herald

Sunday 21 October 2018

How could reporter take my interview with Tommy out of context?

When Herald columnist Olaf Tyaransen interviewed Tommy Tiernan for an Electric Picnic event, he had no idea that two weeks later the answer to one final question that night, about anti-semitism, would cause a storm brewed up, says Olaf, by 'clueless columnists'

At about 6.30pm on Saturday, September 5, in Stradbally, comedian Tommy Tiernan shook my hand at the culmination of an extremely well-received public interview at the Electric Picnic.

"Thanks a million, Olaf," he said. "That was great craic. Probably better than tonight's show will be!"

At that moment, I'm confident neither of us had even the slightest idea that the interview would prove to be the most controversial he'd ever done.

As I write these words, Tommy is at the centre of an international brouhaha that could destroy his career.

Meanwhile, a mere leaf in the slipstream of this sh**storm, I've been labelled a "buffoon" for laughing at one of his jokes.

He's being vilified as a hateful racist in the international press, fried as a talentless anti-Semite on internet messageboards, and condemned by archbishops, politicians and clueless newspaper columnists.

In a cruelly simple twist of fate, it was Tommy's generosity with his time that caused this controversy.

The interview was hilarious. Tommy commented on Cowen ("The man should be sent to prison; we should adopt Chinese gulags"), Tubridy's Late Late debut ("It's like discovering that Kermit the Frog is a serial killer") and being penetrated with a sex toy ("My back went rigid -- f***ing awful experience").

Aware he had to be onstage in the Comedy Tent in 90 minutes, I announced there was only time for one last question.

Two enthusiastic audience members raised their hands, and Tommy said: "There are two. The hat fella over there and the green T-shirt man. Sure, we'll do both of them."

Fateful

Amusingly enough, the hat man's question was about hats and it provoked a joke about U2's Edge: "What kind of a man gets his hats specially made? Take a chance -- go to Penneys."

Green T-shirt man's fateful question was: "Have you ever been accused of being anti-Semitic?"

Tommy responded by telling a story about an irate Jewish couple who'd approached him after a New York show.

They'd taken serious offence at a routine gag he tells about the Jews denying they'd anything to do with the death of Jesus Christ (punchline: "Well, it wasn't the f***in' Mexicans").

He went on to speak about the kind of attitudes that he considers acceptable on a comedic stage. "It's about being reckless and irresponsible and joyful, it's not about being careful and Protestant and Scottish and mannered."

Then a mad look came into his eyes and he spoke the words that, whatever way this messy situation pans out, will probably haunt him to his grave: "F***in' Christ-killin' b***ards! F***in' six million? I would've got 10 or 12 million out of that!" It went on from there, but you get the gist.

The interview was filmed and went online a fortnight ago. Last weekend, a Sunday newspaper ran the front-page headline: "Comedian's Startling Attack On Jews." And the s**t hit the non-fans.

Context is everything, but it was totally missed in the subsequent media explosion.

As a concerned member of Tommy's camp told me: "This quote is being touted around the world as something Tommy told you in an interview. But really it was a public performance."

Unfortunately, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

Was Tommy expressing a personal opinion about the Jewish people or the Holocaust? No, he most certainly wasn't. Did he cross a line in the borders of acceptability and taste? To some he did, to others he didn't. But that's comedy.

Will this scupper Tommy Tiernan's career? Probably not. Fifty times more famous than he was this time last week, he'll undoubtedly deal with this situation in his own way.

Personally, I'd love to see him goosestep onto tonight's Late Late in a Nazi uniform and see how Kermit the Frog handles it.

hnews@herald.ie

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