MONTREAL – Tommy Tiernan is a force. He’s a goddamn force. Spend an hour watching Ireland’s biggest comedian and you couldn’t disagree—unless you’re dead inside. His performance at the Imperial Theatre Friday night for the Just For Laughs festival yielded a partial standing ovation; and here’s why. He’s a fucking force.
A few bits into his show, Tiernan tells the crowd that his show is like a “breathing hole.” It’s the place we’re allowed to ascend to – or descend, depending how you look at it – after a day of being nice to people and suppressing our impulses. He also explains that, “stand-up comedy is reckless” and that “there are things that will be said in here that will not work in the outside world.” Later, he tells the crowd that it seems the older we get, the more rules are levied upon us. Governments “try to legislate instinct out of society.” Each time Tiernan peppers one of these declarations on his set, he helps transform the concept of stand-up comedy into somewhat of a movement, a place for spiritual revelation through comedy.
Armed with a breadth of comic abilities rivaled by no one in stand-up today – no one! – Tiernan is able to expertly write and perform jokes born from every corner of the mind. Politics, graphic sex, family, relationships, international observations and drugs: it’s all covered with the energy of an erect 18-year-old – the wiry comic makes light on his feet and sweats profusely – and the focus of a learned, quick-witted prophet.
Throughout the show, titled Tommy Tiernan, Eh, he knocks Barack Obama down—and not in that Daily Show-esque way, wherein they poke fun at the president only because they did it to the last guy. Instead, Tiernan acts like he wants to take the piss out of Obama. He enjoys telling the Canadian crowd that Obama is just another tool of the system and not at all the champion of the people most think he is. “America won’t be saved until they elect a tree as president,” he says, referring to the idea that none of us are just people, that in the past we were trees or rivers and the like. Lofty? Sure, but Tiernan doesn’t take it too seriously.
One of Tiernan’s most astute observations of the night was about America as well. As Tiernan tells it, we spend all our lives faking niceties. In Ireland, he says, “we don’t say ‘have a nice day.’ We say ‘good luck’ because we know it’s a cruel world.” Then, in order to wind down from their days, Americans go home and watch the most vile, violent television programming like CSI.
Tiernan is everything a well-rounded comic should be: beyond delivering an enormous rate of laughs per minute, he’s introspective, fearless and inspiring.