First Gig Worst Gig

Interview with the British Comedy Guide

Usually at this point we’d pen a pithy intro about the latest guest – Tiernan Douieb, who’s here to plug his forthcoming gigs at the Hertford Comedy Festival, plus his (partly) political podcast. But he wrote one for us, involving both Frankie Boyle and Rogue One, which is way better than we’d bash out. So here it is:

“I’m currently doing too many things, which is fun. I’ve been recording a podcast since January called The Partly Political Broadcast, a mix of weekly satirical stuff on the previous week’s politics news and interviews with people who actually know things.

I’ve just supported Frankie Boyle for six warm-up gigs. It’s always fascinating gigging with Frankie as I get to see how he develops jokes over a matter of days, a one liner turning into a five minute bit overnight. I’m doing another run with him this summer, which should be fun.

I also co-run and regularly host Comedy Club 4 Kids; kids gigs are still best for heckles and interaction. Things like, last year, asking a boy what he’d do if he was Prime Minister. “I’d conquer Finland” he shouted. “Why?” I asked. “Because my brother is called Finn and he’s stupid.”

My show The World’s Full Of Idiots, Let’s Live In Space will be out at the end of May too, filmed by Ben Hilton on cameras that were used on Star Wars: Rogue One which is the most exciting thing ever. Hopefully George Lucas won’t have snuck in and added awful CGI bits.”

Indeed. Now: the regular inquisition.

First gig?

Ok so I cheated a bit as I sort of have two first gigs. My first ‘first gig’ was at the University Of Kent many millennia ago in October 2002, as I did stand-up as part of my drama course. I was pale white and felt horribly sick, but the audience was full of friends and fellow students. I had to do ten minutes, most of which was university based material, though I did do one gag that I still sometimes use today, albeit a tad edited.

Because it was such a supportive crowd it’d have been hard to go wrong, and the sick feeling dissipated about 30 seconds after being on stage and getting laughs. It was the best feeling ever and I didn’t sleep much at all that night despite levels of booze intake.

And the other first gig?

The second first gig was about six months later at the Laughing Horse Greenwich. It was the first non-uni gig I’d done and really, it felt like starting over again. I don’t remember who else was on but Sion James was the host and there were only about 14 people in the audience, one of whom looked asleep.

I went onstage to almost no applause and rattled through my set at top speed. I remember Sion telling me I sounded like a machine gun. Most of my jokes were still uni based and no one cared or related to any of them. I spent the days afterwards reliving how horrible it felt and rewriting my entire set. Yet for some reason I still kept gigging. I’m an idiot.

Favourite show, ever?

That’s a tough one as there have a been a lot. Possibly supporting Jim Jefferies back in 2009, at the Royal Exchange in Manchester to an audience of about 1,200. Again, I was never sure I was the right opener for Jefferies on account of my material being, well, pretty different. But I remember for the first time not being remotely frazzled by the size of the audience, and enjoying ever second of performing to that crowd.

It was ‘in the round’ and so I kept having to turn so as not to not leave any audience out, but I just about managed it. Then Jim went on and smashed it. Several people came to find me afterwards to say they’d enjoyed it, and one guy asked what my name was but then he said it was too complicated to remember.

Worst gig?

How many am I allowed to put here? It was probably when a man tried to climb on stage and punch me in the face at the Leicester Square Theatre several years ago. It was a not very big crowd, on a Friday night on a mixed bill. I was hosting, and about four minutes into the opening section.

I’d been talking about Nick Griffin being on Question Time and a man heckled me. He was the stag in a fairly large stag do. I dealt with it and put him down a few times and then he climbed on stage and started swinging his fists at me.

There was no security at the venue, so his friends pulled him away and he had to sit in the audience until the police could arrive. They didn’t arrive till part way through my introduction to the second section, which meant the rest of the audience sat in silence for the entire first act, which was pretty awkward. Good times.

Who’s the most disagreeable person you’ve come across in the business?

You know – and yeah this is a diplomatic answer – most of them are really nice. There are two types that annoy me, and I won’t name names. One is, from a performer’s point of view, a promoter who I haven’t gigged for for some years, because I’ve been so busy with other gigs I haven’t been able to. On writing to them recently their response was ‘well I haven’t seen you in ages so you’ll have to do some unpaid spots again.’

I don’t expect anyone to hand me top billing on a plate, especially if I’ve not done their gigs for a while, but a quick Google would show I haven’t gone backwards performance wise, otherwise a lot of other gigs are doing pity bookings. Which yes, I will do by the way, promoters.

And number two?

The other is – speaking as a booker for a few different events – the agents who insist their acts have a different deal to the one you’re offering, taking ages to reply to you then demanding they have special treatment.

I don’t blame the acts for this, but it often means I just won’t book them in and you sort of wonder if it’s really that helpful for the act if their agent is helping them lose work! Anyway, both of those types are few and very far between. Mostly, it’s a total joy working in this industry.

Weirdest gig?

Maybe a gig in Brixton in 2010 that involved a man from Albania who kept threatening that he’d kill me or the other acts if we spoke to him, a man who wandered in halfway through and sat in the front row with two bags of Special Brew because he thought it’d be somewhere quiet to drink, and the man who refused to start the applause but wouldn’t say why, making the room get very awkward, until at the end of the show, it turned out he only had one hand.

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn’t?

Billions of ’em. I had a real smug smart-arse joke in my first Edinburgh show that went “Sometimes I like to include a really obscure reference in my jokes so audiences think I’m funny and clever. Either that or it fails like the Michelson Morley experiment of 1887.” Which yeah, mostly failed.

Apart from once in Llangollen at a gig some months after Edinburgh when a scientist exclaimed how brilliant it was as he’d studied that experiment a lot. I had no idea what the experiment was. I’d just Googled ‘most failed experiment’. I’m a total fraud.

What’s your best insider travel tip, for touring comics?

Sometimes, hard to believe as it is, your hotel room is actually more interesting than the place you’re staying in. Only sometimes.

The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction to your stuff?

Either the man who stood up during my 2010 Edinburgh show to tell me ‘Look I’m really enjoying your show a lot, but it’s very hot in here and I’m going out later and need to be able to impress the ladies so I have to leave. Sorry.’ Nicest reason to leave ever. Or it’s Mark Thomas, a comic that I’ve been a fan of for many years, coming to see my Edinburgh show last year and telling me how much he loved it.

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

It’s alright. I can’t complain even though I do. I’ve had a solid comedy-only career since 2007 and interesting work just keeps popping up this year, like taking part in a panel about the EU referendum or working with a dance company. It’d be great to work out how to get enough of an audience to tour again. I watched Louis CK‘s Horace and Pete in total awe and envy.

Not that I could do something like that, but it’s often frustrating not having money or backing to do some of the projects I’d really like to do – short films I want to make, better recording stuff for the podcast – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love my job. If you can call it a job. I mean, I’m writing this while still in my pajamas. It’s 1.20pm on a Tuesday. I’d definitely call that winning.

Tiernan is doing Comedy Club 4 Kids – and a few other things – at the first Hertford Comedy Festival this June – see for details. And for the Partly Political Broadcast it’s