By Eileen Murphy
2001 NY Irish Comedy Festival at Symphony Space, Jan. 29. Hosted by Colin Quinn, with special guest Janeane Garofolo. Starring Ardal O’Hanlon, Tommy Tiernan, Jason Byrne and Danny Bhoy.
"Father Ted" star Ardal O’Hanlon may have been the marquee name at the 2001 New York Irish Comedy Festival, which hit town last weekend, but it was fellow comic Tommy Tiernan who emerged as the show’s breakout star.
The first act Monday night at Symphony Space featured Irish comic Jason Byrne and Scottish funnyman Danny Bhoy, both of whom were funny and well-received. Colin Quinn kept things moving at a brisk pace, with plenty of topical jokes and a few references to his full-time gig on NBC’s "Saturday Night Live."
Tiernan’s high-energy — or is that manic? — style had the audience screaming with laughter, as he spoofed America’s twin obsessions: healthy living, "which contrasts sharply with the Irish obsession with self-destruction," and religion, which relegates Yanks to living in a "Christ-based economy."
Tiernan left no sacred cow unmolested, as he took on the Paralympics — "A man with no hand in the same race as a guy who’s just a head? They should team up and go bowling!" and misuse of the word "mad": "If I go out drinking four nights in a row, the neighbors will say, ‘He’s mad!’ But if a guy cuts off the heads of his children, they’ll say, ‘The nerves are at him.’ "
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O’Hanlon’s set, which closed the show, was good but not particularly remarkable. He seemed a bit ill at ease onstage, and his material was more joke-oriented than story-oriented. Anyone hoping to see him reprise his deliciously addled Father Dougal character was in for a disappointment — O’Hanlon’s delivery was sharp, his diction crisp; his material was funny, even if the subjects were a bit predictable.
"In America, you celebrate success," he said. "In Ireland, we knock it down. You see Pierce Brosnan, and you say, ‘That’s the good-looking guy from the James Bond films.’
"In Ireland, we say, ‘That’s the talentless plank from Navan.’ "
Similarly, in America, Frank McCourt is the Pulitzer prize-winning author. "In Ireland, he’s the liar from Limerick who’d sell his granny for a drink," O’Hanlon deadpanned.
Occasionally, the material is wonderfully bizarre. Discussing the evening’s plans with his indecisive wife, O’Hanlon announces to her dismay that they’re going to watch "children bare-knuckle boxing in a quarry."
Judging by the number of sold-out shows, the festival was a huge success, which will, hopefully, encourage the organizers to extend the tour next year.