Leo Varadkar on the Late Late Show: Taoiseach has become ‘CEO’, Ireland ‘the organisation’

If you imagine Varadkar as too corporate, Ryan Tubridy’s interview won’t change your mind

If, like any number of its international guests, you had no idea what kind of a programme The Late Late Show is, last night's broadcast was as good an introduction as any.

What kind of talk show, for instance, would interview the leader of the country as its first guest, as a warm-up act for two crooners and a comedian? The same show, evidently, on which an audience member may propose to his partner live on air and be blessed by Michel Bublé.

The newly engaged woman admitted that her fiance had to outdo the exotic location of another friend’s engagement.

“Is this better?” Ryan asked of his show. “Better than the Great Wall of China?”


No, Ryan, but it does seem longer.

Leo Varadkar's appearance, the last in series of interviews with political leaders, marked a rare appearance by a sitting Taoiseach on the Late Late, our time-honoured national hotchpotch.

But in many ways it reflected what both the office and the programme have become: a weird mangle of substance and surface, politics and personality, for a patronised audience.

To those who imagine Varadkar – or, for that matter, Tubridy – as too self-oriented to be entirely sincere, too corporate to be compassionate, it didn’t help that Varadkar should casually define his job as “chairman and CEO of the organisation”.

The organisation? Does he mean Ireland?

If so, this appearance might have spooked his shareholders. Of the housing crisis, Tubridy put the dilemma in layman’s terms: “The feeling is that you just can’t get a handle on this.”

Varadkar, whose widening smile under the bright studio lights reminded me of how Robin Williams’s alien Mork used to impersonate a human, broached most issues by establishing his personal connection. Call it corporate social responsibility.

In discussing homelessness, he mentioned his visit to Longford's Simon Community that day, and addressed the problems with Ciceronian deliberation – on one hand, on the other hand. Tubridy, though, was in a hurry, ushering him along, and Varadkar's summary – everyone wants to fix the problem quicker, but we can't repeat the mistakes of the past – made the debacle seem no less stymied.

On health, Tubridy asked Varadkar the same question, word for word, four or more times in quick succession: is the HSE fit for purpose? That may sound like a move from the Paxman School of Tenacious Journalism, but Varadkar was not particularly sheepish.

“Not as the organisation it is now,” he said, intimating “structural change”, a move to “slim down” said organisation and to bring “a lot more autonomy”.

“I think that it drives you mad, a little bit, that the media focus on negative stories,” said Tubridy, while the Paxman School of Tenacious Journalism moved decisively to revoke his qualifications.

They turned instead to a flitter of mild to major matters, all handled with unconvincing chumminess: Varadkar's presumed fixation with the media, social media, tit-for-tat character evaluations by rival politicians, Irish continuity plans for a no-deal Brexit (We're basically fine, Leo, suggested. We're royally f**ked, viewers concluded.), carbon tax, Kylie Minogue and the next general election.

Tubridy, never comfortable with criticism himself, was now subjected to a barrage of mixed reviews for the segment right on his own show. “That was a lovely interview!” offered lounge-singer Michael Bublé, a professional dispenser of love. “It’s a tough job he has!”

David Walliams, the impish comedian and children's author, was less convinced. "He was a barrel of laughs, wasn't he?" Walliams said of Varadkar, turning to the audience with a horse-like flapping of his lips. Tubridy didn't look too surprised.

There will always be neigh-sayers.