' TOMMY TIERNAN Items 'l'IC‘Iv’t'EI'C "will lax"
AMBITION. YOU'VE EITHER GOT IT OR YOU HAVEN'T. TOMMY Tiernan appears to have less than an ounce of it. yet here is the 1998 Perrier Award winner starring in a new Channel 4 sitcom (Small Potatoes). hosting the BBC‘s flagship comedy forum (The Stand Up Show) and putting the final touches to his debut novel (The Gospel According To William).
And. when mention is made of Eddie Izzard and his starring role in the West End production of Lenny (based on the life of Tiernan‘s hero of comedy. the inimitable Mr Bruce). something seems to stir. ‘Eddie is specifically ambitious — he knows exactly what he wants to do.‘ notes Tiernan. ‘I’m kind of generically ambitious — I know what I want to do. but I don‘t know if I‘m prepared to do anything to get there. I thought he was brilliant. but I thought the play was shit. Most of the good bits
14 THE lIST 4-18 Nov 1999
of the play are Bruce‘s material and that‘s just plagiarism.‘
No one accused Tiernan of anything other than being fresh and funny when he scooped the Fringe's water award with his debut solo show. His act was a wonderfully structured attack on the prejudice he suffered at school in the tiny Irish village of Navan and. later on. from the rosary-beaded masses after he performed some ‘controversial~ material about the crucifixion on national telly. (‘Next time I‘m taking a scalpel to the Arabian faiths. It's about time they danced.‘)
He may have lost some viewers in the Republic. but the UK will be getting all too familiar with the cheeky. curly-mopped comic. Small Potatoes is the latest in Channel 4‘s
attempts to unfurl a tltm . Ind of new Father Ted
(Spaced having been generlcally the latest contender). ambitious _ I They badly want
another tiber-popular know What I
sitcom to tackle the want to do but generational divide. I donut know
which the residents of
Cragg r' Island helped cross. Whether this is the one remains to be seen.
I'm prepared to do anything to get there.’
Small Potatoes is an ensemble piece set mainly in a video shop with Tiernan at its head (the show was originally to be called Hewitt after his central character. but was changed late on partly due to the renewed publicity for Saint Diana‘s former polo-playing lover). But it started out in life as something rather different.
‘It was originally set in a llorists‘. but they decided that needed too much explaining.‘ notes Tiernan by way of explanation. ‘They wanted to have something aimless and you need to have horticultural ambition to be a florist. but as a video shop worker. you‘re merely there to receive digital information. Plus. they wanted a place where friends could hang out and why would people hang around there unless they're addicted to pollen‘."
Addiction to the sound of laughter coming from other people‘s throats is one of Tiernan‘s prime motivations. A compulsion is how he described it during his performance on The Comedy Lab. broadcast last winter on Channel 4. It must be deeply frustrating then. to lose the control which he has on stage and mouth the words of others. even if they are of the quality of Small Potatoes scribes Richard Pinto and Sharat Sardana whose last success was Goodness Gracious Me.
‘I wrote one line.‘ recalls Tiernan of the show‘s creatively improvised process. ‘One of the other characters says to me: “you’re the type of person who would go into a shopping centre with a machine gun and cause havoc“. And then I came up with the line for them to add: “or else be found in an abandoned house making dresses from the skin of fat girls‘ backs". That was my one contribution to the script. You see me kind of chuckling.‘ He won’t be alone.
Small Potatoes starts on Channel 4. Tue 9 Nov, 10pm; The Stand Up Show continues on BBC1, Sat, 11.45pm.