Red nose, White House: when Ryan Tubridy met Bill Clinton
Meanwhile, Muireann O’Connell is unembarrassed on Today FM
Ryan Tubridy was upbeat, giddy and flippant, ramping up the feelgood factor without a hint of sarcasm or scepticism.
When the sun is shining, there are few presenters better suited to conditions than Ryan Tubridy. On Tuesday, as he returns to the air after the bank holiday weekend (the Ryan Tubridy Show, RTÉ Radio 1 weekdays), the presenter is upbeat, giddy and flippant, ramping up the feelgood factor without a hint of sarcasm or scepticism. In other words, all those elements that can render Tubridy intolerable during a dark winter morning make him the ideal companion on a glorious June day.
Even though he is coming back from a short break rather than starting one, Tubridy is in a gleeful holiday mood as he opens the show. He suggests that after a few days of “red noses and poorly applied factor 50”, we resemble “sun-kissed lobsters, but with a smile on our faces”.
He continues the anthropomorphic vacation theme during his next item, about an unmanned, honesty-based food outlet due to open in Dublin Airport. He worries that this retail honour system will break down under the pressure of marauding teenage boys on school tours, a species he characterises as “functioning baboons”. Confessing he was once a member of this simian subset, he does an unnervingly authentic impression of said adolescent boys, his voice going down an octave as his goofball levels go up. It’s hard not to smile.
As it turns out, his sunny demeanour is not just down to the fine weather. He also interviews former US president Bill Clinton, which for a self-described American politics nerd like Tubridy must be like having all his birthdays, holidays and school trips at once. Certainly, the presenter adopts a more formally polite tone than usual as he talks to Clinton, who has just co-written a thriller with novelist (and fellow interviewee) James Patterson. Unsurprisingly, the encounter is more respectful audience than thorough grilling, but it still has its intriguing moments, and not just because Clinton talks about people having “predilections” without any apparent irony.
In plugging their novel, the authors are keen to underline the book’s wider message as much as its plot, with both men highlighting issues such as lax cybersecurity and presidential responsibility, as well as stating their affection for Ireland. To his credit, the gentle questions lobbed by Tubridy open up wider issues. A generic query about truth being stranger than fiction prompts some insightful comments from Clinton, who suggests people are increasingly unable to know if information is accurate.
“The people who want authoritarian leaders to run the world have always sought to abolish the distinction between fact and fiction, and truth and lies,” he says, studiously not naming any names. “If citizens don’t know the difference, how can they take their elections seriously?” Similarly, Clinton doesn’t explicitly point the finger when he talks about the irritating presence of bureaucracy and due process. Both the EU and the US are too bureaucratic, but he adds that “there’s a reason people operate to norms, you get better decisions”. Again, who could he be thinking of?
True, these observations are peppered with arresting but ultimately meaningless terms like “inclusively tribal”, but it’s still a worthwhile conversation. As for the orange-haired elephant in the room, he is finally acknowledged when Tubridy asks Clinton if he would ever consider becoming ambassador to Ireland. “Maybe that would reconcile me with President Trump,” replies a chuckling Clinton. Now that is a far-fetched plotline.
Elsewhere, Muireann O’Connell (Today FM, weekdays) is also feeling the warm post-holiday glow. “I was away last week and it was blooming brilliant,” O’Connell says at the start of Tuesday’s show. Lest there be any doubt on the matter, she regales her audience with details of the wedding she attended during her break. But this frothy opening monologue gives a false impression of what is to follow. The rest of the programme has much, much less substance.
The presenter chats with her producer, Pamela Blake, who recounts recently asking her brother-in-law to buy her a three pack of knickers at the supermarket. Overcoming paroxysms of laughter at the embarrassment of Blake’s hapless relative, O’Connell asks listeners to share their own mortifying family moments.
This they duly do, with startlingly flimsy results. Initially, the stories involve being sent to buy “prophylactics” as O’Connell quaintly refers to them. Soon the narrative shifts, with texts recalling being dispatched to purchase “STs”, a term the host assumes is slang for contraceptives but which actually refers to sanitary towels.
One could argue that this is one way of redressing the gender balance in broadcasting, but more likely it’s just a shortage of ideas. Eventually, the conversation turns to the issue of using parental homes as storage facilities well into adult life, as part of the charmingly named “Up the Pole” audience opinion segment. By this stage, the earlier discussions about “lady products” seem like a throwback from a mythical golden age of talk radio.
In fairness to O’Connell, her job is to provide diverting patter between a chart soundtrack, not to analyse current affairs or gauge the national mood. Nor does her shtick differ much from that of station colleagues Dermot (Whelan) and Dave (Moore), who on their day can double the inanity. But O’Connell’s programme is nonetheless dispiritingly lacking in imagination and inspiration. Having been recharged by her holiday, maybe she will try a bit harder.
Radio moment of the week: Right said Fred?
On Wednesday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1), sportscaster John Murray proves that he still has the enjoyably groan-worthy comic instincts he displayed as a daytime host even when helming an early morning sports bulletin. Reporting on the signing of Brazilian footballer Fred (that’s his full name) by Manchester United, Murray refers to a quip made by presenter Rachel English. “According to Rachel, he’ll be playing on the right, said Fred,” says Murray, admiring English’s conflation of the player with the distinctively named act best known for their 1991 hit “I’m Too Sexy”. During the later bulletin, however, we hear Fred described as “a stocky left-footed midfielder”. Murray cannot hide his delight at this information: “Rachel, unfortunately, that sounds like Left Said Fred.” Or to put it another way: Wrong said John.