Ahead of his Out of the Whirlwind - The Shannon Tour, comic Tommy Tiernan took some time out to chat with me about the reasons behind the tour, Athlone, improvised comedy, and the purpose of stand-up in life.
“I have no idea where the idea for the tour came from. Sure you wouldn’t know where these ideas come from,” Tiernan says in relation to his Shannon theme. “Once they pop up you have to just run with them. I would have spent a lot of time holidaying around the Shannon in the past 10 years, and I have a big family connection to Athlone as well, so I am familiar with that part of the world, I suppose.
Tiernan has evolved throughout his almost 20-year career. From an apparently innocent, fresh-faced, newcomer cracking jokes about the Catholic church on the Late Late Show in the 1990s, to the bearded, rugged, and eccentric performer that now graces the stage, the transformation has been dramatic. Watching, it appeared as though his confidence grew with each commendation, allowing him to be bolder and take more risks.
The latest of those risks has been a furrow into the unpredictable world of improvisation, something that has brought him both praise and criticism. However, Tiernan speaks positively regarding what the genre has added to his repertoire: “The improvised stuff is more boutique comedy. It is not for everybody; I am not even sure it is for me,” he says while laughing. “It is thrilling and I am getting better at it.”
“You have to keep taking chances and having adventures. I think the impression I got from the recent documentary on my improvised tour of Europe was that I had put too much pressure on myself by trying to do 12 completely different shows in 12 different countries in 12 days. That was just nuts. There was no sitting on the fence. Some people really loved the honesty of it. They weren’t coming up to me and saying ‘Jesus it was hilarious’.
“They thought it was really honest and brave and dangerous television. Others, after a hard day’s work, saw Tommy Tiernan on the telly and said ‘Great we’ll have a laugh here’; I think it made them angry. The impression I got was they think their lives are hard enough without having to experience my trauma as well. So I don’t think anyone sat on the fence on that one. It was very beautifully shot, but if you were tuning in for jokes it probably was not for you.”
Tiernan has rattled a few cages in his time as a performer. His abrasive, no-holds-barred style is not for everyone. However, if you think he has no conscience regarding some of the things he says, you would be wrong. At times he is concerned about the possibility he might have offended, but he is pragmatic in the manner he views the business he is in.
“When you are up there you are reacting instinctively in the moment. I am designed to hunt and trap laughs. You can absolutely get into trouble for that. But you are there to undermine society in a way. As a comedian you are there in a sense to disrespect everything.
“I went through a phase for a few years, maybe from 2007 to 2012, where it was very angry. I knocked a good five years out of it,” he laughs. “It was what I found funny at the time. I think that kind of comedy has its place, but now it is less angry while still holding onto the mischievous side of it.”
As for what the people of Athlone can expect from his upcoming performance: “This will be the storytelling show. The feedback I am getting is that it is people’s favourite show. I wouldn’t be great at selling my own stuff, but I will be very proud to perform the storytelling show.”
Tommy Tiernan will perform at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Athlone, on Thursday October 8. Tickets cost €28 (inc booking fee ) and are on sale from local venues, www.ticketmaster.ie, and usual outlets nationwide.