Taxi-hailing company Free Now has ceased its sponsorship of The Tommy Tiernan Show following a joke the comedian made about taxi drivers and Dublin Zoo at a recent stand-up show.
The joke, which was made by Tiernan at a comedy gig in Vicar Street, Dublin, prompted RTÉ presenter Emer O’Neill to walk out of the show.
In a statement, Free Now said as a recent sponsor of the show, it was “disappointed” about the comments made at the gig regarding taxi drivers.
“Free Now works in close partnership with taxi drivers throughout the country to provide an important transport service for passengers across Ireland,” it said.
“Prejudice of any kind towards taxi drivers is unacceptable. We decided to conclude our sponsorship of the show last week but will continue to work with RTÉ on other projects going forward.”
A spokeswoman for the national broadcaster confirmed the transport company had decided to end its sponsorship of the programme.
“We look forward to working with Free Now again in the future,” the spokeswoman added.
After the Vicar Street gig, O’Neill shared a post on her Instagram about the joke which she said Mr Tiernan began by acknowledging “my daughter told me I shouldn’t tell this joke”.
“He starts the joke, and he starts talking about penguins looking like nuns with the rosary beads and I thought ‘nice one’ and I’m laughing,” she said.
“Then he talks about the wolves and their fierceness or their strength (reminding him of the Irish) – this is all paraphrasing because this just happened – and then he goes ‘then I went to the ‘African Savannah’ and my heart sank a little bit as soon as I heard the word ‘Africa’.
She added: “I just thought ‘please don’t do this to me’. I’m literally one of the only people of colour sitting here full of a room of white people’. And then came the savannah and taxi drivers.”
Ms O’Neill said she was “shocked more than anything”, and described the joke as offensive.
The mother of two said the comedian later emailed and spoke with her over the phone to apologise for the joke, acknowledging it was offensive.
Mr Tiernan released a statement, which was read out on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Claire Byrne, which said that he had told a joke on January 6th as part of his stand-up routine that resulted in a complaint by an audience member.
“As soon as he received a complaint, he spoke to that audience member to understand where he went wrong,” the statement said.
“He immediately removed the joke from the set and apologised both personally by phone and email and publicly by addressing it on stage the following night and every night since reiterating his apology.”