The first thing that strikes you about Tommy Tiernan is how normal he is off-stage - in real life, if you will - the antithesis of the comedian’s manic on-stage personas.
Erudite, clearly witty and exceptionally well spoken, Tiernan is a keen student of comedy, a walking encyclopedia, quick to reference Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks in particular - his heroes.
Confident and intelligent, Tiernan chooses his words carefully, but does not shirk any question. He has just released his latest DVD, the cinematic ‘Crooked Man’ - shot on film in the City Limits club in Cork, where he performed his first ever paid gig as a comedian.
“I am very proud of this one,” says Tiernan of the film - which is what it is. “I wasn’t interested in just lobbing another generic, run of the mill DVD out there, there was no point and I don’t think stand up is best served by that.”
“For me stand up either works when it is intimate and shot well or is just audio - so, we put a bit of effort into deciding what would be exciting to try and do. I would have a big interest in movies and would be a bit of a comedy nerd, but for people who aren’t those things, who just buy a DVD, it has to work as well. It has to just to be for people who don’t buy Sight and Sound magazine, you want it to work as well, and I hope it does.
The film - shot by Richard Ayoade (writer and director of UK film Submarine and Arctic Monkeys collaborator) is drenched in technicolour and is typically gut-burstingly funny, refusing, in his inimitable style, to pull any punches. It is a show he has taken all over the world, from Canada to Australia, and you wonder about its translation outside of these shores.
“You can’t be anything about who you are,” explains Tiernan. “I remember a story teller saying, ‘there is no point in being a Kerryman in Kerry, you might as well be a Kerryman in New York as well’. You don’t have to apologise for being Irish. I am an Irish storyteller, an Irish stand-up comedian, I am not going to try and hide that. I always found it interesting when American comics came over here and talked about America, had their own turn of phrase, it was always interesting to me.”
The tag of story teller fits him perfectly - albeit one verging on lunacy - but he will attempt to blur the lines between stand-up and story telling even more with his new show, which he will bring to Limerick in December.
“One thing I am hoping to do over the next while is get further into the whole Irish storytelling - I am going to attempt to tell the story of the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
“I want to see if I am able to connect with those stories and if I can communicate them to a modern Irish audience. Those old Irish epics were designed to be told to people, they were designed as spoken word pieces and have been turned into dead in the water literary experiments.”
He will structure his show in the UCH as half stand-up, half story telling - but, like any of the places he plays, he will never pull his punches for fear of being “controversial” - a word he has constantly been associated with throughout his career.
“I don’t think anybody ever walked away from one of my shows saying it was controversial,” he says. “We have all read articles trying to create controversy out of my show, but I don’t think the actual show itself is in any way controversial. In terms of risks, I take them, but they are just risks with jokes - I am not driving an overcrowded bus across some mountain road in Pakistan - it is just bit of craic really and Irish people love and need - the nature of craic is that it is a bit out of control. Craic doesn’t do what its told and that is why we love it.”
He will admit, however, that “sometimes you can absolutely cross the line”.
“Maybe sometimes one of my jokes might be a bit mean, but that goes with the territory a little bit, you can’t get it right all the time, and if you told a joke that is a bit mean, that is all it is, just a mean joke and when you finish, you drop it,” he explains.
“I don’t think stand-up is about taking your mind off daily life, I see it as an extension and as a part of daily life. I think we have always resorted to laughter, we have always needed to. I think we survive on begrudgery and laughter and we love talking - I think we just love escapism.”
Tommy Tiernan plays in the UCH on December 14. Crooked Man is out now.