Fish or Steak?

 
 

No, this isn’t Pat Kenny asking Colin Sweetman what he’d like to eat – it’s merely his comparison between radio and television presenting…

Interviewing someone who himself has been interviewing for as long as I have been alive is a bit strange, to say the least. Twenty-one years gives you the feeling that turning interviewer into interviewee will prove a bit ironic, if not judicial.

Of course, some people find Pat Kenny a bit disagreeable: particularly after the controversy over asserting squatters rights on his Gorse Hill garden, but also – and for the most part – for his interviewing style on iconic Irish broadcasts such as Today Tonight and The Late Late Show.

But I’m not such a person as would throw the first stone here. After two years of interviewing people part-time (and usually through the medium of a phone call rather than in person), I prefer to say that Kenny does a really good job, considering the circumstances. The only thing I can accuse him of is not using as much tact on television as he does on radio, and I’m sure there are reasons for this.

“Television is always more difficult because there’s always a lot more stuff going on around you,” is Kenny’s more than acceptable response to this. “I mean, before you actually do a programme there are lights, cameras, microphones, earpieces in my ear, makeup, wardrobe… all that sort of stuff. But with radio, you literally just roll in, and if you roll in at a minute to 10… you’re on time! But if it’s four minutes past ten, you’re late.”

But I doubt – and Kenny confirms – that the working hours aren’t the best part of radio presenting: “You could be in your pyjamas, your slippers, and you’re on radio. Television takes no prisoners.”

But that’s just the impact the medium has on the presenter. What most people fail to consider is that airing a weekly show on a Friday night – a night more prone to being spent in a nightclub – is difficult in terms of celebrity pulling power. “The tyranny of the Late Late was that you had to find somebody who was interesting, and who were available to be in Dublin on a Friday night. You know, that is the big challenge. If you’re in London, there’s no shortage of people, you’ll always find guests – but in Dublin you’ve got to persuade people to make the jump across if they’re international stars, and that can be hard.”

So here I can make the not-very-bold assumption that giving up your Friday night for ten years, while trying to build up a rapport with current celebrities throughout the other weekdays, can be a very strenuous activity. At least it pays handsomely.

Kenny reckons he got out of the Late Late at the right time, however, carefully avoiding the image which appears at the mention of Gay Byrne’s name, and choosing to return to his current affairs roots in hosting The Frontline, RTÉ’s successor to Questions & Answers.

But why did he do it? “These shows are different phases in my life,” he contemplates. “I used to do a lot of politics before, on a programme called Today Tonight, and I never anticipated that I’d be gone to talkshows for 21 years. I mean, I saw that as maybe a five or six-year venture. But then Kenny Live took off, and then the Late Late.”

Kenny simply saw 21 years as a long time to be doing the same thing. “I didn’t want to be doing it so long that he couldn’t end up doing something else, and I’m happy now with Frontline.”

Not to make it seem like the Late Late was his show, but I have to ask: how does Pat Kenny think Ryan Tubridy compares? “I think he’s doing very well. From his point of view, I don’t know how he’s feeling about the demands that it makes, because it’s not just doing the show – it’s doing it every Friday night, 37 shows a year, and maybe not for one or two years but for ten. That’s the measure of the task: how you feel after five or six years.”

In terms of general change, however: “The Late Late Show is like a chameleon. If you go back to Gay’s early years, it was a light summer show. Then it became a forum for national debate. It will change, and if it doesn’t change it will atrophy. The challenge for anybody presenting it – whether it’s Ryan Tubridy or me or Gay – is to try keeping it fresh over the tenure.”

At this, I just shake Pat Kenny’s hand – mostly because I feel that I’m probably not anywhere near his level in terms of interviewing (I need clearer diction, to be honest). Our interview occurred moments after Kenny himself had interviewed one of Ireland’s few billionaires, Denis O’Brien – an interview which, if I’m honest, was abundantly boring. Here’s hoping this interview wasn’t the same.

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