Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan will be back in the province for a solo gig next week, and this time he hopes to be kidnapped.
“There’s a writer called Michael Harding, he’s an Irish guy who performed a one-man show out there last year or the year before, and he talked about falling in with a group of musicians and storytellers from St. John’s and how he was up all night and drinking a lot and it sounded very, very Irish,” Tiernan told The Telegram. “Whoever those people were, I’d like them to kidnap me, too.”
He’s even got the time, he said — he’s arriving a couple of days before the show and is hoping to take in some of the nightlife and music of the capital city.
“I was very taken with St. John’s the last few times I was there,” he said. “I’m eager to experience the place.”
Tiernan — who holds the impressive title of being second only to U2 in live-show ticket sales in Ireland — was last here in the spring of 2011, when he performed to a sold-out crowd at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre as part of a Just for Laughs Tour.
His latest tour, “Stray Sod,” will start at the Convention Centre in St. John’s Wednesday and end in Edmonton April 21.
Why “Stray Sod?”
The concept is based on Celtic mythology that Tiernan doesn’t quite understand, but which fascinates him.
There are certain fields in Ireland, he said, that have stray sods, enchanted pieces of grass that, if stepped on, would leave a person totally disoriented and lost. Turning a piece of clothing inside out, he said, will break the spell and allow you to leave the field.
“I kind of liked the idea of Ireland, as a country, being the stray sod and playing around with the notion that no matter where you are in the world, if you venture to Ireland, you would be granted another way of perceiving things,” he explained. “While I was looking for a name for the show, I wanted something that I didn’t really get. It’s something that’s beyond my understanding.”
Tiernan’s material last time around was quite edgy, touching on everything from sex and religion to alcohol, parenting and life on the road.
He’s self-deprecating, high-energy and non-apologetic, and last year’s audience laughed from the time he walked onstage and asked, “Are there any Irish in the house?” to his finale 90 minutes later, which saw him playing an invisible violin and receiving a standing ovation.
He’ll have entirely new material this time, but will talk about Ireland, give a sort of modern twist on some folk tales and joke about life as a dad, now that he has six kids, ranging in age from one to 19.
(He insists having six is no harder than having one, since it’s “just like watching a television. Doesn’t matter how many channels you have, you’re still watching television. If you have one kid in the house, you could have 40.”)
Tiernan’s got a reputation for offending groups of people with his material about Jesus, eastern European immigrant accents, the Holocaust and Down syndrome, among other topics, but he insists controversial isn’t a word he’d ever use to describe himself, and says he’s only ever been included in controversies that were devised by others.
When it comes to material, comedy only goes too far when it’s not funny, he said, and being unfunny is the only sin in standup, in his eyes. It’s the comedian’s intention and spirit that makes the difference, he believes.
“There’s a huge list of subjects that you have sensitivities toward, or, you know, that you can’t talk about without taking into consideration people’s pain. But I think in the context of comedy, if you make people laugh, then you’ve done your job, really,” he said. “If they’re not laughing, then you’ve got it wrong, and you’ve got it wrong either in your intentions or your spirit or your conceit.”
It’s like tuning into your inner Bugs Bunny and just waiting to see where you end up, Tiernan said.
“Now, there’ll always be Elmer Fudds, hell-bent on destroying you, and you certainly couldn’t call Bugs Bunny a respecter of any tradition, but it’s his spirit that you appreciate. There’s been lots of times when I’ve said the wrong thing or I’ve gone too far, but it’s about as serious as Bugs Bunny.
“In the same way that somebody with a mental illness says something completely off the wall, you allow them, right? I think it’s the same with comedians. We say things that are plainly offensive and ridiculous. I think if we’re viewed through the prism of mental health, it makes it easier for everybody,” Tiernan said, laughing.
Tiernan welcomes feedback and hecklers, saying it’s part of the great democracy of standup comedy. He’s good at dealing with it, too, and often improvises lines based on audience comments.
“That’s why standup is better than opera,” he said. “If people get bored at the opera, they don’t start singing back, ‘This is shit!’ In stand-up, they do.”
Tickets for Tiernan’s “Stray Sod” show are $37.50 (plus tax, including surcharge) and are available at the Mile One Centre box office, by calling 576-7657 or online at www.mileonecentre.com.
Note: In a previous version, it was incorrectly reported that this show was at the Remax Centre. It takes place at the St. John's Convention Centre.