JFL40: Review | Tommy Tiernan ‘Tomfoolery’

Pop Goes The News – It’s both fitting and a little disconcerting that Tommy Tiernan is presenting his latest Tomfoolery show at Gesù, a former Roman Catholic church, during Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival.

It’s fitting because Tiernan is Catholic (he’ll share his wife’s reaction to the Virgin Mary tattoo on his left forearm) but it’s disconcerting because most of his material would make the nuns blush.

On opening night, Tiernan kicked off his show with some ripped-from-the-headlines jokes about the Pope’s visit to Canada to formally apologize to Indigenous communities – jokes that had many in the audience muttering “too soon.” (There was also plenty of cringing as he repeatedly referred to “the Indians.”)

Luckily, Tiernan went on to deliver more than an hour of the kind of material that has made him one of the most original and respected comedians around. He paced the stage and frequently averted his gaze as he shared stories that were moving and hilarious about family, memorable strangers and personal experiences. 

Big laughs came from his retelling of a particularly bad appearance on an Irish talk show and from a description of a prostate exam that left little to the imagination. (There may have been some other zingers but I was too busy wondering what happened to his dogs…)

There’s something refreshingly frantic and unpredictable about Tiernan’s show. One minute you’re laughing at a joke and the next you’re wondering why he’s singing a Bob Dylan song whilst playing air guitar. One minute he’s in character as an African school teacher and the next he’s screaming about the need to send troops into Ukraine.

Tomfoolery, which is restricted to audiences 18 and up, is not for snowflakes. It’s also not for anyone expecting traditional set-up-and-punchline delivery. Tiernan is a storyteller, so prepare to settle in and let him take you on a wild ride.

Tommy Tiernan’s Tomfoolery takes place nightly until July 30 at Gesù as part of the Just For Laughs festival. Click here for tickets.

Review by John R. Kennedy