“Con­tro­versy fol­lows him like a stalker.” Brian Boyd on Tommy Tier­nan

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Weekly Guide To Entertainment Friday 25.09.2009 - irish­­icket/

TOMMY Tier­nan used to do a joke about the old Chris­tian con­tention that the Jews killed Je­sus: “The Jews say they didn’t kill Je­sus. Well, it wasn’t the f**kin’ Mex­i­cans was it?” In the con­text and con­fines of a live com­edy club, it was a line that al­ways worked well for him. He brought this joke up in a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion ar­ranged by Hot Press mag­a­zine at the Elec­tric Pic­nic ear­lier this month.

Asked by an au­di­ence mem­ber if he had ever been ac­cused of anti-Semitism (Tier­nan has been ac­cused of many “isms” dur­ing his ca­reer), he replied that the above line had up­set two Jewish peo­ple at a show he did in New York.

They ap­proached him af­ter­wards to re­mon­strate with him about the na­ture of the joke. The cou­ple’s com­plaint, he said, was that “the Is­raelis are a hunted peo­ple” and there­fore the joke was in­sen­si­tive.

He spoke about the na­ture of his ma­te­rial and how it can cause of­fence: “It’s all about be­ing reck­less and ir­re­spon­si­ble and joy­ful. It’s not about be­ing care­ful ... and man­nered. It’s trust­ing your own soul and al­low­ing what­ever lu­nacy is in­side you to come out in a spe­cial pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple know that noth­ing is be­ing taken se­ri­ously.

“But th­ese Jews, th­ese f**kin’ Jew c**ts came up to me. F**kin’ Christ-killing b**t**ds! F**kin’ six mil­lion? I would have got 10 or 12 mil­lion out of that. No f**kin’ prob­lem! F**kin’ two at a time, they would have gone! Hold hands, get in there! Leave us your teeth and your glasses!”

When re­pro­duced in print, this pas­sage cer­tainly has the power to shock, and it has been roundly con­demned.

The in­ter­view took place on Satur­day Septem­ber 6th but Tier­nan’s re­marks weren’t widely re­ported un­til last Sun­day, when The Sun­day Tri­bune ran a story quot­ing what he had said. From this we can as­sume that none of the au­di­ence at the Elec­tric Pic­nic in­ter­view was moved to com­plain about what he had said.


In the Sun­day Tri­bune, Fine Gael TD Alan Shat­ter called it “a dis­gust­ing and un­ac­cept­able out­burst” and crit­i­cised the au­di­ence for laugh­ing through­out: “I would re­gard it as par­tic­u­larly sad that peo­ple found this sort of out­burst in any way amus­ing.”

At a Mass this week, the Arch­bishop of Dublin Dr Diar­muid Martin spoke about Tier­nan’s words, say­ing: “Com­edy does not bring with it un­lim­ited li­cence. Com­edy can eas­ily be the fore­run­ner of in­tol­er­ance.”

The Jewish Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil of Ire­land has also con­demned the com­ments, stat­ing: “Not alone were the com­ments in­sen­si­tive and deeply hurt­ful to the many Jewish peo­ple whose rel­a­tives were mur­dered dur­ing the Holo­caust, they run the risk of in­cit­ing racism ...

“The Coun­cil ... hopes that all right-minded peo­ple will join in con­dem­na­tion of Mr Tier­nan’s of­fen­sive re­marks.

The story has now gone in­ter­na­tional, and head­lines such as “Ir­ish co­me­dian in trou­ble over ‘Kill Jews’ re­marks” have ap­peared widely on the in­ter­net.


Tier­nan has not spo­ken to ei­ther the Sun­day Tri­bune or The Ticket, but he did post a mes­sage on his web­site (www.tom­mytier­ on Mon­day say­ing: “I am greatly up­set by the thought that th­ese com­ments have caused hurt to oth­ers as this was never my in­ten­tion. The Elec­tric Pic­nic in­ter­view with Hot Press mag­a­zine has been taken so far out of con­text that I am quite be­wil­dered.

“The things that I said in front of a live au­di­ence were in an at­tempt to ex­plain my be­lief that one of the du­ties of the comic per­former is to be reck­less and ir­re­spon­si­ble and that the things they say should NEVER be taken out of con­text.

“If you read the full tran­script or lis­ten to the pod­cast you will see that I pref­ace my rant by say­ing that it should not be taken se­ri­ously and as such, the rant took place as an ex­am­ple of my ar­gu­ment.

“While it is out of con­text, which it most def­i­nitely is now, it seems cal­lous, cruel and ig­no­rant. This is not the first time that some­thing like this has hap­pened and it prob­a­bly won’t be the last. How­ever, as a pub­lic per­former, I can only hope that what­ever wild, ir­re­spon­si­ble and reck­less things that come into my head will be taken in the con­text which they were said.”


At time of go­ing to press, the pod­cast of the full Elec­tric Pic­nic in­ter­view is still avail­able on­, and Hot Press it­self is stand­ing be­hind Tier­nan. The per­son who con­ducted the Elec­tric Pic­nic in­ter­view, Hot Press’s Olaf Tyaransen ex­plains that the “rant” that has caused the con­tro­versy came af­ter 30 very en­ter­tain­ing min­utes with the comic.

“Not one mem­ber of the au­di­ence took what he said at face value; the re­marks were taken as hu­mor­ous be­cause he had built it up that way. He be­gan by talk­ing about peo­ple tak­ing of­fence at one of his jokes, then he gave a dra­matic and ex­ag­ger­ated ex­am­ple of caus­ing of­fence. Peo­ple were laugh­ing – and I was laugh­ing – be­cause it was a comedic per­for­mance that ex­ag­ger­ated the no­tion of ‘caus­ing of­fence’. “In the con­text, the re­marks were not meant as anti-Semitic in any way. I am not anti-Semitic but I found my­self laugh­ing be­cause it was Tommy Tier­nan in full flight as a com­edy per­former drama­tis­ing how to re­ally of­fend.”


And in an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished in yes­ter­day’s edi­tion of Hot Press, which also car­ries a full tran­script of the in­ter­view, ed­i­tor Niall Stokes writes: “If Alan Shat­ter reads the in­ter­view and comes to the con­clu­sion that Tommy Tier­nan is prej­u­diced against Jews, then he is suf­fer­ing from a lifethreat­en­ing hu­mour by-pass and needs to get it at­tended to quickly ... The fact is that the in­ter­view turned – as many of Tommy Tier­nan’s in­ter­views do – into a spon­ta­neous comic per­for­mance in which he im­pro­vises around what­ever sub­jects are thrown at him ... What he said was strong, re­fer­ring to the fact that he’d have killed not six mil­lion but 10 mil­lion or 12 mil­lion Jews.

“But, while you have to read the full in­ter­view to un­der­stand what was go­ing on and to see it in con­text, only an idiot could think that he was ex­press­ing his own feel­ings.” IF THERE’S a sense of déjà vu here it’s be­cause, since Tier­nan came to promi­nence af­ter winning the Per­rier prize at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val in 1998, he has built up a quite a port­fo­lio of “of­fen­sive” ma­te­rial.

As a comic he is pro­foundly in­flu­enced by the leg­endary US icon­o­clast Lenny Bruce, who was fre­quently ar­rested for de­liv­er­ing “ob­scene ma­te­rial”.

Tier­nan is not your typ­i­cal comic, chuck­ing out tepid ob­ser­va­tional inani­ties to get a guest slot on a TV panel show. His is an in­tense and pas­sion­ately felt style of com­edy. He is clearly abun­dantly tal­ented and phe­nom­e­nally pop­u­lar. In the space of just over a year, he sold out Dublin’s Vicar Street venue 166 times.

The at­trac­tion, for many, is that he is not just a gag-mer­chant but some­one who dances around the lines of taste and de­cency. Con­tro­versy fol­lows him around like a stalker.

In his first high-pro­file TV ap­pear­ance on The Late Late Show, he was the sub­ject of 300 com­plaints to the sta­tion due to a “mock­ing” rou­tine on the cru­ci­fix­ion. Af­ter the show he couldn’t leave the stu­dio for sev­eral hours be­cause an an­gry crowd had gath­ered out­side RTÉ. Since then there have been com­plaints and con­dem­na­tion aris­ing from ma­te­rial he has done about Trav­ellers and peo­ple with Down syn­drome.

He has used some of th­ese con­tro­ver­sies to stun­ning comedic ef­fect. The show that won him the Per­rier award in Ed­in­burgh, based on a Late Late Show ap­pear­ance and its fall­out, was a cor­us­cat­ing de­con­struc­tion of tra­di­tional Ir­ish Catholi­cism.

If you were to take Tier­nan’s re­marks about the Holo­caust at face value, it would be hard not to view them as wicked. But you might also choose to see them in the way he says they were in­tended. He asks that we con­sider them in the con­text of an en­ter­tainer reach­ing around dur­ing a live in­ter­view for dra­matic and ex­treme im­agery. The de­ci­sion on how to in­ter­pret them lies with the re­ceiver.

Next month, Tier­nan does a se­ries of dates in the US, where re­marks of this na­ture could be even less pop­u­lar. As he says him­self this is prob­a­bly not the last time his re­marks will cause of­fence.

The com­ments were made at a Q&A ses­sion at the Elec­tric Pic­nic three weeks ago, but be­came widely pub­li­cised only last week­end

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