nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 28, 2006
I had a grand time at Tommy Tiernan's comedy show Loose. Stand-up can be deadly to watch if you're not on the same wavelength as the performer and the rest of the crowd. The audience at the Actors Playhouse the night that I saw Tiernan's show—mostly Irish, like Tiernan himself—were about as simpatico a crowd as one could wish for, and as a result the evening rolled by blissfully, easily, and hilariously.
Tiernan is well-known in Ireland as an actor and a comedian, and he's becoming (deservedly) somewhat famous in the U.S., now, too. His style is cheerfully shrewd and satiric; he reminded me of the young George Carlin as he poked big holes in sacred cows like organized religion and world politics, deftly funny and scathingly smart at the same time.
Tiernan expects his audience to listen and, more important, to think. What bothers him the most seems to be the efforts of large established institutions to stifle the independent reasoning of the public. So he rails at the dogma of the Church, whether delivered from the pulpit or derived from a literal reading of the Bible. And he's just as hard on the hypocrites who hold sway/power in other areas of public life, (there's a clever bit, for example, about the celebrities who have appropriated the AIDS crisis as their cause of the moment).
But the most important thing you need to know about Tommy Tiernan is that he's VERY funny. I'm tempted to try to repeat some of his jokes for you, but that never works, and anyway I hate to give them away. So instead I'll attempt to capture his range: stories about his childhood (spent in Africa and several different cities in the UK) are interspersed with his own experiences as a father; witty comments about current events and celebrities alternate with dry observations about such passing absurdities as the city of Dublin's observance of Samuel Beckett's centenary (in which quotes from Beckett's works are plastered on the sides of buildings; think about it).
Tiernan's stories are often convoluted and complicated; characters and themes spring up, disappear, and then recur in unexpected places. Some of his notions are dazzlingly off-the-wall (like the idea that chess pieces ought to have wheels: then it would be a real game, he tells us). And some of his language is astonishingly poetic (as when he says that someone fell "fifty flights of air" from the top of a building).
Best of all, there are sequences in Loose that build, with happy irreverence, until we are reduced to blubbering mounds of laughter. There's a story about a funeral service that he attended as a boy that provokes this kind of raucous reaction, as much from recognition as from the shock factor of deflating something so serious.
So, if you like to think as well as laugh, then Tiernan may be just the act for you this summer. I know I will be watching for his next appearance in New York City!