That’s the thrill of going to see comedians from roughly your own age-group (rough being about right) – as well as recognising the struggle of balancing an existential crisis with a box-set hangover, they usually ensure everyone is safely ensconced in bed by 11pm. Except Tommy Tiernan, who was probably only getting going by the verbal jazz of him, and might well have been found wandering the streets muttering to himself hours after we left.
Was that a groan? Not a fan, eh. Time was, sharp intakes of breath at the mere mention of Tommy were the preserve of the religiously devotional and the blue lotional. Now he tends to trigger a broader sweep of non-committal shrugs occasionally trying to pass themselves off as a maybe. Depending, like.
Part of the problem is that the Tommy I’m talking about is unlikely to be the same one you’re thinking of. Yes, the endless sending-up of our parochial idiosyncrasies isn’t going to cut it on the second or fiftieth hearing. But like the incomprehensible drunk holding court in the town square, if you listen long enough, you’ll hear a passage shot through with enough lucid brilliance to make you pause for thought. Not that Tommy is incomprehensible. Gifted with a majestic turn of phrase, and ability to assemble riffs on an impulse that comes in the shape of a credit card he keeps shoving back into the audience’s sensibilities, it’s as if he’s holding his breath along with the rest of us, waiting for the roll of the notes. A note of exasperation hangs over the gender wars staring his own family, and there are enough considered prods at masculinity to wonder if being stuck in a lift with him and Michael Harding would be really interesting, or really infuriating. Perhaps he should extend those thoughts further into that newspaper column he has yet to be given, because he shouldn’t feel he has to roar to be taken seriously. Something his contemporary, Dylan Moran, would probably agree with.
Tiernan once revealed that having a conversation with Moran was like trying to catch a frog. An image that wouldn’t have looked out of place among Moran’s impressively intricate sketches rolling on loop behind him as he addressed the variety of manifestations of our lunacy two days later. Thought-bubbled images twist and turn just like the tracks of his thoughts with an exquisitely constructed sentence passing through every half minute on the minute. Hipsters are scoffed at; he confesses his life-long smoking habit has been surrendered in exchange for buns, and unexpectedly “cuddly eyes” (“interesting European fat, not American fat”). Coffee fetishists, our dedication to Danish drama, and his diminishing credibility among his own family are witheringly unpicked; all the while verbally doodling surreal scenes of a man showing little resistance to lack of enlightenment, and adapting to the various stages of man: “child, failure, old and dead”. Like Tiernan, he is a man increasingly exiled from his naively imagined place in the world, but neither are ever weary enough to risk disguising the affection for who and what they hold dear.
Which is something that even Stewart Lee, stalwart of non-conformist commentary, can’t avoid, however slight the hints. “I’ve nothing going on in my life these days. It’s taken up with looking after these…like..people.. my family, they’re called my family”. He’s in typically mock contemptuous form. It was far from fifteen hundred seater venues his astute observations were reared, so we’re berated for inconsiderately elevating him to some degree of success and facilitating the purchase of his first house at the tender age of 42. A house with a back garden that just happens to have homeless people congregating behind it; homeless people he might invite to live with him… if he were, say, Russell Brand. A back garden with a fence that is the occasional border with sex workers touting for business; sex workers he could probably pay a tenner to for their thoughts on the political ramifications of paternalistic and exploitative practices that obscures the contradictory positions of women in the world. I think that’s what he said. But he knows he can get that for free at home any time without ever asking for it.
How many middle-class self-deprecating alternative comics does it take to pose for this photo?
The format is trademark Lee: pitting sections of the audience against each other as per the natural mixed ability order (and speed) of laughs. Diatribes are woven together with repetition and call-backs; the mechanics of the deliberately drawn-out punch reveal (less line than clever parallels between seemingly disparate ideas) explained as he goes along. Pity the insolence of anyone unable to keep up; woe betide us all if we did. This particular device of deconstructing his approach is characteristically unconventional but tactical. It gives us permission to stick with the three-yarn structure, and allows him to stick it to his self-regarding Guardian reading fan-base without losing one of them. A cultural snipper departs the stage leaving a few scratched heads strewn in his wake. Brave, fresh, and always fascinating.
A fine week for comedy, and that’s without any mention of the Royal Visit, and Gerry Adams flirting with Panti.