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“Most of the stuff you’re hearing tonight, I’m hearing for the first time as well.”
Watching Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan is a fascinating experience, even more so for the self-awareness he confesses on stage. In the space of 5 minutes during his set at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster, he’d covered everything from the atrocities of the Second World War, his hatred of classical music, and his hatred of audience members who distract him, in a single stream of uncensored thoughts. He hopped from point to point; every sentiment led to another unscripted tangent, to the point that the audience was in hysterics at the madness of the man on stage. It takes him ten minutes to deliver a stuttering story about a classical musician who was interrupted during her performance in London, drifting in and out of the tale, with natural comedic talent.
In sporadic moments he would stamp and scream and swear; I’ve never witnessed a more unpredictable comedian! His unique style resembles a cross between a mad-man shouting outside Boots to the friendly man you start chatting to in the pub. There are undoubted elements of Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce in his performance; the energy and spontaneity of someone who is funny without preparation. His attempts to entice an un-amused audience member into enjoying the show eventually fell flat as he shouted “fuck you” at the bewildered guest. The discussion about Jimmy Carr which followed was poignant; never have two performers differed so much in style. Tiernan points out “this isn’t meant to be a performance. I imagine I’m keeping so many of you on edge that you’re going to be just as tired as I am.” His tirades, rants, and stories were amusing and impossible to take your eyes off, like a horrifically comical car crash.
His least funny moments come when he’s delivering pre-prepared material; the jokes lacked the spark of his ad-libbed moments of madness – they were less unique, and wouldn’t be out of place in any middle-aged comedian’s routine. His musings on his aging loss of libido, are so generic and middle of the road that the audience lost interest (aside from one woman in the front row who nearly collapsed in a fit of hysterics evidently based on her own experiences with her uncomfortable looking husband beside her), and it was the only time in the show you felt you could actually relax. Similarly his attempts to talk to the “lads” in the room, lacked some sincerity; Tiernan is too outlandish to be part of “lad” culture. But in full-flow Tiernan’s surrealistic observations on the world are eye-wateringly funny; he discusses life in Ireland, racism, his family life, and whatever thoughts drift into his head. At times he treads the line between what is acceptable and what’s not – his impressions of Indian doctors and Irish travellers retain just enough sense of irony and good humour so as not to cause offense.
Tommy Tiernan is no stranger to controversy; his comments in 2009 drew wide-spread (justified) accusations of anti-Semitism, after calling Jew’s “Christ-killers” and claiming that the holocaust didn’t go far enough. During his Lancaster performance, Tiernan raised the issue of censoring comedians, stating that it was his job to “say whatever thoughts came into his head; some of them won’t be good, you don’t have to agree with them. It’s only racist if someone in the room feels uncomfortable.” This excuse is debatable at best; at worst it’s a get out of jail free card which allows comedians to say what they want. During the interval, the question of acceptability in comedic performances was rife. Tiernan’s previous remarks were undoubtedly problematic but, like all those who survive the comedy circuit, his remarks are excused under a shroud of good intention. This seems to be the single law of the market. Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr survive, Jim Davidson does not.
Ultimately seeing Tommy Tiernan was as much of an experience as it was a performance. He’s one of the most exciting and unique performers currently working the UK scene, his show was not one to be missed.