For decades, The Late Late Toy Show has heralded the start of Christmas in Ireland.
But to onlookers, it does take some explaining. Why on earth would a reasonable adult choose to watch lots of little people playing with toys on a Friday night, instead of heading to a bar like a normal person?
At its simplest, the annual Toy Show can be explained as follows: it’s a two-hour TV programme where children showcase this Christmas’s most popular toys, and some of the participants will sing and dance for the cameras. It’s a special edition of The Late Late Show, a long-running talk show.
But to explain the show that simply is to do it a disservice.
There are so many other reasons why the Toy Show is always among the most-watched TV shows of the year in Ireland. It attracts fully one-third of the country’s eyes (if it was American, you’d have 100 million tuning in), and it trends globally each year on Twitter. Here’s why:
- Surprises! Every year, a bit of TV magic happens. You could wait for it to go viral all over the world and hear about it then, but why not join in as it’s being broadcast and enjoy the surprise yourself? Here was 2014’s highlight:
- At least one child will go from being a regular kid, to becoming the subject of national adoration. JohnJoe Brennan rocked the nation’s clocks off in 2009.
- There are unofficial drinking games.
- There is unofficial gambling. Last year, bookmakers Paddy Power offered 6/1 odds that the show’s host, Ryan Tubridy, would make a child cry during the broadcast.
- Talk shows in Ireland are broadcast live. When you have a production on this scale, where most of the guests are children, things inevitably go wrong. Children have started swearing during malfunctioning toy demonstrations, and bikes have demolished part of the set, on more than one occasion.
- Some of these children will go on to do properly well for themselves, and you can brag that you liked their early stuff. Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, was once on the show. Samantha Mumba appeared in 1995, before becoming a chart-topping singer internationally. Joseph McCaul, seen here in the 2000 edition, would later represent Ireland in the Eurovision, and made it through to bootcamp in last year’s X Factor (UK).
- Ron Burgundy enjoys the show, and we’re not going to argue with Ron Burgundy. I don’t know how to put this, but it’s kind of a big deal.