TOMMY TIERNAN would like to avoid controversy when performing his new show, provisionally titled Eh, during the Galway Arts Festival, but as he admits’ himself “no subject is out of bounds” and “God knows what will happen when I go on stage”.
In April, Tommy entered the Guinness World Records for the longest solo stand up show ever performed. From 3pm on Good Friday until dawn on Easter Sunday at the Nuns Island Theatre, he performed his show Testamental for an extraordinary 36 hours and 15 minutes. Has he recovered yet from this mental, vocal, and physical comedy marathon?
“There was no recovery involved,” Tommy tells me matter of factly during our Monday morning interview. “After it was over I had a four hour snooze, then I was fine. I haven’t got to the far side of it enough yet to know what happened. When it was done it was done and on to the next thing. But I got an email from a guy in Australia who wants to break it and he wants advice so I will help him out.”
Tommy admits that time has to pass before a person can truly understand such an experience.
“Sometimes when you have experiences it can take two to three years for them to settle in and emerge as a story and develop into a show,” he says. “I’m usually two to three years ahead or behind myself. I’ll be going to Lough Derg for a three day retreat soon. I want to do it for the experience as it might suggest some stories. I’ll be doing it barefoot. You have to do that. Barefoot and black tea. That sounds like two native-Americans!”
Nonetheless it must be a source of great pride to Tommy that he holds a Guinness World Record?
“Not every record gets into the book so we are still waiting for confirmation that we will get in this year,” he says. “We should find out in July. If it happens we will buy a massive, pool table sized, edition of the Guinness Book Of Records, open it at the page I’m in, sit down, and have tea and cake off it.”
When Tommy talked about going “on to the next thing” he was not joking. He has only recently returned from a tour of the US with Ardal O’Hanlon and Dylan Moran, and throughout July he will perform his new show across Co Galway (what Tommy calls his ‘World Tour Of Galway’ ), including a run of dates in Cuba*, Eyre Square, as part of the Galway Arts Festival.
“The working title for the new show is Eh as I’ll be saying it a lot!” he laughs. “The ‘World Tour Of Galway’ starts in Campbell’s Tavern in Cloughanover. This will lead into the Galway Arts Festival shows which runs into the Montreal comedy festival. The Galway Arts Festival shows are part of a grand sweep. After that I’m planning to do a ‘World Tour Of Mayo’ and a ‘World Tour Of Offaly’.”
Tommy will be heading to his cottage in Connemara “to sit in solitude and come up with material for the next show”, although he knows it will focus mainly on “being a daddy”. The inspiration partly comes from Tommy’s reaction to recent bad publicity over his more challenging material.
“I was in Kilkenny doing a lot of different shows and a reference I made to the McCann family, that was eight words, in the entire show and wasn’t said with any viciousness, that became the headline in the Sunday tabloids,” says Tommy. “Things like that are taken out of context and I became the poster boy for offensive material. When the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand controversy was being written about in Irish papers my name was brought into it as well.
“It all made me say ‘Hang on a minute! I’m not offensive!’ but anything people can say can give you doubts. A lot of my material gets created on-stage. Only a certain amount I can have prepared before I go on. So God knows what will happen when I do go on stage this time. The people who found my previous material offensive will spontaneously combust!
“I enjoy the challenge but I’m making an effort to steer clear of the ditch. There’s nothing too grim or serious to deal with in a humorous way. You have to be irresponsible and reckless and if it’s funny then irresponsible and reckless are things audiences will welcome. To be able to laugh at your situation is one of the lifeboats. It’s not a case of asking ‘What’s taboo?’ It’s about finding the tension and it’s in the tension that the most fantastic laughter is. It can open things up so people can talk about it.”
Coming to America
Tommy’s recent US tour saw him, O’Hanlon, and Moran play Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and New York. Tommy says it went “great” and was especially pleased that the trio “played to 1,400 people in New York”. However he was less keen on Baltimore.
“You know how Renmore is rough,” he says mischievously. “In Baltimore they’ve taken the notion of ‘Renmore is rough’ and really gone to town on it.”
Tommy first played the States in 1997 and has made numerous trips back, enjoying positive reviews and appearances on David Letterman. However many felt that by now he should be a ‘big hit’ there, but Tommy does not view it in the same manner.
“People talk about ‘cracking America’ but I have come to realise recently that if you try to ‘crack’ something you are making it very difficult to enjoy,” he says. “I never set out to crack Ireland or England. You set out following positive energies and it’s about choosing projects that are fun to do. You can’t have a business plan. It’s a failure and nothing grows in that garden. That’s not coming from a sense of defeat. We did a show on American television that was recorded in Chicago that two million people watched. That’s phenomenal. The next thing I want to do is go on the road with an African-American comedian in the States.”
It is not surprising Tommy wants to tour with an African-American comic as he has long noted that his style of humour is best received among black audiences.
“If in some comedy clubs in America there is a table with black people and if they are laughing, for me the rest of the room disappears,” says Tommy. “As long as I can keep them laughing I know things are going well. There is something in me that wants to connect with African-Americans. I don’t know why. I think it’s the Groucho Marx thing of ‘I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members’. I always want to belong to groups that exclude me. If I was in an elevator with six Hasidic Jews, I would want to engage them in conversation, take the p**s out of them, and make contact. With African-Americans it’s the same thing.”
Tommy will play Ostan an Doilin, An Cheathrú Rua, on Tuesday July 7 at 8.30pm (091 - 595169 ); the Raheen Woods Hotel, Athenry, on Friday 10 at 8.30pm (091 - 875 888 ), and Cuba*, Eyre Square from Monday 13 to Saturday 18 at 8.30pm. For tickets to the Cuba* shows contact the Festival Box Office, Merchants Road, 091 - 566577 or see www.galwayartsfestival.com