First Published March 2016
IMPOTENCE, VINEGAR, FIRING-SQUADS, & FLAT FEET!
Tommy Tiernan brings his Out Of The Whirlwind tour to Tullamore on Saturday, April 2nd, for what will actually be the final night of the Irish leg of this tour. I had the pleasure of catching up with Tommy again recently, and believe me when I tell you, chatting with Tommy is like getting a private show all to yourself! You end up laughing so much that you have to remind yourself to focus on the ‘work’ part of what you’re doing! Hopefully this week’s headline offers a good indication of what I mean, given that the above were all topics we touched on! As you’ll see when you read on….
When we spoke, the general election was still three days away. And yet, as I prepare this column to go to print, we still don’t have a government! But that’s an argument for another day. Coming up to the election, Tommy, on his Facebook page, had declared his support for his local Green Party candidate in Galway. I asked him if politics was something that would normally get his attention, or with which he would engage?
“Well, I joined the Green Party a year ago, just to try and get some info. I live on the edge of Galway Bay and there was talk of a massive salmon farm being opened, just off the coast of Inisheer. And there’s stuff like that that I’m not too informed on, ya know. So I thought I’d join the Green Party to see if I could get some information on what was happening. I was asked by the local candidate to give him a bit of a push, which I was delighted to do, cos’ he’s a great man. And Galway gets five T.D’s, so I think at least one of them should be Green! I mean, you probably wouldn’t want the five of them to be Green! [laughs]. But at least one of them should be. But the irony of it now is that I’m not actually going to be in the country on election day! Which is kind of weird, and I wouldn’t say I’m the only one who isn’t in Ireland on the day, because of work or whatever. So I have no vote! I’m impotent when it comes to change! [laughs].”
While preparing to interview Tommy, I read through some of the comments people had left under that Facebook post referred to in my opening question, and some just couldn’t resist having a go at Tommy simply because he shared his opinion. I put it to Tommy that even the slightest passing remark about politics or politicians seems to be enough to get some people spewing all kinds of bile and undirected, or improperly directed, anger these days. I asked him if he thought it was fair how we, society, seem to treat politicians now?
“Well, I think politicians are probably quite deserving of our anger! [laughs]. I didn’t really read any of those comments, to be honest with you, Anthony. I think the internet is a safe place for bullies, cos’ they can snipe at others while they remain kind of protected [as they do so]. So I wouldn’t pay too much attention to it. There’s an awful lot of vinegar out there, oh my lord! A fierce amount of bile, and snideness. And it’s in the press as well, more so than on the radio. Rarely in the local press, in fairness, but it’s very prominent in the national press. There’s men and women in the national press who must do nothing but drink vinegar! They’re just the bitterest…..! They’re raised on lemons. They’re toxic, and they don’t bring anything of worth to the table. But look, they’re there, and it’s against the law to shoot them! [laughs]. But when Sinn Fein get in we’ll line them up against a wall and riddle them all! [laughs]. I think taking shots at politicians is fair enough. Sure it’s a bit of craic!”
Staying with politics, but turning our focus to the United States where their marathon Presidential election process is underway, I asked Tommy about Donald Trump. Is he just a gift for comedians, or possibly, the man who will actually destroy the planet?
“Well I’ll tell ya, if he’s the man to destroy the planet, he’s not alone! There’s a few other crazy f**kers out there. Would you trust Putin? Would you trust whoever’s running China? Would you trust your man in North Korea? Would you trust Michael Noonan? The list is endless! [laughs].
Tommy has been a top-class comedian for over twenty years now, and I wondered if comedy was like music in the way that there are cycles. For a while, it’s all about boybands, then it’s guitar bands, then singer/songwriters, and so on. In comedy, is it necessary to change with the times to any degree in order to stay popular?
“You have to keep evolving, but you don’t evolve with an eye on the marketplace. You don’t say, o.k, whoever’s selling out the 3Arena, I’ve got to be more like him. That would actually drive you insane, by not following any kind of natural energy or instinct. You’d be trying to copy something out of desperation and that’s not a recipe for laughter. This show I’m doing at the moment, Anthony, ‘Out Of The Whirlwind’, it finishes in New Zealand in April. And the next tour is called ‘Playtime’, that’ll start next October. So I’m in the process of gathering ideas for the ‘Playtime’ show, but it’s not about trying to copy Russell Howard or John Bishop, it’s about trying to find the adventure in your imagination. And hoping that connects with people. I think if the adventure is authentic, and not some part of a commercial plan, it just naturally connects with people. Like, my young fella is in a band, and at the moment they’re all sixteen or seventeen, so they’re playing all cover versions. You feel like saying to them, it’s o.k. playin’ cover versions as long as you f**k it up! Because it’s in the f**king up that things get interesting! Do you know what I mean, though? There’s any amount of carbon-copy cover bands and they’re fine, sometimes that’s what people want. But if you want a career as a musician, then you have to f**k things up! [laughs]. And I think it’s probably the same with comedy. It’s not through copying that you become original. Which is obvious in it’s own way anyway. Samuel Beckett had this great saying, ‘Fail again, fail better.’ Which isn’t ideal advice for a young fella doin’ his Leaving Cert, mind you! It’s kinda like, make a mess of things, and then REALLY make a mess of things! [laughs]. And it’s through that, that originality happens.”
Tommy said once that he felt completely comfortable on stage. I wondered if that was still true?
“Well, I feel at home on stage. It’s funny, and I don’t know why this is coming into my head, but I was in a hotel foyer in Dundalk last weekend, after doin’ a show. And country people were coming up to me and throwing their arms around me for photographs. This one fella, he threw his arms around me anyway, and there was a few people there takin’ photographs, and he turned to me and he says, ‘I bet ya feel like Joe Dolan now!’ [laughs]. There’s always a reference point for every stage of your career! So I’m goin’ through the Joe Dolan phase of my career now, whatever that means?! But yeah, I’m very comfortable on stage. The thing you have to fight against is becoming complacent. I suppose you could look at the Kilkenny hurlers, and Brian Coady, and how every year he ramps them up. Now they don’t win the All-Ireland every year, but every twelve months he’s able to ramp them up to give their very best. The same is true of stand-up. Every year you’ve got to give it your best shot and not become complacent. If you do become complacent, then first of all you become your own tribute act! So there’s no excitement in goin’ to see ya, cos’ you’re just repeating yourself. And there are some comedians that do that, and some people like seeing it. I was talking to this lady one time, and she was goin’ to see Michael McIntyre. Now I think Michael is a fine man. But this lady, she says to me, ‘I WANT to see the material I’ve already seen on tv.’ That’s what she wanted! So there’s always gonna be a market for that. But my thing is more that I want to keep the adventure alive. For myself. And then, as I was saying earlier, my presumption is that will naturally connect with an audience.”
I read once that Tommy used to not do his homework in school because he felt it would make the next day more interesting. As he’s also done a tour which was completely unscripted, and hosted a chat show where he didn’t know who the guest was going to be until they walked out in front of him, he clearly has a particular fondness for the unexpected! But is there a side to him that’s the exact opposite of that in some way? Where things have to be done in a certain way, and that’s just how it has to be?
“Ya know, a lot of performers would be control freaks, so yeah, I suppose there is. Sometimes, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of difference between the artistic and the autistic. With autism, it’s often the security of the same thing happening over and over and over again, that’s needed. Anyone who’s really good at something has the ability to obsess. And sometimes that ability to obsess is very natural to them. I think one of the calling-cards of autism is that ability to obsess about something over and over and over again. So I’m not sure that artistic ability is that far removed from being somewhere on the spectrum. Like, I’m a great man for talkin’ about freedom on stage, but I can be a bit obsessive, too! I’m sure the people who live with me would tell ya, yeah, daddy’s a bit of a control freak! [laughs].”
The last date on the Irish leg of Tommy’s Out Of The Whirlwind tour is in Tullamore. How does Tommy usually feel when a tour comes to an end? Is it happiness? Relief? A touch of sadness?
“I used to work maybe forty-eight, fifty weeks of the year, so what would happen is you’d release a dvd and then you’d have three months to get a new show together. But you’re performing over those three months, too. So there was never a big, clean break of four or five months off, and then start again. But this time there is. And the night in Tullamore is the last night of the Irish tour, and I have relatives around Tullamore so we’re lookin’ forward to a big party night there! [laughs]. I’ve worked really hard over the last fourteen months doing stand-up, so the show is very ‘fit.’ So yeah, now I’m lookin’ forward to meeting my wife in the jacks of the Bridge House Hotel! [laughs]. Just havin’ a bit of craic and lettin’ go on that night, cos’ the Bridge House is always a great venue for us.”
Having learned in that very recent past that Nathan Carter can click every bone in his body (so he tells me!), that Mario Rosenstock doesn’t drive, and that Colette Fitzpatrick is double-jointed, my final question to Tommy was this: Is there anything like that, kind of unusual, weird or strange about him, of which his fans may not be aware?
“I’m colour-blind, I’ve got flat feet, and I’m tone deaf! You can actually buy glasses in America…[pauses]….or was it Italy? Jaysus, I’d be an awful explorer! [laughs]. But they fix colour-blindness anyway. But as far as being tone-deaf and flat-footed goes, they’re not fixable! It’s not enough to claim disability, but it’s tough to live with! [laughs].