Comedian Tiernan Douieb Interview by Chris Hearn
I have been following Tiernan Douieb through social media now for several years. I did get the chance to see him perform once….for about a minute. He was part of a comedy show featuring a ton of big comics (although the name of the show I can’t recall) where comics had one minute to do their bit and then the next one would come on right away and so on and so forth. It was a cool event. Tiernan stood out among the comedians mostly because he did his quick bit dressed up as a purple monster, or maybe it was dark blue. It may have been a dragon. Or a dinosaur? Regardless, it stood out. Do I have a good memory? No. But that’s beside the point. I do remember that I was glad to have finally seen him live, even just for a few moments.
So, with that in mind, I thought I would approach Mr. Douieb for an interview and he kindly obliged. Usually, I like to spin an interview into an article as opposed to a Q and A, but I don’t think that will work in this case. There isn’t a way to do justice to the answers he gave by trying to pick out the best quotes. So, I’ll just let his answers be. And without further ado, I bring you into the world of Tiernan Douieb.
Chris Hearn: Hello Tiernan.
Tiernan Douieb: Hello to you!
CH: First, I have to say thanks a lot for doing this, I really appreciate it. I look forward to reading your answers to what I hope are okay questions.
TD: Youâre very welcome. I can happily go on about myself for hours. Itâs one of the main requirements of being a stand-up comedian. That, a desperate need for attention, an enjoyment of lie-ins and the inability to hold down a real job.
CH:To start off, I just wanted to ask some basic questions. When did you start doing comedy? What got you into it? What was your first experience like?
TD: I started doing stand-up back at University as part of the Drama degree I did. It was a course option and only 7 hours a week so thought Iâd give it a go. Iâd originally wanted to do acting but stand-up was far more exciting as you got to write and perform your own material without relying on other peopleâs work. Thereâs something very unique about performing as yourself, saying things you think. Though itâs also terrifying. Before my first ever gig I was pale, shaking and felt really sick! Then when I started stand-up properly end of 2003 doing gigs outside of my university to people I didnât know, I felt that all over again. Turns out people in the real world donât love student material so much, so it was back to square one. From then on I did a full time day job while gigging most nights and after a few years managed to go full time attempting to make people laugh.
CH: You write. You write A LOT. It seems like your brain is in hyperdrive. Is it? Where do you find the time to even think about all of the things you think about never mind write it down?
TD: Erâ¦Iâm not sure. There are times when it definitely isnât. Before I started answering these questions I had spent an hour (after 4 hours the other day) trying to write four paragraphs someone is paying me to do for a TV proposal. I just couldnât make anything work. Itâs odd because if itâs something Iâve come up with then I can type up what I need in minutes. Iâve got a very selfish and limited attention span and work drive. I do write tons though. My computer is filled with half written scripts and ideas. I also have a draw full of scribbled notebooks and my notepad on my iPhone has about 50 entries at the moment. Oh and I guess Twitter might let me have my backlog at some point which will add a ton of forgotten about tweets to the mix and then my brain will melt if I ever try to remember it all.
In terms of time, I donât find the time often. I mean, I have lots of time. Absolutely tons of time. But Iâm also great at procrastinating. Iâm pretty much a champion at it. I could write a book about all the ways to procrastinate but Iâd just get distracted and itâd never get finished. I have just sort of set up an office in our little flat and it means I now get to sit at a desk and pretend to get into the mindset of working while Iâm actually just pissing about on Twitter. It sort of helps.
CH: You have your own blog, you have been writing for the Huffington Post, is there anywhere else we can find your writing? How did you get involved with the Huffington Post?
I havenât written on my own blog for ages and Iâm considering starting it again. I sort of gave up mainly because it became a pain to write something every day especially as other areas of work got busier. But also because Iâd start to have conversations with people and theyâd say âyeah I read it on your blogâ leaving me with nothing to talk about. So I thought Iâd give it a rest. Though I am tempted to bring it back at some point soon, just maybe not daily like I used to. I try to make my Huffington Post blogs about UK (and sometimes, if I can wrap my head around it, World) politics, with the occasional just comedy one. I approached them as I wanted to have somewhere to rant that wasnât my own blog. It felt odd to be typing about being annoyed that someone had blocked my car in one day, or an awful gig, then the state of the government the next. Huffington Post was a good outlet for the opinionated pieces.
Iâve got bits of writing all over the place. My website (which is soon to be shiny and updated) has some stuff on there and I will be putting more stuff on there once itâs all changed. Iâm currently working on a few childrenâs television things, a new outlet for political ranting and a new stand-up show so all those will endlessly tweeted, Facebooked and shouted about in the streets as and when they happen.
CH: Over the last few years that I have been following you on Facebook you have been quite involved with various political issues, like Occupy and UKUncut. At what point did you start becoming political? How much of an effect does it have on your comedy?
TD: Iâve re-written my answer to this four times now as I keep remembering various different things that helped make me more political. I think itâs a combination of having a family who are very politically minded, meeting and getting involved with some of the comedian Mark Thomasâs mad political events, and really poor state of human rights and austerity measures around the world. I was starting to do more and more political commentary before the Conservatives came into government in the UK in 2010, but the measures theyâve put through since then have meant a need for more people to comment on how wrong it is that they are depriving everyday people of means to live through cuts to benefits and services.
I find that being able to stand on stage and talk about it whilst making people laugh is really rewarding. Iâm constantly trying really hard to only write from my own point of view, not to get on a high horse (Iâm only short, itâd be hard) and present things in a way that are accessible to everyone and still funny. Itâs often really hard but I think comedians have a unique ability to say what we like and get away with it without audiences feeling like they are being lectured. I say that but I canât yet do it at all the gigs I do. I still find that often people out for a weekend donât really want to hear political matters and I realise I am there to make them laugh first and foremost so sometimes back down. Other frustrations are that you might find a great gag and then within a few days itâs irrelevant. That and Iâm just about fully to grips with UK politics but thatâs not quite enough for when I do shows in other countries. Oh and it attracts a lot more venom â especially on social networking sites â than just joking about silly stuff. But Iâm going to keep doing it as long as I can find ways to make it funny.
CH: When I was in London last, you were doing a comedy show for kids at the Udderbelly. My kids were too young to go, unfortunately, and I didnât see the show. However, I thought it was interesting that you were doing kids comedy. How did that come about? If I remember I also saw a YouTube video of you on a kids TV show. I hope Iâm right with that.
Yeah Iâm a co-director of the Comedy Club 4 Kids (www.comedyclub4kids.co.uk) and we run stand-up shows all over the UK (and hopefully soon abroad!) for children aged 6-11 and their families. It was started by an act called James Campbell who asked me to try it a few years ago. He gave up running the clubs and myself and two colleagues, Mel and Isabelle, who run workshops for children to learn stand-up, took it over. Itâs been getting bigger and bigger with more shows every year. Making kids laugh is an incredible feeling and if you can make them and their parents laugh all at once with a clean joke thereâs something very rewarding about it. That and itâs a nice contrast from the political stuff I shout at adult shows which suits me a lot as Iâm actually hugely immature most of the time. A lot of acts find the idea of it quite scary as kids have no qualms telling you how bored they are. Actually though, most kidsâ shows are great as children are used to hearing stories, or sitting and listening in lessons and school assemblies far more than most adults.
I have done a few bits of childrenâs television too, managing to win an episode of CBBCâs âThe Slammerâ two years ago. I also did a very well received Edinburgh show with Tim Fitzhigham in 2011 called âThe Adventurerâs Clubâ that was a silly hour about exploring the Arctic. Iâm working on a few TV projects for children at the moment so hopefully some of them actually get made. Childrenâs TV is a lot more interesting than programs for grown-ups as there seems to be a lot more freedom to be creative. âHorrible Historiesâ for example.
CH: How does 2013 look for you? What are your plans?
TD: As I wrote somewhere above, Iâm definitely working on a new stand-up show. I have an idea and really want to get out there and get performing it. Itâs a slightly older, more grumpy show than previously but Iâm enjoying trying bits at the moment. Iâm still not 100% sure if Iâll be back at the Edinburgh Festival with it though or if Iâm going to try the impossible and perform it elsewhere. Iâm starting to think that the way forward, if you want to do your own stuff on your own grounds you have to spend time making it and getting it up online on your own platform. So as well as stand-up stuff Iâm working with a very good director I know to get some political comedy filmed and online. Also thereâs more kidsâ shows, with my own solo kids show at the Udderbelly in June and July called âTiernan Douieb Explains Absolutely Everythingâ, more TV projects and maybe attempts to do something with Zomedy which was a zombie show I wrote and put together last year. Oh and Iâll be tweeting lots as per usual. Hopefully, something, somewhere along the way will mean I earn enough money to sleep for a week at the end of it all. I think thatâs my new main aim.
CH: As you write your answers you have either just got back from Iceland, or are still in Iceland. Did you go just for the fun of it? What was it like? How was that experience?
TD: I went to Iceland for an actual holiday. Even though Iâd done a lot of travelling, it had all been for gigs in places like Norway, Estonia, Finland, Malta and France. Itâs a bit of a perk of the job that you get to see so many places for work, but at the same time, sometimes itâs really nice to go somewhere and not have to look at everything thinking âshall I make a joke about that?â So Iceland was my first holiday in about two years and it was amazing. Its quickly become a new favourite country to go to. The scenery is constantly awe-inspiring with volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls and geysers and the people are so friendly. Everywhere you go is steeped in mythology and tales. Itâs hard to explain quite how humbling seeing things like the incredible Northern Lights (which we were so lucky to see) or standing between tectonic plates is, but you definitely spend a lot of time just feeling appreciative of nature. They are a peaceful nation with remarkable ethics and it shows when you visit. Everything seems very calm. Though that could also be because thereâs so few people there! Iâm also a massive Sigur Ros fan and ever since watching âHeimaâ a few years ago Iâve wanted to go. Couldnât recommend it enough. Plus I got to dress up as a Viking on one day so very few things will ever beat that.
CH: Final question, because our site does focus mostly on music: What are you listening to these days?
TD: As above Sigur Ros are a constant favourite and Iâm seeing them in March which I canât wait for. As a result of my trip Iâm indulging in tons of Icelandic music including the brilliant Of Monsters And Men, Sin Fang, Amiina and Olof Arnulds among others. Some other bands Iâm really enjoying at the moment are SonnyMoon, Goodnight Lenin and still listening on repeat to James Blakeâs self-titled album. Canât wait for the Atoms For Peace album out this year. Saw Radiohead for the umpteenth time last October and it was easily one of the best live gigs Iâve ever seen. I know lots of people bang on about them but they constantly up their game. Also looking forward to Tunngâs new stuff that they are recording at the mo. The Chief Mountain Cheek album Mike Lindsay brought out last year was brilliant. My younger brother is a producer and, as much as heâs my younger brother and so I should hate it, it is brilliant. His name is The Last Skeptik and his album âThanks For Tryingâ is out in a few months time on BBE. Oh and I really want Jonnie Common to play a gig in London so I can go see it and still loving just about everything Four Tet does. Iâm a massive music fan of lots of types of music and it seems like thereâs some really exciting stuff at the moment. Iâve made a bit of a promise to myself to try and see more live gigs this year. Yet another, but much better way, to procrastinate from all that work I should be doing.
Interview by Chris Hearn. More writing by Chris on Louder Than War can be found here.