Last-minute guest sinks the Late Late
The Late Late Show (RTE1)
When Pete Doherty met Pat Kenny on last night's Late Late, it wasn't so much a minor Babyshambles as a full-blown chat show malfunction.
He seemed confused, bewildered and not quite sure of why he was there or what he was supposed to be doing. He singularly failed to connect with the man sitting in the chair opposite.
I should add, by the way, that I'm talking about Pat Kenny here, not Pete Doherty. Okay, that's today's cheap joke out of the way.
But seriously, this was an awful mess: one of the most excruciating and uncomfortable encounters we've seen in a long time -- though not, oddly enough, for the reasons you might have expected.
It's probable that Doherty, who was in Dublin yesterday to address Trinity College students, was a last-minute addition to the show, drafted in to help pad the gap left when controversial poet Cathal O Searcaigh withdrew after learning that his interview would, on the advice of RTE's legal department, have to be pre-recorded.
Yet given Kenny's experience and the research resources available to the Late Late, this was hardly an excuse for the shoddy interview that followed.
Kenny struck an uncertain tone from the outset. When a young woman in the audience loudly professed her love for Doherty, adding that she'd waited outside Trinity for four hours just to see him, Kenny quipped: "You have at least one fan in the audience."
Ouch! You kind of knew what he was trying to say but it didn't come out the way it was intended. It got worse after that.
Kenny admitted that he and Doherty had never met before, which is fair enough, but his distinct lack of ease with his guest suggested he had little knowledge of him beyond the lurid, snickering tabloid stories about his drug use and his on-off relationship with Kate Moss.
Doherty is always going to be an awkward guest, because he doesn't play by the rules. He shuffles and shifts in his seat. He bumps against the microphone and sometimes goes off at philosophical tangents.
Whether it's the years of heroin I don't know (though he appeared to be coherent enough last night), but there's an almost childlike naivety about him that can sometimes be quite charming.
However, in the face of Kenny's tactless and predictable questions regarding whether he had any regrets about his drug use -- and at times Kenny sounded more like a patronising counsellor than a professional television interviewer -- Doherty's charm hardened into obliviousness and boredom.
He rarely made eye contact with Kenny, except to point out that he'd been asked four questions about drugs and Kate Moss but none about being a musician.
When Kenny made an uneasy comparison between him and Shane McGowan, Doherty gave him a scorching look that was a mixture of puzzlement, irritation and contempt. For a moment, it looked as if he was about to get up and walk out. Luckily, he was just shifting in his seat again.
Doherty might be a foolish young man but he's no idiot. There's plenty of intelligence and much talent in there, and we got a glimpse of the latter when he performed a quite beautiful acoustic cover of a song by The Smiths.
It was the only surprise of the night and a welcome one. Then again, a lack of surprise seems to be the Late Late's incurable malaise.
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