There wasn’t much fanfare involved in Tommy Tiernan’s first show at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre Monday night. Before all audience members had taken their seats, the house lights dimmed and the Irish comedian was suddenly there without announcement, clad in a gray three-piece suit, smiling and waving in a spotlight on an otherwise black and empty stage.
“Are there any Irish in the house?” he asked, and received a roar of applause and cheers.
Tiernan — who holds the impressive title of being second only to U2 in live show tickets sales in Ireland — opened his 90-minute stand-up gig talking about arriving in Newfoundland for the first time and encountering accents much like his own.
“It was like a f**king episode of ‘Dr. Who,’” Tiernan said.
Nothing held dear was safe with Tiernan around: his material, often self-deprecating, touched on religion and his time in a Catholic boarding school, alcohol, sex, parenting, life on the road, soccer, and even the troubled Irish economy.
“Money doesn’t suit us, anyway” he joked.
There were a few profound moments when he mused on religious meanings and ambition, declaring he’d rather attempt to play an invisible fiddle in the dark and presume someone could hear it than live a life of rationality and logic.
Tiernan held his audience captive, the crowd shouting out to respond to his questions, rhetorical or not (“Do you have Pringles over here? Do you have Guinness in St. John’s? What’s a good bar to go to?”) and alternating between laughing hysterically and holding their hands to their mouths in I-can’t-believe-he-actually-went-there moments.
There were a number of times when Tiernan improvised his routine, like a bit about sports drinks when a tickle in his throat forced him to get a drink from off-stage, or when, while talking about the economy, an audience member in the balcony told him of the upcoming election.
“Yes, but nothing’s going to f**king change, is it?” Tiernan said before launching into a seemingly ad-libbed set.
Though his comedy is edgy, it never crossed the line into offensive this time (Tiernan’s got a reputation for offending numerous groups of people with his material about Jesus, eastern European immigrant accents, the Holocaust and Down Syndrome, among other topics). Anyone offended by the F-word, however, would likely disagree.
The audience found Tiernan’s material about his home life especially hilarious, particularly a 15-minute bit near the end about contraception, and his debate over his purebred dog.
“The wind changes and he won’t go outside,” Tiernan said. “You buy one of those Jack Russell terrier mutts in a public toilet for a fiver and the f**king thing is indestructible.”
Tiernan’s finale — in which he actually plays his invisible violin — was fantastic, and had audience members out of their seats giving him a standing ovation.
Tiernan performs a second show at the Arts and Culture Centre tonight, added after Monday’s performance sold out, before continuing on his cross-Canada Just for Laughs tour. Tickets are $35.50, taxes in, plus surcharge, and are available at the box office or by calling 729-3900.