Tommy Tiernan: Stray Sod | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Soho Thearte

Tommy Tiernan: Stray Sod

Note: This review is from 2014

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Soho Thearte

Tommy Tiernan embodies – nay, celebrates – a certain type of wayward Irish spirit of tall tales, bar-room philosophising and playful disobedience.

From ‘the island off the edge of an island’, this uniquely impassioned comedian feels that he and his countrymen are outsiders to the rest of the Western world. But he is not just an amused observer, but an ambassador for that peculiar state of mind that, in his view, defines rural Ireland with its menagerie of ‘slightly mad fuckers’.

When he visited the compliant, corporate world of Dubai, he found it anathema. To audiences there he must surely have seemed like an orc bringing tales of Middle Earth, with its fields that whisper and boys with hair of flame.

Lyricism is part-and-parcel of the world he describes; with a flair for language as vibrant and distinctive as his delivery. He describes the Irish’s lack of instinct in the use of the language the English thrust upon them – but, oxymoronically, his use of words describing this is poetic in the very best sense. The description of the youngsters attending their first communion is similarly priceless.

Making few concessions to the fact he’s playing in London, Tiernan cracked gags about RTE newsreaders, country music singer Big Tom and The Angelus, the subtleties of which might have gone over the heads of the English majority, but add colourful details that give his Ireland a feeling of being ‘someplace else’.

In his averseness to authority, this devil-may-care dervish is reminiscent of Dave Allen. Tiernan preaches that there’s sense in the nonsense, and that we should all be as carefree, as reckless, as he. It’s no surprise that such a declamatory comedian was nearly a priest, but, he tells us, he didn’t get the exam results. Nonetheless, he hopes a comedy gig can be as spiritually cathartic as once were the Masses that no longer move the masses.

And, let’s face it, he’s far greater value to the world as a stand-up. For what more do we want from our comedians – or our artists of any persuasion, come to that – than they follow the calls of their inner voice, and report back. If Tiernan’s inner spirit is a mischievous drunk, so be it.

Of course, there’s a fine line between playing-by-your-own rules genius and self-involved prick – and that line is called talent. For evidence, we were tonight delivered a gobby woman from Lettermore in the third row, who spent half the show recording footage on her phone, and the other half breaking the spell of Tiernan’s magic for everyone else, interrupting anecdotes just because she recognised a place name. He dealt with the situation expertly, but what an awful, arrogant, irritant she was.

Back to the script which, on occasion, is hit by Tiernan’s philosophising getting the better of him. But generally he shows us how to grasp life rather than telling us. Although the consequences of that led to a Bob Dylan number that’s more for his benefit than ours, and a couple of other odd, indulgent moments, such as a bit of stoner hypothesising about how we’re all the same at heart.

Yet such idiosyncrasies are nothing more than bumps in the flow of a creative display of stand-up pyrotechnics, passionately celebrating all that’s distinctive about Ireland and the free-spirited.

Review date: 23 Jan 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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