Television: Tommy Tiernan serves up a dog’s dinner

Review: The comedian was in meltdown mode in ‘Tommy: To Tell You the Truth’

Early in Tommy: To Tell You the Truth (RTÉ One, Monday) I began to think about Steven Slater. He's the flight attendant who resigned in spectacular fashion from JetBlue some years ago. As the plane landed in JFK, Slater deployed the inflatable slide, grabbed a couple of beers and slid out of a job.

So what does a stand-up comedian do when he's fed up with his job – or "tired of it, like", as Tommy Tiernan says at this start of this documentary. There's no employer to give the two fingers to, only audiences, and that's exactly what Tiernan does during his 12-night European tour in early 2014.

The tour, filmed for this documentary, is painful to watch. It’s even more so when it becomes clear that this isn’t a slide out of the limelight, a cleverly subversive kiss-off to Tiernan’s career (or, at least, he doesn’t intend it that way). Instead it’s a – God help us – creative experiment.

Tiernan’s idea is that he’ll go on stage without a script or any preparation and simply improvise, to see, he says, “if it can bring the adventure back into it . . . I’m bored of being good, Let’s get shit.”


He tells us repeatedly that he has no jokes, that he has nothing to say – and it’s not a false boast: we see his toe-curling stage shows and hear the heckles from the audiences. And so, night after night from Tallinn to Paris, unable to deliver the comedy his name on the poster would lead an audience to expect, Tiernan rambles incoherently or roars at the audience, wild and out of control.

He gets a few laughs from his mostly Irish audiences in places such as Antwerp and Helsinki when he says “f***” – which he does a lot, a progressively more irritating and boring verbal tic. “I have no jokes left,” Tiernan screams at one bewildered and bored-looking audience. “Let’s get a drink.” And he bounds off stage and opens the door to the bar. I’d have been queuing to get my money back.

Over the years we’ve seen Tiernan being shouty, sweary and baiting controversy. What we haven’t seen is this new delivery, where he whispers into the mic, which is weird and creepy. And none of it is remotely funny. After one concert an audience member talks to him in the foyer. She asks if he is having a nervous breakdown, some sort of a “public meltdown”. The only laugh I get out of the hour-long documentary is when he says no.

And yet Tommy: To Tell You the Truth is a tightly made, slick and intimate film that's beautifully paced with an evocative blues soundtrack that captures the grind of touring for a solo performer. Watching a comedian die on his feet always makes for uncomfortable viewing, even though it's obviously Tiernan's own ego that wilfully makes it happen here. He signs off saying his next gig is the GAA hall in Edenderry. My guess is that he'll have brought his script with him.

Dognapping is such a serious problem that vigilantes have beaten 20 dognappers to death in the past five years. That’s in Vietnam, where the dogs are sold to be eaten. In Unreported World: Vietnam’s Dog Snatchers (Channel 4, Friday), the owner of one of the many dog-meat stalls in Hanoi is shown as she is about to kill and skin the first of the 30 dogs she’ll turn into cutlets before the morning is out. (The bloody action is, thankfully, offscreen.)

The dogs, bought from traders no questions asked, are kept in a pit beneath her shop-cum-abattoir. A teenager arrives with the family pet to ask if she’ll butcher it, as the family fancy having him for dinner.

Even if you’re not a dog lover it’s barbaric: not the idea of eating dogs, which the film rightly accepts is part of the culture, but the cruelty of the dogs’ being killed without any regulation and after being stolen in raids in outlying villages.

Presented by Nelufar Hedayat, a young reporter, this is a typical film for Unreported World – one of Channel 4's most worthwhile strands – dealing vividly, in a calm, unsensational way, with a difficult subject that's not big on the news radar but is horribly fascinating nonetheless.

Brendan O’Connor, back for a new season of The Saturday Show (RTÉ One), doesn’t tell Adele King, aka Twink, about canine cutlets and backstreet dog abattoirs when she’s on to talk about how her dog was kidnapped and then found. Which is a good thing, because Twink is in full panto-diva mode, hyped up to fever pitch about the whole episode, snarking at the audience for not being lively enough and snarling at O’Connor for only giving her seven minutes of TV time.

O’Connor’s producers judge it perfectly, though, by ending the low-key chatshow on a talking-point high – even if that seven minutes is only marginally less uncomfortable than the entire Tiernan caper.

It's a smart move to rename TV coverage of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award The Entrepreneurs (RTÉ One, Monday). It takes away the fear of a dry business programme. I don't cop until the closing credits that the jaunty and personal magazine programme is anything to do with the competition. Indeed, it suggests – and this is unusual in this X Factor era – that a bigger picture is at work and that the competing participants and their achievements are more interesting than any prize they're chasing.

The first of a four-part series, The Entrepreneurs introduces three of the shortlisted candidates. Marian O'Gorman of Kilkenny Group outlines vividly how everything from swine flu to the recession has hit her retail empire.

George Mullan’s company lays football pitches. In this case, watching the grass grow is actually interesting, as we see him and his team laying the new pitch at Celtic Park.

And then there's Pat Phelan, whose story surely has a film in it. How did a recovering alcoholic who started out as a butcher on a stall in the English Market in Cork, become the founder of Trustev, a global internet-payment company?

The Entrepreneurs is a cynicism-free zone. It outlines just enough business detail for a general audience and the participants transmit a can-do positivity of a sort that's rare on television. We could do with more of that.