Having reached the peak of comedic excellence at the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe, TOMMY TIERNAN appeared to be fading away. Now though, the lad from Galway is storming back with funny phrases, surreal links and a few regrets. Words: Brian Donaldson
ou'd expect a serious comedian frotn Ireland to bandy around quotes from Wilde or Shaw or Joyce. Not Tommy Tiernan. The comic from Navan prefers to draw on the
wordy canon of Jimmy White. the Tiernan gets
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I meet him post-show in Leeds. He says the same is true of Jason Byrne. a man he shared a bill with before being allowed onto a comedy stage of his own. The phrase. however. could just as easily be attributed to Tiernan‘s own career. He's a class act. but his fortn has varied.
He may have been a sexual Tommy- come-lately (in his frank new show. we are told that his first orgasm came aged sixteen and a half). but his moment of stand-up fame was the height of comedic good timing. While the likes of Al Murray and Rich Hall seemed to be awarded the Perrier for consistently line shows (rather than mind-blowineg hilarious acts) coupled with the panel‘s obvious embarrassment at having to nominate and then reject them for too many years. Tiernan nabbed the prize at his first attempt. Purely and simply. he was victorious for being best in show.
The Uzi-divine Comedy set was an hour of gripping. anarchic and surreal vignettes about his rough ride from Christian fundamentalists (after one televised crucifixion routine back home. he was all but branded the Salman of stand-up). his thwarted attempts to glean emotion from his da' and the fear instilled in him by his ﬁber—Catholic Latin teacher ( ‘in his cupboard. he had a cross made out of children‘s teeth‘ ). His act was a plea from a very large heart for understanding. tolerance and love:
‘I sometimes think that I
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24 THE LIST 29 Mar—12 Apr 2001
got to do about 24 minutes of his own material. He even took £3000 from the coffers of Des ()‘Connor for the privilege of having the tanned host laugh his stock laugh while ignoring everything the comic said. Somewhere along the way Tiernan appeared to have lost control of his own destiny.
‘I sometimes think that I shouldn‘t have gone anywhere near television and that l have never done myself justice.’ he tells me over a beer. as focused and charming off stage as he is on. ‘()n the other hand. I went to see Townes Van Zandt in Galway in one of his last gigs before he died and he was just hammered. His roadie had to carry him off for a bit and when he returned. he said. "One thing my father said to me was. ‘Son. never apologise for anything on stage‘" and he left. So. at times I think. "I‘ve done it. fuck it".‘
By his own admission. paying mortgages and putting meals on the table for his girlfriend and two sons probably plays a sizeable part in selling himself short creatively. 'The thing is I‘m easily led; I really am. I was fucking stupid. But at the same time you've got to think of the Townes Van Zandt thing.‘
Regrets. he's clearly had a few. But how despairing his fans would have been had Tiernan chosen a full-time job of light entertainment chat shows and non-ground breaking sitcoms. Happily. he is now back to what he undoubtedly does best: disarming the socks off live audiences. In the middle of his national
tour. he is insulting the good people of
Leeds for the labyrinthine maze they call a city centre which caused him to get lost on his way both to the gig and his hotel (he's not the only one). And having a go at the English as a whole for their etiquette and rules. There are
no bulldog fundamentalists in the crowd tonight though. as they whoop. holler and yelp at his gall.
‘lt's quite old-fashioned.‘ Tiernan admits about his act. Certainly. if he wanted his career to have led to a life of hard drugs and totiin love. he wouldn't be seen dead carrying a middle-aged usherette's shopping from the venue. 'l don't think my stand-up is particularly innovative: I‘m not The League Against Tedium.‘ Yet Tiernan has a burning desire eventually to make his act an unholy union of traditional stand-up with the drama and intensity of spoken word Cl)s. such as the version of Dante's Inferno he purchased earlier that day.
For now though. when Tiernan is good. he‘s positively ablaze. Like those Pleasance evenings of I998. his ability to hold a crowd in his palm is unchallengeable. He has spoken before of his addiction to the sound of applause. yet he is clearly just as hooked on making a crowd hushed. In an instant. he can switch from the radicalism of Shakin’ Stevens and the appeal of female behinds to pondering the recent deaths of two acquaintances at different ends of the age range.
Admit it. how many comics do you know could ease through skits about the real reason for balaclavas and the link between jazz saxophone and a worried donkey before making you seriously consider the fragile nature of mortality? So. switch off your television set and go and do something much less boring instead. The bhoy is back in town.
Tommy Tiernan is at the MacRobert, Stirling, Sat 7 Apr and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Sun 8 Apr; the second series of small potatoes starts on Channel 4 in Jun.