Comedy: Hail Tommy, full of japes

Tommy Tiernan and Jason Byrne Cambridge, The Junction
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The Independent Culture
Tommy Tiernan, for what it's worth, won the Perrier Award last year at the Edinburgh Festival, as well as the Best Stand-Up prize at the British Comedy Awards. He looks not unlike a cheeky Rufus Sewell (dark eyes, dark curls) and - like any self-respecting Oirish comedian - he has appeared on Father Ted (as Father Kevin, the weepy one).

Embarking on his new tour - Murphy's-sponsored, of course - with fellow Irish comedian Jason Byrne, Tiernan continues the Ted tradition of tearing into the Catholic church. Whereas Dermot Morgan's satire was gentle, almost affectionate, Tiernan's is lethal. It's not that he's remotely angry, just entirely irreverent.

To Tierney, Christians are the "pimps of Jerusalem", and the righteous - covered head to toe in crucified "Jesi" - are just "too bold, frail but evil". The old women, droning their Lord-have-Mercies at every bit of bad news, sound "like a flock of auctioneers". It was this sort of material, delivered in a jovial rant, that gave Tiernan his big break (of sorts). When he appeared a while back on Ireland's foremost chat show, The Late, Late Show, one of his crucifix gags was so unappreciated that the issue of blasphemy was raised in the Irish Senate and his name splashed across the front pages.

"Blasphemy is when God is offended," Tiernan explains. "God phoned into the TV station, really pissed off: `I was just finishing off a family in Rwanda ... now I can take a joke as well as the next God. Mohammed, he has no sense of humour, but I can take a joke ... '" And it's not only Christianity which comes in for some stick: "Buddha," Tiernan says confidently, "would not have looked good on the cross."

The rest of his material is about "love, sex, and a decent reading-light: all the t'ings an air-hostess seems to promise". He talks at length, about the "holy show of making love", about the differences between "mid-week" and "wild, animal, pagan" sex. He talks about drugs, which only lead him back to God: "I used to t'ink drugs were God's way of saying he can't be everywhere at once."

Unfortunately there was a particularly obnoxious Australian heckler, intent on interrupting every line. Which did, at least, allow Tiernan to vent his spleen with some classic, quick put-downs: like - pointing at himself - "This isn't a TV you know."

When allowed to continue, his rambling monologues are like a Corbett or Cooper story - random, tangential, so shaggy-dog that any plot becomes very lost. He's smirking so much by the time he approaches the ultimate punchline that, having got so close so many times, the audience is already laughing in anticipation. The butt of each joke is any incarnation of puritanism, if not Christian then American: "They would ask me how many beers I would have on a night out. Sorry? I don't understand the question. Then I would get asked if I had any ID. You want my teeth now?"

"Drinking," said Jason Byrne, who's supporting Tiernan throughout the 47-date tour (he's been in Father Ted, too), "drinking, that's why Ireland never gets invited to war." Bryne is a manic ad-libber, full of high- pitched laughter and constantly running his fingers through his long blond hair, saying "You see, you see?" He often veers close to clowning, complete with wigs, strange struts and inflatable props.

He has some prepared stories, one about Riverdance (groan), and another about travelling on the Eurostar. (Drench yourself in water, wait until you're under the Channel. Then run through the carriages proclaiming that the train has a leak, and watch all the French try and rescue their croissants and cafes au lait.)

Byrne is seemingly so confident that he can stand on stage, in silence, waiting until someone shouts at him and sets him off. It's very hit and miss, and unpredictably paced: brilliant and banal by turns.

Worcester (01905 726969), tonight; Cheltenham (01242 521621), Mon; Oldham (0161 911 4076), Thurs; Norwich (01603 660387), Fri; Warwick (01203 523734), Sat.

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