Grin when you’re win­ning

De­spite hav­ing a cer­tain fa­mous cousin in the pro­fes­sion, Eleanor Tier­nan is as­suredly mak­ing her own mark on the Ir­ish com­edy scene, writes Brian Boyd

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Comedy -

AS SHE walked past a well­known Dublin com­edy club, Eleanor Tier­nan no­ticed her name writ­ten down as a forth­com­ing at­trac­tion. “I was re­ally chuffed” says the Roscom­mon co­me­dian, “un­til af­ter my name the pro­moter had put in brack­ets, ‘cousin of Tommy,’ which I thought was a re­ally stupid thing to do. Would you go and see and act on the ba­sis that they were a re­la­tion of some­one well­known?”

Tier­nan is in­deed a first cousin of megas­tar Tommy, which she says, can be a dou­bleedged sword.

“The good thing about it is that I have a re­ally nice and funny per­son as a cousin. It’s also hav­ing some­one you can bounce ideas off and hav­ing some­one who un­der­stands the in­dus­try. At the mo­ment, I’m sup­port­ing Tommy on his Bovin­ity tour, and I tend to get it out of the way early on by just mak­ing a joke about the con­nec­tion.

“It might also be an ad­van­tage with cer­tain pro­mot­ers, par­tic­u­larly if, like the ex­am­ple above, they might just have booked me on the ba­sis of who my cousin is – which, again, is a re­ally stupid thing to do. At the back of some peo­ple’s minds, they might think I’ve had an eas­ier time out of it, which isn’t the case.”

When she first be­gan as a stand-up comic a few years ago, Tier­nan ac­tu­ally toyed with the idea of chang­ing her sur­name. “The prob­lem there was that I did a few open-mic spots in the clubs un­der my real name and then I thought that if I change it now, it will just look re­ally odd, so I kept it.”

It would be a shame to con­tinue re­fer­ring to Tier­nan in terms of her ex­tended fam­ily be­cause she is a very bright and very fresh new tal­ent in her own right. On stage, she comes across as slightly ditzy and very know­ing at the same time, a com­bi­na­tion which al­lows her to roam most any­where with her ma­te­rial. When asked about the con­tent of her act, she replies with a dis­arm­ing ea­ger­ness: “hu­man fail­ings”.

Athlone, where’s she from, has never re­ally been a hot bed of comedic ac­tion (at least, not in­ten­tion­ally). The near­est place to try out new ma­te­rial is Gerry Mal­lon’s Cuba Club in Gal­way. So the best thing for Tier­nan was to en­rol as a drama stu­dent in Dublin, where she at least could find com­edy clubs to prac­tise in. Be­fore this, she worked for a while as a civil en­gi­neer.

“It didn’t re­ally work out for me,” she says rue­fully. “In civil en­gi­neer­ing, you’re sup­posed to get things right all the time – and I didn’t al­ways get thing right.”

As an en­gi­neer, she did some work on the M50 mo­tor­way and, as she notes in her set, “if you’re on the M50 and have to pass un­der the bridge at Lif­fey Val­ley, best to do it quickly.” Bet­ter not probe too much in that.

Drama col­lege suited Tier­nan fine, be­cause she al­ways saw her­self more as a comic ac­tress than a straight co­me­dian.

“My in­flu­ences would have been peo­ple such as Jen­nifer Saun­ders and not stand-ups. It was while I was at col­lege that I be­gan do­ing open-mic slots in com­edy clubs. Peo­ple tell you it’s ter­ri­fy­ing, but I re­ally had no clue what I was do­ing, so it didn’t bother me that much. There was no pres­sure on me, be­cause I thought I was go­ing to be an ac­tress.”

When asked about what sort of co­me­dian she is, she al­ways replies with a quote a friend gave her. “When my friend saw me, she said: ‘You come across like a teacher who has been let go from her job for do­ing some­thing in­ap­pro­pri­ate but is still in de­nial about it’. I thought that was bril­liant so I still use it.”

Tier­nan still likes to flex her dra­matic mus­cles. At last year’s Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val, she picked up good re­views for her Help, a com­edy drama about a strug­gling co­me­dian. The show also starred an­other cousin, ac­tress Ni­amh Tier­nan, and was di­rected by Tommy.

“He couldn’t make it to Ed­in­burgh last year, so he did some­thing we call ‘re­mote di­rect­ing’. He would ring us af­ter ev­ery show and asked us what worked and what didn’t etc and sort of di­rected from afar. It worked quite well.”

Cousin Tommy is not in­volved in the se­quel to Help, called That’s Deep, which is about a co­me­dian who has just won the Per­rier Prize at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val. Writ­ten and star­ring Eleanor and Ni­amh, it won’t go to Ed­in­burgh this year, but will de­but at the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber.

For this year’s Ed­in­burgh, Tier­nan is in­volved in a dou­ble-header with Amer­i­can comic John O’Don­nell called Ir­ish-Amer­i­can. “We’ll both be look­ing at the cul­tural stereo­types of Ire­land and the US as a start­ing point.” She re­cently did some shows in New York “in re­ally tiny clubs. The one thing I re­ally learnt from the ex­pe­ri­ence was the ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity to speak a lot slower than I do over here.”

Be­fore start­ing on Ir­ish-Amer­i­can, Tier­nan will ap­pear at the Carls­berg Com­edy Fes­ti­val in Iveagh Gar­dens, Dublin.

Tier­nan is just one of a few very tal­ented Ir­ish fe­male comics, among them Maeve Hig­gins and Carol Tobin, who all seem to have ar­rived at the same time. The gen­der is­sue leaves her bored and un­in­ter­ested.

“You do get asked about it all the time. Ques­tions like what’s it like be­ing a wo­man do­ing stand-up com­edy and all that sort of stuff. I thought we were over that level of silly talk, but ev­i­dently not.”

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