Ryan Tubridy (born 1973) is Ireland’s most successful broadcaster. He has just been named by RTÉ as the fourth presenter of the Late Late Show, the longest-running chat show in the universe. Ryan is humbled. Speaking to RTÉ.ie about the moment that he heard the news, he said: “It was more humility than triumphal. I was just humbled”. You see.
Then: “I had to pick my jaw up off the ground”, and, “I was happy to be able to ring my Mum and tell her the news”. But Ryan starts from a position of Mum-friendly humility anyway. Ireland’s bounciest broadcaster – the Tigger of Montrose – never appeared hubristic or cocky for a moment in his twenty-five year career despite what has been described as an immense confidence. That is a significant recommendation and suggests a temperament more suited to broadcasting than even his talented Late Late predecessors.
Ryan Tubridy was born in Dublin, one of five children of Patrick, a psychiatrist, and educated at Blackrock College and University College Dublin, where he studied History and Greek and Roman Civilisation. After college he spent a week in the King’s Inns studying law before he sensibly decided that he didn’t much like the people or the course.
Tubridy started in broadcasting at the age of 12, reviewing books for the then Radio 2 show Poporama presented by Ruth Buchanan. He hasn’t really stopped since, though the list of Tubridy vehicles is too exhausting to recall. Anyway … in 2004, Tubridy began presenting Tubridy Tonight, a live Saturday night chat show described by TV critic Hillary Fannin as “sub-Lettermanesque” and from 2006 he has been doing The Tubridy Show, on weekday mornings on RTÉ Radio 1. Tubridy is one of the best paid presenters at RTÉ. He earns around €450,000 but can now anticipate a rise in – though reputedly – to €300,000 or so short of Pat Kenny’s whopping €849,000. Traditionally, the Late Late Show host has been the highest paid presenter in RTÉ.
Tubridy has never really attracted controversy – unless you count appearing at a recent election event for his younger brother Garrett. Perhaps his unthreatening self-deprecation has saved him from being a target. It was easier to deride Pat Kenny for his humourlessness or Gay Byrne for his smugness.
He has not always had support from his colleagues though he is popular among his colleagues generally, with a few egregious exceptions. Earlier this year, The Sunday Tribune reported Pat Kenny as saying, “I have no interest in what might be good for Ryan in the schedule to be quite honest. That’s up to him. I don’t know what he’s doing. He’s writing books. He’s doing all sorts of things. He’s a young man in a terrible hurry. He’s only 35 and he’s desperate to do everything that everyone before him has done”. And the RTE Guide quoted Kenny saying “Ryan talks about becoming Parkinson, and yet he’s only 35. He refers to himself as a young Fogey, and I was never that”. Gay Byrne thought Tubridy’s TV show very disappointing in its early days, though he was well-disposed to Tubridy himself: “And he’s a lovely fellow, but I think he’s as much to blame, because he wants to adapt to whatever RTE1 wanted him to be and that’s a pity”. Pity or not, there’s no sign in any reduction in his breathless adaptability.
“It’s kind of funny that you can slag off skinny people but, if I called someone fat, I would be dragged in front of the Equality Tribunal”.
His multiple political connections too, all to Fianna Fáil, are tiring to behold. His grandfather, Todd (so-called because of his marked resemblance to a contemporary comic strip hero) Andrews, was a prominent associate of Éamon de Valera and was boss of Bord na Móna, RTE, and CIE, where he was chairman when the West Clare and Harcourt St Lines were closed, famously remarking that the latter would only affect a few stockbrokers in Carrickmines. He advised his cherubic grandson, “Always surround yourself with people who are better than you: it ups your game”. Niall Andrews and David Andrews, who served as Fianna Fáil TDs – the latter serving as Minister for Foreign Affairs – are brothers of his mother, Catherine. Two of his first cousins, Barry Andrews and Chris Andrews, are FF TDs of unproven talent.
Ryan was a member of the Kevin Barry Cumann of Fianna Fáil while in UCD and was active in the UCD Students’ Union, as well as in the Dun Laoghaire branch of Ógra Fianna Fáil. His brother Garrett (their parents liked 1970s voguish names) is standing for FF in Pembroke/Rathmines. There have been numerous complaints to RTE of party political posturing in his broadcasting although he always manages to avoid any controversy in this regard and they seem unfair. Still like many Irish broadcasters, including Gay Byrne, Eamon Dunphy, and Pat Kenny he says “I abhor political correctness. It’s a dreadful scar on my generation, and I hope that it disappears in time. I think one man’s political correctness is another man’s rudeness. It’s taken the chemistry, the fun out of things”. These views are not unusual for one of his privileged and homogenous background and he is said to carry them into his life off-air. Anyway, you can’t get past the car-park attendant in Montrose unless your greatest fantasy is on-air political incorrectness. The rangy, pin-striped star has also been the target of wisecracks over his looks. “All I get all the time is ‘skinny boy’ or ‘pipe cleaner’. It’s kind of funny that you can slag off skinny people but, if I called someone fat, I would be dragged in front of the Equality Tribunal”, says Tigger, sounding for once more like Eeyore.
When Kenny announced he was falling on his glittering sword, Tubridy at first naively declared his ambition to take over The Late Late Show but later stated that he would remain as host of Tubridy Tonight, his “little fun-size legacy”. Nobody was confused. And nobody who knows him doubts his ambition. He once told Hot Press about his career. “I didn’t want to be wandering around the shallow end for ever because there are too many corpses there. It is absolutely a political game — everyone you meet is a vote”.
He is not immodest. “I think I am a victim of my own image. I think it’s been cultivated by others for me. I live in a very ordinary semi-detached house. People only ever see me on a Saturday night on TV and I’m in a smart suit with a book-lined backdrop so that’s what they think – you’re Johnny smart suit with a book-lined backdrop”. He is frequently aesthetically self-deprecating.
Ironically both he and his brother Garrett finished in the top hundred in the 2009 hundred sexiest men in Ireland list, though they are both actually quite plain. Tubridy is reasonably well-balanced and discreet. Talking of his taste in women (he is separated with two daughters, though he is often “linked”), he has said: “I like intelligence, I like a good conversation. I like elegance, I like a girl who is feminine without being vain, I like a little retro in terms of fashion and look and sprinkle it with a little sense of humour. I also love a girl who appreciates darkness. I’m a lot darker than people think – plenty of dark humour”.
Although he is said to be personally generous, Tubridy was criticised for his refusal to take his Depression pay-cut in early 2009 even when colleagues such as Pat Kenny and Marian Finucane had lined up. He pleaded legal reasons (presumed to refer to the agreement he has with his wife from whom he is separated) but managed to circumnavigate the issue and beat Gerry Ryan (just) into avoiding national ignominy – though not a Facebook hate campaign and a donation to charity – by shedding 10% of his salary.
The Late Late Show
Tubridy says he would “love to bring a bit more dialogue back to television”. He favours Michael Parkinson over Jonathan Ross, and said – then regretted saying – that he would be reluctant to get involved in “big, long-winded current affairs debates”. We could be looking at something even lower-brow than Kenny, if a lot sharper and wittier. Irish Independent columnist, Michael O’Doherty, considers that “Tubridy needs to lose the braying laugh and the forced bonhomie, and get down to the job of presenting television for adults, as opposed to juvenilia which frequently made ‘Tubridy Tonight’ such uncomfortable viewing”. His place in the annals depends on it. In 2003 his friend Mark Little, presenter of Prime Time, stated “He’s not the next Gay Byrne or Pat Kenny”, but he is now.