10 Oct 2010

Tommy Tiernan interview: "I don't think I'm controversial"

Stand-up comedian Tommy Tiernan is a huge star in his native Ireland. He's apparently second only to U2 in terms of live ticket sales in the country, and his DVDs sell more than anyone else. He's also an extremely popular figure in Canada and the US, where he's appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman several times.
I was fortunate enough to interview him a few weeks ago for Leeds Guide magazine, and I'm going to see him perform live at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds later this month. His storming performance as the headline act on the latest episode of Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow (you can see it again here) has whetted my appetite for seeing him perform his latest show, Crooked Man. Here are some snippets of my conversation with him. (Photo: Nick Hitchcox)

Do you notice certain material goes down better in certain places or is it universal?
No - I know that if I introduce an idea that could in any way be misinterpreted as something horrific, I think that the more civilised audiences are… it takes a minute or two for them to kind of trust me. Whereas I much prefer performing to the uncivilised because they know I’m joking.

You’ve been labelled a controversial comic. Do you think it's part of your job to be controversial - or do you not agree with the idea that you are?
I don’t think I’m controversial. I like to have fun with the world, if you know what I mean. I like to look at the world and have fun and laugh at it. And I think if people think that’s controversial then… honestly, now, it’s just like free-wheeling down a hill on your bicycle, and say you come down a hill and the road stretches out and you go through a town, two legs sticking out and you’re singing, people might think that’s inappropriate. But it’s not really, it’s just fun.

"One of the themes of the show is the desire to know less and not to confuse information with wisdom"

How do you go about writing your shows - do you have ideas you feel passionate about and then try to find humour in it?
I do have big ideas that I feel passionate about but I find them very hard to get into the show. So it’s almost like I have to be talking about something else in order for whatever theories of life I have to seep through. It’s just about having fun really. Say last night, I was doing an impression of an old rabbi walking along a dusty road, and that morphed into Paolo Nutini. Now that’s not something that I’d be able to think of sitting at home, and it’s not something that’s particularly clever. It’s just silly. That’s the kind of stuff that ends up in the show. It’s just fun. There are other things in the show - it’s intelligent, there are different types of storytelling going on - but it’s not something that’s overly manufactured. If a clever person gets drunk, that’s what my show is like!

What are the main themes of the show?
I think that one of the themes of the show is the desire to know less and not to confuse information with wisdom. Other themes of the show are… I don’t know, this isn’t like a breakthrough novel with great ideas. The show is complaining about sex and is talking about the recession, all kinds of things in there. What I say to the people at the beginning is that my ambition is that we both leave here knowing less than we did when we came in.

What's the most important ingredient for making people laugh - the material, the way you say it or something else?
I think it’s fun. I know I’m saying that word a lot but I was listening to an American comedian called Doug Benson last night and he has one of his albums on iTunes and I was sat listening to it in bed. I was rolling around the place laughing because he was talking about how he went into a men’s toilet and the guy beside him farted, and it was just the way he did it was so brilliant, because he wasn’t trying to be clever and at the same time he wasn’t gratuitous or cheap. There was just something, and it’s very hard to define what that is. The same person can like Bill Hicks and Tommy Cooper and a bit of Morecambe & Wise and The Two Ronnies and Dylan Moran. I think if everybody is honest to their own inclinations then that’s a good start.

Are you able to relax and enjoy other comics or do you find yourself analysing them?
I tend to analyse them more if they’re shit. If they’re good, I’m laughing; if they’re shit, I’m kind of going ‘hmmm, how did he get so shit?’.

Would you reveal who the two ends of the scale are for you at the moment - are there any comedians you like and dislike?
I’d say, last night there was Doug Benson, check him out on iTunes, he has an album called Unbalanced Load, and he’s a dope smoker, he talks about smoking dope and he’s really, really funny. The person I think is the worst at the moment, which I wouldn’t cross the street to see for love nor money and all my kids’ health…? That feeling is reserved for myself.

Full interview originally published in Leeds Guide

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