Tommy Tiernan Goes With His Gut

Tommy Tiernan 13

Things are about to get a whole lot stranger in the world of famed Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan.

No, a career change isn’t in the cards and with good reason: Tiernan has been a faithful source of comedy for those looking to laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

Where does the strangeness enter the picture, you wonder? Well, Tiernan is simply in the midst of re-working his highly acclaimed and wildly popular live show.

Tiernan brings this newest show, Stray Sod, to Moncton’s Capitol Theatre on Friday night. It is said that in Celtic mythology, ‘stray sod’ was an enchanted piece of grass that, if stepped upon, would leave a person disoriented, even when in familiar surroundings. It is also said that wearing an item of clothing inside out would help to break the spell and help the person find their way again.

Ironically perhaps, speaking from St. John’s, N.L. earlier this week, Tommy seems neither lost nor disoriented.

‘I work on my own most of the time so as the result of that, I am not really up-to-date in terms of what other stand-up comedians are doing,’ Tiernan says. ‘Working on my own leaves me free to work without having the pressure of knowing what others are doing resting upon me. I have to feel as though no one else is doing what I am doing.’ Developing a comedy act is no small task. While musicians and artists are often able to reinvent themselves with each new recording or painting by using different tones or textures, for example, comedians are still only left with words at the end of the day.

‘I do have a new show this time around, largely the result of wanting to try new things,’ he says. ‘I’ve been left to my own devices for too long of a time and the result of that is that you end up trying some strange things.

‘The show itself has been getting stranger, in a way however I hope that audiences in Canada will respond well to it. As a comedian, you have to remain conscientious of the fact that it is your job to make people laugh. You can’t go and disappear down some self-indulgent avenue where the material only makes sense to you. Stand-up comedians cannot survive unless people are laughing.’

Tommy says he is not talking a complete artistic reinvention of himself like Bob Dylan did when he went electric in the ’60s. He is merely equating the strangeness to the content, style and delivery of the material during the show compared to what he has offered audiences in the past.

‘I perform three to four full shows a week. You can exhaust yourself pretty quickly in terms of what you are doing and the ground that you’re covering. You end up getting bored with your style. It then becomes about how I move the show forward. It becomes about constant movement. There are other ways of telling stories, not just changing the subject matter covered.

‘I’ve been doing these changes to the show in small, incremental steps. I enjoy where the show is going at this moment in time. (But) we’re not taking Bob Dylan-sized changes to the show that will leave people scratching their heads,’ he says, laughing.

Tommy acknowledges that implementing these changes has to be subtle. The reaction of the audience serves as the ultimate barometer of how the material or the ‘strangeness’ is going over.

‘A band can play a song that lasts between three and 15 minutes but they can sense during the song how it is going over. With music, the general code of behaviour is to wait until the end of the song to show whether or not they like it. But in comedy, a minute is an eternity to go without a laugh.’ Despite the U.K. trend-du-jour highlighting the talents of young comedians, the 43-year-old says at the end of the day, the changes his live show has undergone keep both him and the audience interested.

‘As you get older, there are different things you find yourself talking about during the course of your show,’ he says. ‘In England right now, a lot of very successful comedians are thriving on the back of television performances. I recently saw comedian Rich Hall and thought it was fantastic to have an ‘older’ comedian still be relevant. It’s nice to see there is still a place for mature concerns in stand-up comedy. That it is not all about the lowest common denominator type of stuff all the time.

‘Look at a guy like Louis CK. He talks about the things that bother him and is at a level in his career that he doesn’t have to pretend to be 21 years old in order to appeal to people. At the end of the day, a lot of comedy ends up being a lot of going with your gut.’

Article published in the April 4, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript