Just For Laughs – in conversation with legendary Irish comic Tommy Tiernan

Tommy Tiernan

Irish comic Tommy Tiernan made his Just For Laughs debut back in 1998; however, it wasn’t until his appearance at a gala six years later, and his energetic set about religion and Jesus, that got him an uproarious standing ovation, and in turn, became an automatic fan favourite at JFL.

And now Tommy returns to Just For Laughs for its milestone 40th anniversary edition to perform his new solo show “Tomfoolery”, which is playing at Le Gesu from July 25-30.

“Coming back to Montreal for the 40th anniversary of the festival, I get this fear of inadequacy. I have this flock of stories and reflections about Irish culture, but there is a ghost of a tremendous religion that has to process a type of post-traumatic stress disorder because of 800 years of colonization. As well, Ireland is a country where it rains a lot,” said Tiernan during a recent live Zoom call from County Clare on the west coast of Ireland, where he was in the middle of a tour, which included performances in front of audiences ranging from 150 to 500 to 2000 people.

Tommy Tiernan

“I have stories about another country for a Canadian audience, which is like a collision of cultures, and by telling them, I hope to find some way of a connection between the Irish and the Canadians,” he continued. “I look forward to the challenge and the thrill of performing here. It will give me some hope of achieving world domination.”

No matter what hang ups or anxieties he possesses about returning to Montreal to perform at Just For Laughs, Tommy enjoys making that journey to the festival, and has some interesting perspectives about the Canadian style of comedy. “Montreal is a place where I get the chance to encounter certain comedians that I wouldn’t normally encounter,” he said. “And Canadian stand-up comedy is more surreal, especially that of Sean Cullen and Harland Williams. Canadians have grown up watching British sitcoms on their TV networks, and they get the silliness that went with them, which is why Canadian comics are on top of their game.”

For those who are well reared on the subject of British comedy and humour, the title of Tommy’s show “Tomfoolery” can bring to mind the 19th century British satirist Edward Lear, and the association of the expression Tomfoolery with sheer nonsense. It’s a title that Tommy firmly believes is quite fitting with his latest solo show.

“I like the title; it’s a good one. It suggests a sense of meaning without delivery. It’s not a decision, it just happens,” he said. “I want the audience not to get bored. I want them to stay awake during the show, which is why I am always trying to surprise both myself and the audience with every show I do.”

For those who have seen Tommy’s past performances at past festivals, he is known for his manic, energetic stage presence, in which he prances and leaps around the stage, waves his arms and engages in a variety of gesticulations, and loudly expresses his take on the number of issues he tackles as part of his material. But to Tommy, that is not always the case.

“I am not as manic or playful as people think I am. It’s a constant negotiation for me. I just have to find the right kind of theatricality and speed and then I go for it. I am always on the hunt for an energy source. Sometimes I am very energetic on stage, sometimes I am not,” he explains.

Since his show stopping performance at Just For Laughs in 2004, Tommy has amassed an impressive list of honours and credits. In 2006, he was recognized with the Ireland’s Funniest Living Person Award at its People of the Year Awards ceremony; he has starred in the series Derry Girls, in which its final season will stream on Netflix this September; and he also stars in the Hulu show Conversations with Friends, which debuted this past May.

However, one of Tommy’s credits struck an intriguing note with this journalist. It’s as host of his own self-titled talk show which has been airing on Irish television since 2017. This is not your average TV talk show; in this one, there is an element of both surprise and the unknown, as both Tommy and the members of the studio audience don’t who the guests are until the moment they appear onstage.

“David Letterman has always been my hero because he was always funny in the moment,” he said. “Letterman didn’t have to refer to the same jokes for a year-and-a-half, and his talk show always had the element of invention, which is why he always had room for new and unusual routines, and the show remained lively.”

Tommy came up with the idea for his talk show in a rather unusual manner. “I was drunk in a hotel room in northern England. I was lying on a terrible hotel bed in a terrible town and all of a sudden, I began laughing. That’s when I started to realize about the potential and challenges of being funny in the moment. So I proposed my talk show idea to Ireland’s national broadcaster, and things began to happen quickly. And right now, it’s the prime chat show every Saturday night on Irish television,” he said.

The premise of his popular talk show is a rather risky one, Tommy admits, and he likes how the audience and the viewers respond to this element of risk. “Each week, we have three guests who are either famous or unknown. And because of that sense of the unknown, an off-the-cuff conversation happens that can last between 20 and 30 minutes,” he said. “As a result, there is a bonding that happens between the guests, myself and the audience, who just love what took place in front of them. This is a refreshing change to the talk show format, because these days, they can be so predictable and formulaic. On my show, people get the chance to listen to a good conversation and listen well to it.”

* * *

One of the festival’s hottest tickets since 1987, the Nasty Show returned to present in front of a live audience at the MTelus the finest in blue, edgy, rated-X, eyebrow-raising comedy. Nasty Show veteran Big Jay Oakerson returned, this time as the host, as he got things off to a raunchy start, especially how he dissected a joke he did on his radio show with a finely-sharpened scalpel that dealt with female police officers, which he got called on by a female audience member after a show he did in Cincinnati. Other Nasty Show highlights included Canadian comedian Sophie Buddle, whose sweet voice and demeanor – as well as her routine about fat people, gun ownership in America and vibrators – belied the Canadian stereotype of being overly polite; Liza Treyger did some pretty decent crowd work, and entertained the audience as she tackled such adult subjects as Pornhub, porn stars, losing (and regaining) 40 pounds, and the dilemmas with bisexuality; and Robert Kelley closed the show in a big way with his mastery of crowd work, how he role-played with his wife for the very first time, the difference between condom use during the AIDS epidemic and wearing a mask during COVID, the different levels of fat people and the golden age of cigarette commercials on TV.

* * *

And in other Just For Laughs news, the ComedyPro conference, which runs between July 27 and 30 at the Double Tree by Hilton hotel, have announced the following additions to its schedule: Bob and Nate Odenkirk will lead a panel discussion on the topic “An Ear For Comedy” (July 28, 3:30 p.m.); Just For Laughs’ favorite enfant terrible, Andy Kindler, returns with his must-see State of the Industry address (July 28, 5 p.m.);  the hot CBS and Paramount+ series Ghosts will be the subject of what promises to be a lively panel discussion called “CBS presents: A Spirited Conversation with the Cast of Ghosts” (July 30, 3:30 p.m.), which will be led by its executive producer and showrunner Joe Port, along with several members of the cast; and the new HBOMax series Rap Sh!t, which focusses on 20-something female relationships through music and comedy,  will be spotlighted with a panel discussion on July 28 at 12:30 p.m., and will feature executive producer Deniese Davis and the entire cast.

Just For Laughs will be doing its part for the Welcome Hall mission’s Montreal Helps Montreal fundraising and awareness campaign, especially its programs that that aid youth at risk, families who are disconnected from basic health services, and individuals who are experiencing the sting of homelessness. During the course of the festival, anyone who is present at the festival site or any of its venues and would like to make a donation to the campaign, can do it quite easily, and all it takes is a tip-tap. A number of TipTap devices have been installed at these locations, where donations can be done by simply tapping your credit or debit card. The donation devices can be found at the following locations: Place des Arts (in the lobbies of Salle Wilfrid Pelletier, Theatre Maisonneuve and Salle Duceppe), the St. Denis Theater, the Monument National theater, Le Gesu, the lobby of the DoubleTree Hotel, the Bell Center, MTelus, Studio TD and Club Soda.

And as the icing on the proverbial 40th anniversary cake, Just For Laughs has been announced as one of the first group of inductees for Canada’s Walk of Fame’s Class of 2022. The festival has been recognized for its profound impact and legacy in the arts and entertainment field. The induction ceremony will take place on December 3 during a star-studded special gala event at the Beanfield Centre in Toronto, which will in turn air on CTV at a later date.

* * *

For more information about, or to purchase tickets to, any Just For Laughs show, go to www.hahaha.com.

Other articles from mtltimes.ca – totimes.ca – otttimes.ca

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