Friday 20 April 2018

Michael O'Doherty: It may sound funny, but the future of Irish chat shows is Tommy Tiernan

Tommy Tiernan with Christy Dignam. Pic: RTE
Tommy Tiernan with Christy Dignam. Pic: RTE
Tommy Tiernan's new chat show is winning rave reviews. Pic: RTE
Comedian Tommy Tiernan on RTE's Cutting Edge
Michael O'Doherty

Michael O'Doherty

Two years ago, a documentary followed Tommy Tiernan as he toured Europe with an improvised comedy show. He had no material prepared for the show, and simply talked about the first thing that came into his mind.

It was a remarkably brave endeavour, and Tommy explained why he chose to do it.

"I've been doing comedy for 18 years...I'm tired of it now. What interests me is just getting up and talking, and seeing if that encounter between a person and a crowd, where it's totally spontaneous, can bring the adventure back into me."

Around the same time, Ryan Tubridy ruminated on the state of the Irish chat show, pointing out how iconoclastic the Late Late was in being perhaps the last show of its kind that was not being presented by someone with a background in comedy.

Tommy Tiernan's new chat show is winning rave reviews. Pic: RTE
Tommy Tiernan's new chat show is winning rave reviews. Pic: RTE

Ryan's point was very astute. Chat shows were no longer about the in-depth, revealing interview in which Annie Murphy or Terry Keane dropped a bombshell on the Irish nation.

Instead, they were about entertainment, and a chat show is surely better if the host has the ability to entertain himself, rather than relying on the guests?

Both of these observations dovetailed in a remarkable fashion last week when not only did Tommy host a new RTE chat show, but did so in the manner of his comedy tour of 2014 - totally improvised.

The format of having three guests come on with the host not knowing their identities is an inspired one. With no time to prepare the subjects to be discussed, the guests cannot insist on plugging their latest gigs, books or shows, and must respond to whatever Tiernan instinctively throws at them.

Tommy Tiernan with Vogue Williams. Pic: RTE
Tommy Tiernan with Vogue Williams. Pic: RTE

On Wednesday, Christy Dignam won the hearts of the nation with a charming and poignant appearance, helped in no small way by Tommy's lack of preparation, which meant he could discuss the only two things most of us know about Christy: his singing and his cancer.

Ironically, this narrow focus meant we had a real insight into Christy - his humility, his humour, and his bravery.

Just as entertaining was the appearance of the second guest, model, TV and radio personality Vogue Williams, about whom Tommy clearly knew nothing.

What had the ingredients of a most awkward interview, however, turned into a moment of TV magic, as Tommy desperately latched onto anything Vogue said to make chit chat.

Meanwhile, the latter took this snub on her celebrity status not only with good grace, but with remarkably good humour.

Alternately interesting and funny, not to mention touching, Tommy's show was unmissable viewing.

Many viewers might question why RTE choose to have two near-identical chat shows on Friday and Saturday nights. Indeed, it may not be long before RTE asks itself that very question.

Like many who saw Tommy's first show, I can confidently say that I've seen the future of the Irish chat show - and it's name is Tommy Tiernan.


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