Eleanor Tiernan is an Irish stand-up comedian and is very funny. She’s been described as “A touch of whimsy while grounded in astute observation” by Chortle and “She wasn’t that funny when I was going out with her” by Many of her Ex-Boyfriends. I interviewed her recently. Here is that interview…
I’ve read that one of the things you like about stand-up comedy is that you get to say things you wouldn’t ordinarily get to say. Is performing quite therapeutic for you?
Absolutely. I find it so liberating. I have many thoughts that are socially unacceptable and can’t say out loud for fear of ruining perfectly nice family and friendly occasions so stand up gives me an opportunity to vent them, provided I can make them funny of course!
Nice! You’re currently performing your “National Therapy Project” show around Ireland, where you’re trying to heal Ireland from it’s past. How’s that going?
It’s going very well. Ireland has been through a tumultuous time politically in recent years. People feel battered and bruised and like they are living with constant disappointment. By studying different types of therapy from around the world I devised a one hour session that citizens can attend to help them with the difficult emotions they have around their nationality. It’s not an attempt to heal Ireland, but an attempt to make the pain of being Irish easier to bear.
That’s really interesting, was your routine on “We need to talk about Ireland” (Funny video below) the first seed of the National Therapy Project? Or did you already plan to do it?
I had the idea to do something but wasn’t sure what. I had been to Australia a couple of months before and visited the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane where there was an exhibition which articulated the rage of Aboriginal people at their treatment and the lack of proper recognition of that. I thought it was incredibly important and that was what I wanted to capture in some way but wasn’t sure how. Then I was asked to perform at the We Need To Talk About Ireland event so it tied in nicely.
I saw your 2014 Ed Fringe show, “Help the Frigid”. It was hilarious! At the end of the show, you had cards placed randomly under some of the seats. Can you tell me more about that routine?
Sure, I tried to end it by recreating a ritual that happens in the catholic mass called the Prayers of the Faithful. In it, members of the congregation one by one approach the pulpit and read out a short prayer asking God to help a needy person or group of people. I wanted to see the audience to perform this ritual but people get nervous speaking in public. So I figured the best way was to get them to do it without really realising it. I gave them no warning and placed prayers under some of the seats (Oprah style). Then with minimal instruction, just telling them that the prayers were there. I kind of let it all happen. Some people still did get shy but it worked way more than I thought it would.
It was brilliant, so much nerves in the room just as the first person went up then after that, everyone was in fits in laughter. Are you playing the Fringe this year?
I’m acting as if I am going i.e. writing a show. But I still haven’t got all the details sorted so I won’t be sure until that’s done.
Question from stand-up comedian Michael Legge: ”In your opinion, who is the tallest comedian?”
Well, firstly I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Michael Legge for his work at raising awareness of the willingness of the physical world to bend to my whim. The tallest comedian is whomever I say is the tallest comedian. For many years now I have been overruling the measurable attributes of bodies with just my mind. You may think that the Seine runs through Paris, but I disagree. It flows through my parent’s bedroom. See? And the tallest comedian in my mind is Katie Mulgrew. A towering genius.
I didn’t know you wielded such power. You were on Comedy Central UK’s “Alternative Comedy Experience” TV show – what was that like?
It was super. The show I was on was with Trevor Lock and Paul Foot who are both brilliant. I love performing in Scotland, in Edinburgh and in the Stand Comedy Club. It really meant a lot to be asked to be in it. And it has helped to introduce me to UK audiences too.
Awesome, that was actually the first time I saw you. You were excellent on it, loved your long pauses. I read that you saw Jurassic 5 at Glastonbury. I saw them last year in Glasgow, it was so good! Did they have that massive turntable in the middle of stage?
Yep. Huge. It looked so big and cartoonish I couldn’t tell if it was actually functioning or not. They looked like they were using it in their tracks but then it could have been just for the performance. I really enjoyed their set but I hadn’t actually seen them before that day so I didn’t know any of their stuff. It was a brilliant performance.
Sweet! I love your car insurance routine; “Feminism is about helping women, it’s not supposed to cost us money”. Feminism is something you talk about frequently Twitter. Are you writing more material on it?
I can’t seem to not write feminist material. It seems to be everywhere these days and material occurs to me in response to my surroundings.
You had a small appearance in stand-up comedian Maeve Higgins “Fancy Vittles” TV show. Was that fun to do?
I did. It was a super well-written show and they should make another one.
You’ve performed some of your own poems on stage, I especially like your short poem “Ode to My Mammy” (Funny video below; 0:26 time stamp). Is that something you’re going to do more of?
I don’t think so at the moment. I had a few poems in my set in the early days and they were a good way get a punchline quickly but i found it a bit restrictive. Also, it’s hard to write poems that are long enough AND funny enough.
That’s true, I guess they are maybe better for shorter sets, rather than an hour-long structured show. What’s your favourite joke of yours that doesn’t get much of a laugh?
I have a joke about following your dreams that is kind of hit and miss. I say that we shouldn’t give people so much credit for following their dreams. The people who deserve credit are people who don’t follow their dreams. They are real heroes. It may not be a joke even now that I think about it.
Ok, last question. Your Ursula McCarthy reporter sketch (Funny video below) on the “Irish Pictorial Weekly” TV show was very popular online. Do you still write and perform for that show?
Indeed I do. We are shooting a new series right now. It will be on TV at the end of march.
If you want more Eleanor Tiernan in your life, check her out on Twitter. Also, there’s some of her upcoming gigs here. She’s also writing a new show and hopes to be performing it at the Ed Fringe this year.