No Line On The Horizon

A god among the Irish, Tommy Tiernan is a very big deal as a comedian, maybe even as a celebrity.

Tommy Tiernan
Friday, May 13, 7 p.m.
Myer Horowitiz Theatre (U of A Students Union Building)
Tickets: $35.50 at Ticketmaster

For a man who is eagerly put on the same level as Ireland’s music deity, Tommy Tiernan isn’t worked up by the idea of superstardom.  The Irish stand-up, who is somewhat undesirably known as “the Bono of Comedy,” sells more tickets than anyone in Ireland … except U2.  Hearing him speak, he hesitates of giving in to the concept of celeb-status, even if being household name in comedy is making many very financial healthy — and in keeping with the idea of integrity — allowing more to benefit from the laughter. 

“I think the danger in becoming too well-known is that the audience might be coming to see a celebrity,” says Tiernan.  “You don’t want to be that as a standup.  There needs to be enough distance between you and fame that you’re able to do your work. People go to see him to see Jerry Seinfeld, not to hear standup comedy.”

Perhaps.  And at best, with ticket prices enjoying a skyrocketing trend, you almost have to agree with him.  A humorous celebrity like Seinfeld may resent that type of comment coming from another in his own species, but Tiernan points out that it isn’t an attack on the observational comic himself — a return to his comedy roots would likely please not only fans of the New York legend, but Seinfeld himself.

“He has a lot of money in his pockets, that boy.  He’d be better off playing the small little clubs,” Tiernan says.  “Get Jerry Seinfeld to do a Yuk Yuks tour — he’d probably end up charging $50,000 a ticket though.”

The undertone to what Tiernan says is that as fame grows for comedians, they lose more control.  Clearly someone on a level like Seinfeld has the final word, but to achieve that status, audiences may often expect the comedian to always play their greatest hits.

“It’s over as an adventure (when you get to that level).  The risk has gone out of it.  But that’s a comfortable place to be and I can understand why people end up there,” says Tiernan. “There’s nothing wrong with it.  As for entertainment value for me, I just don’t get it.”

The two — fame and the original, honest approach to comedy — can and do co-exist for Tiernan.  As he pursues his comic dreams 15 years after he began, he explores the world, explores himself and gains new fans.

“More than one thing can exist at a time.  Maybe part of it is fame, maybe part of it is desire to travel.  One of the great things about Chapelle is that that I don’t think his fame never got in the way of his work — screwed him up sometimes — but for the most part he was doing his work.  As for some guys, the more famous they get, the worse they get.  The audience are just happy to see them and they just coast on that.”

And arguably, Dave Chapelle is the undercurrent of all of this — the Washington, D.C. comic gained incredible success as a standup but  retreated when the infamy was too overwhelming. This might just be why Tiernan enjoys travelling with his comedy so much — he’s appeared at Montreal’s renowned Just for Laughs festival five times. 

So, as Tiernan teeters on the edge of global comic success — the kind he receives in Ireland, the type that makes one very much a celebrity — what does his honest form of comedy entail?

“Somebody talking very passionately and energetically about stuff he’s not sure of…everything.  Religion, coffee, sex, tattoos.  Charlie Sheen is off limits though … only because he’s dangerous.”

Thinking about it some, if Charlie Sheen is the benchmark of ‘celebrity,’ we can understand why Tommy Tiernan doesn’t want to be one.



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