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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Comic Tommy Tiernan - DVD Out & Special on Comedy Central

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Tommy Tiernan has won national comedy awards and contests in the UK and Ireland and he's establishing a beachhead here in the States. If you didn't get to see him during his three week run in 2006 at UCLA’s MacGowan Little Theater, we're going to get another chance this year. He was on Letterman (for the second time) just last week and was given a nearly 10 minute slot which is huge - Bill Cosby got maybe about that amount of time on the show a couple weeks before. He has a new CD and DVD out this week and tomorrow (Friday) night, Comedy Central is premiering a special of his work at 11:00pm.

LAist had a chance to talk to Tiernan just before he heads back to Ireland but he will be back in the States this Fall and Winter. In the meantime this philosopher-comedian has left us plenty of material to get us amped for his return. For the full 30 minute interview listen here:

LAist: This week the CD and DVD of Something Mental were released. On Friday, is the Comedy Central special the TV broadcast version of Something Mental?

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Tommy Tiernan: Yes it is, Comedy Central is going to have to 'bleep' it I'm sure so I think I'm going to end up sounding like a life-support machine. It does get fairly fruity in places.

LAist: Regarding your appearance on Letterman last week, I think that gone are the days of icons like Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson who used to bring a comic out and really help establish and set a career, while Jay Leno maybe doesn't fit in that space, perhaps Letterman does?

Tommy Tiernan: That's very hard to tell, not living here. The best you can hope to do is establish a relationship with the program. You can always hope "what if?" But that's an uninteresting way to live your life. I wouldn't try planning more than 4 or 5 minutes ahead. I hope that people respond to the material, not just people in the audience at the show that night but people that could lead to other shows on TV. But if it doesn't happen, life is enough of an experience to make up for that [not happening], not to shrink your life down to that happening. I'm not afraid of success or anything but I know that I can't control it.

LAist: One of your influences is Lenny Bruce, have you had the opportunity to visit some of his haunts on your travels throughout the United States?

Tommy Tiernan: The Hungry I in San Francisco, which is now a strip club. I stood outside that and didn't go in because at the time I was there I was with a film crew who is doing a documentary about my coming to the United States and they wouldn't let them in with the cameras. A few years ago I did a show at the Village Theater in New York and found out that was a place he would regularly play. It was all part of the whole reason of coming to work in America was because when I started out listening to stand up, there were people that I found funny and there were people that I found interesting as I was growing up, there were things on TV, like "The Cosby Show" was funny but in terms of somebody who really caught my imagination, Lenny Bruce was the first. I find him endlessly interesting.

LAist: Stylistically, [Lenny Bruce] had a proclivity to tell stories and [bring you into them] and you do this as well, I'm not saying you are exact parallels. But there's a big difference [in comedy] in doing that vs. being the guy with the one-liners or the funny walk.

Tommy Tiernan: I think in Ireland we have a different style that is a more discursive or rambling style. We're all influenced by different things but I think to get a true, muscular response from the audience, to get them rocking back and forth in their seats, it has to come from somewhere authentic inside you, you can't fake it. Even though I'm a huge fan of Lenny Bruce, Eddie Izzard, and Billy Connolly, I also love Dmitri Martin, Dave Attel, I love Patton Oswalt. But when you go onstage you do your own thing - when I go out there I do something that's physical but there's a literacy to it. I had heard about a play who's name I thought was fantastic but it was about John Belushi and I thought if I change the name to Lenny Bruce it would work: "The Ghost of Lenny Bruce Flushed My Toilet". I would listen to him a lot and I'm interested in him stylistically.

LAist: For someone who says they're not as fit as they'd like to be, you do seem to have a good anaerobic threshold [as evidenced by the physical nature of your act, lots of high jumps and energy, etc.]

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Tommy Tiernan: You should see me afterward, I'm like a deflated balloon afterward, totally punctured, spent, I'm over, I'm yesterday. It's not premeditated though, it's instinctive, I'm not being clever.

LAist: In your personal history, you were raised Catholic and you've addressed that edifice before in your work and it was a religion you actively studied, what do you think about it now? This week they added another half dozen deadly sins!

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Tommy Tiernan: If I were to be studying religion these days, I would be looking at the individual Christians, the mystics. But I am on a bit of a comedy diet lately. Yesterday I managed to pick up a book by Mark Twain on the Bible, it's some of the funniest stuff I've ever read. The challenge of comedy is to be funny. There are some high profile comedians who are overly serious, they confuse comedy with polemicism, they're too moralistic and judgemental, they end up being kind of witless. For people like Mark Twain or even Chris Rock, whatever point they are making, they make it hilariously. That's the challenge for me. Being serious is easy, the challenge, the work is to [actually] be funny.

LAist: From what we see in your performance, based on your style and topics which are widely applicable [and accessible], you are more of a comedian that happens to be Irish vs. being an Irish comedian. For example, the Blue Collar Comedy Tour wouldn't do so well overseas in any shape or form but what you do does translate.

Tommy Tiernan: I think that if something's funny it's funny. It's easy to be dismissive of a type of comedy based on the crowd shots but I think what's funny is funny and has to be appreciated for that.

LAist: Can you give us an idea about when you are coming back to the States?

Tommy Tiernen: It looks like I'll be working in Ireland through July and then I'll be back here in the Fall and Winter.

LAist: Are you working on the idea [outlined on the DVD] you had of your show being more than just yourself on stage doing standup?

Tommy Tiernen: If I can achieve something like that it would be fantastic. I've been talking to some people about it but the odd thing about it is that you have to come to these people with a finished product... by giving them a script about the way the show is going to be happening here night after night. I think about Andy Kaufman in that famous Carnegie Hall performance of his where he brought dancers on and a flying Santa but you need to be able to play theaters in a way where you would be giving people a rich theater experience as well as a comedic one. It would be a beautiful thing to do....[Pause] I have this idea for it, it sounds so stupid, but I have this idea of this giant backside on the stage and I'd come flying out between the cheeks, something as stupid as that, and then start quoting Becket and Oscar Wilde and really confusing people.

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LAist: I had this wild idea that you were talking about a Cirque du Soleil of Comedy but without the homoeroticism.

Tommy Tiernen: That's it, you've nailed it there.

Friday, March 14 11:00pm Tommy Tiernan: Something Mental . World Television Premiere on Comedy Central
www.TommyTiernan.com
Tommy Tiernan's MySpace
Tommy Tiernan's Something Mental on CD
Tommy Tiernan'sSomething Mental on DVD

Photos via Tiernan's website