle deals with the concerns of rank-and-file gardaí that drink-driving cases may be dismissed because suspects have been handcuffed. The presenter affects confusion why this should be an issue. "What is the offence here, is it embarrassment?" he asks, musing at length on the possible permutations of shame. When Boyle says handcuffing is an unnecessary use of force, Kenny lights up: "Ah, now we're getting to the nub of it," he says.

Having cleared his confusion, he gets stuck into his guest with his trademark forensic zeal. Boyle says many drink drivers have never previously been in trouble and shouldn’t be restrained: “They’re not criminals.” In response, Kenny splutters that this argument could be used by any “gouger”, a term that denotes the worst class of individual for people of a certain vintage.

When Boyle says problems arise when a garda doesn’t know “when he can and cannot arrest”, Kenny pounces like a senior counsel seizing upon a witness’s inconsistent testimony. “No, no, no,” he says, “the row isn’t that they shouldn’t have been arrested, but that they shouldn’t have been handcuffed.” Kenny sounds triumphant; all that’s missing is a flourish towards the jury box.

In transforming a minor procedural point into a sparring match, Kenny delivers a vintage performance, by turns rigorous and pernickety, inquisitive yet anal. It plays well with his listeners, too, judging by the “liberalism gone mad” tone of the texts he receives. One almost feels sorry for Boyle, harried by his host while having his profession impugned. Clearly, you don’t want Kenny on your case.

That said, having Kenny on your side has its downside, unless cringing in embarrassment is your thing. Never renowned for his freewheeling style, the presenter is at his clunkiest during his conversation with Rick Astley. The 1980s pop singer is articulate and self-deprecating, but Kenny tries far too hard to appear easygoing.

Initially the host’s tone is somewhere between record company executive and music geek, dropping phrases like “crossover in the demographic” when discussing Astley fan base or characterising 1980s production team Stock, Aitken and Waterman as a “hit factory”. But the squirming really begins when Kenny tries to sound casual, as when he talks about his guest’s first flush of stardom.

“When you’re young and impressionable, how mad did it get?” he asks, his attempt at nonchalance merely sounding overeager. “I’m pretty good at not taking things too seriously,” Astley replies. Which is just as well, given what follows when the talk turns to Astley’s youthful looks.

“People look at you and go, ‘He’s not 50’,” Kenny gushes. “I’m 53, love,” says Astley, trying not to sound embarrassed. “I’m up close – there’s no Botox,” Kenny continues, adding that he looks “35, max”.

“You’re a lovely man, keep talking,” replies his guest, by now slightly alarmed. Kenny then finishes up in baffling fashion, talking English Premier League football for no apparent reason other than trying to be one of the lads.

That the interview is interesting despite such toe-curling moments is down to Astley, who retains a wry detachment throughout. (This trait also seems to have served him well in the fickle music business.) As for Kenny, he remains better suited to tight debates than loose banter.

Arched eyebrow

Botox proves a recurring motif on last week's airwaves, as Seán Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays) talks to Australian plastic surgeon Jayson Oates about a niche cosmetic treatment that one trusts will stay niche. The procedure in question is called a "scrotox". "Cross your legs, boys," the host explains with undue glee. "That means Botox injections directly into the scrotum."

What follows is almost a parody of Moncrieff’s irreverent style. An arcane and serious topic – in this case, a treatment that can relieve uncomfortable tightness in male nether regions – is enlivened by icky detail and vaguely naughty language: Moncrieff repeats the word “scrotum” so often that a female texter pleads with him to stop. It’s all very knowing and mildly diverting, in a sped-up, Benny Hill kind of way. But there’s a fine line between being offbeat and merely being ker-ayzee, which at times like this becomes blurred.

The limitations of Moncrieff’s raised eyebrow approach become apparent when he talks to Shannon McGauley, president of the Texas Minutemen, a vigilante group that monitors the US-Mexico for illegal immigrants. The host’s gently mocking tone – “Do you do that on a 24-hour basis or is it a weekend thing?” – cuts no ice with McGauley, whose conversation is so terse as to make the average US immigration officer seem like a new-age therapist.

When the host asks how his guest knows that immigrants with backpacks are smuggling drugs, McGauley replies with deadpan menace: "I'm psychic." The guest only expands his clipped style to voice support for Donald Trump.

Aware that he’s run into a wall more solid than any Trump has so far built, the presenter wisely moves the interview on quickly, only daring to make a joke about his guest’s “girl’s name” at the end, at which McGauley chuckles indulgently. Sometimes it’s better to keep a straight face.

Radio Moment of the Week: Comma sense

On Wednesday's edition of Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays), co-presenter Andrea Gilligan conducts an illuminating interview with Margaret Martin of Women's Aid about proposed legislation to outlaw the making and distribution of sexual images without consent. It's a welcome development on a serious matter, but Gilligan also gives an unwitting lesson on syntax in her introductory remarks: "The government looks set to agree a new Bill that would ban so-called revenge pornography and upskirting at a cabinet meeting in Cork today," she says, without a pause, thus inadvertently suggesting all sorts of unsavoury voyeurism at the Cabinet table. Punctuation, please.