Interview: Tommy Tiernan, “Something Mental”

Filed Under Interview, Stand-Up Comedy

Tommy Tiernan is a big name on the other side of the pond, but here in the States he’s far less known. Overseas, Tiernan lives up to Irish roots with a reputation for hilarious storytelling, often throwing his whole body into his tales. Americans have had limited opportunities to see Tiernan, save for a few appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman. That will start to change some when his special “Tommy Tiernan: Something Mental” premieres on Comedy Central this Friday at 11 PM.

Sadly, my recording equipment broke just immediately prior to our phone interview, so this interview was conducted by email. My short interview with Tiernan touches on swearing and blasphemy, and immediately following is a preview clip from “Something Mental” that gives an idea about why I had to ask about it.

How have your experiences with American audiences compared with British audiences? Are we more uptight about the word “fuck”?

No, you’re more uptight about words like Osama and Twins.  Some American audiences are quite literal minded and if you’re not contributing to the great and holy optimism that you work for the devil.

Perhaps the difference might be better described as going from an audience where you’re well known to one where you’re less known. Is it a bit surreal to make that transition?

No, I find the Irish follow me everywhere. They are the world’s most public Secret Service.

How do you think the special will play on Comedy Central, where they bleep the word “fuck”? Are they censoring your Irish soul?

I think it’s gonna sound like I’m on a life support machine. I’m an evangelical preacher with a dirty mouth, that’s all.

You’re a very physical comedian but use your body to punctuate some smart ideas. Most people don’t typically associate physical comedy with intelligent insightful observation. Is that a weird bias to you?

Picture me as the epileptic Stephen Hawking.

You trust the audience will figure out English slang that they don’t already know. Is humor far more universal than people typically believe?

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I think if you over explain your references you lose comic impact. People can get the gist of what you are saying anyway. Words that they don’t understand just make you sound erotic…sorry exotic.

Can you relate the how and why you were accused of blasphemy by the senate? Is that just a moral condemnation or is their a legal component to it?

I performed some material on Irish TV that some humans took offence at on behalf of the divine creator. It was basically an impersonation of The Lamb Of God combined with a satirical portrayal of Christ on the cross trying to engage Mary Magdalene in a bit of flirty chit chat. There was a legal component to it but God wasn’t available for the court date.  He was busy congratulating Bush on bombing the Taliban.

Storytelling is such a big part of what you do. What’s the key to telling a great story?

I think the teller has to be intrigued by the story himself.  That interest hooks the audience.  Anybody can make anything compelling if they are consumed by it. For example a donut talking about a fat person.

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