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Saturday 10 December 2016

The Week in Radio: Interviews of the very unexpected

Panti Bliss was a guest on Tommy Tiernan's first 2FM show
Panti Bliss was a guest on Tommy Tiernan's first 2FM show

Subject your ears to enough mainstream Irish radio — drearily predictable and suffocatingly ‘comfortable’ as it often is — and you’ll probably soon find said ears crying out for fresher formats and sounds. Not, of course, that ears can cry out, exactly. I mean... they’re ears.

But what if they could? “Give us formats and sounds that are offbeat and quirky!” they (the ears) might holler. “Not too quirky, mind, as untrammelled quirkiness can be just as irritating as dreary predictability!” they (the ears) might quickly and prudently add.

Ears. They’re worth listening to.

And “worth listening to” is something I’d hoped The Tommy Tiernan Show might prove to be. It promised much. Well, it promised something. It promised — and delivered — Tiernan himself (not everyone’s cup o’ tea, perhaps, but certainly an alternative to the radio norm).

It promised the energy of public performance (episodes were broadcast live from The Sugar Club and Iveagh Gardens). And it promised to shake-up jaded ol’ chat show formats.

The gimmick was simple but novel. Tiernan wouldn’t know the identity of his guests until they walked out to join him.

“And sometimes,” he quipped, “we don’t even know who they are after they’ve walked out.” If the sceptics among you are feeling... er... sceptical as to just how improvised the results were, then you obviously didn’t listen to Saturday’s convincingly ramshackle show.

“Who do we have on the show first?”

Tiernan asked sidekick Fred Cooke (with whom he’d spent the previous several

minutes lamely riffing about booze, lock-ins and an Irish Guantanamo Bay). “The wonderful Panti!” was Cooke’s reply as on Panti came and off its rails went the show.

Not that it was Panti’s fault. She was

articulate. She was entertaining. She comfortably managed to tread a line between candid sincerity and the jokey bantering

the show required of its guests.

Tiernan seemed rather less sure of where that line was. Or maybe he didn’t care. Either way we were left with a show that felt less thrillingly improvisational and more tonally confused.

One minute he was praising Panti’s “bravery and fearlessness,” the next he was making painful ‘gags’ about fluid gender identities and “the fella who was making the dress out of the fat girl’s back in The Silence of the Lambs.”

You could sense a tension. The audience, presumably and understandably, expected stand-up style laughs. Panti, while witty and engaging, wasn’t exactly there to play that kind of game.

“I’m getting heavy on you here,” Panti said. “I can take the weight,” Tiernan replied, though his broad wisecracking during the interview’s more earnest moments suggested otherwise.

Tiernan’s final interview of the series,

with author Donal Ryan, almost achieved a kind of poetic/hilarious absurdity (emphasis on almost). “What kind of style of writing do

you have?” Tiernan asked, after admitting

he hadn’t read any of Ryan’s books.

“It’s a very open style... I’m guessing.” And what could he do, under the circumstances, but guess? 

He tried to guess the title of Ryan’s Booker long-listed novel (he got close on that one).

He tried to guess at themes in Ryan’s work based on “feelings” he’d had when “reading about” that work (with mixed results).

With more of a sure sense of itself the show might have come across as refreshingly bizarre. As it was, however, what we were left with felt more like a sloppy mess.

The Tommy Tiernan Show

2fm, Saturday

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