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Confused and happy about it

Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan doesn't really know what the name of his tour means

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Ask comedian Tommy Tiernan what the name of his latest tour -- Stray Sod -- means, and he'll offer a half-hearted explanation about a mythological patch of enchanted grass that causes anyone who steps on it to feel disoriented and lost.

And then he'll tell you he really isn't exactly sure what it means.

Which, of course, is exactly why he's using it.

"The title of the show, for me, always has to be slightly confusing and ambivalent," says Tiernan. "It has to be something that I don't fully comprehend myself in order for it to stay interesting to me. If it was something that was rational and that I totally understood, I wouldn't be interested. I'm the one who has to look at the title more than anyone else, and as long as I find it slightly inspiring and confusing, it has power.

"I like the notion that, in the same way you'd find a stray sod in a field, Ireland is the stray sod of the western world -- a place where you come and get disorientated, a place where magical perception can happen to you."

Tiernan, a 43-year-old native of County Donegal, Ireland, brings his Stray Sod tour to Winnipeg this week, performing at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre on Tuesday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m.

It's his second solo jaunt across Canada, but Tiernan is quick to admit that his first foray, in 2011, didn't really produce much in the way of lessons that will inform his next visit to this country.

"I don't think so," he explains by telephone from his home in Ireland. "But I did spend most of the past year touring rural Ireland, so I suppose rather than me trying to understand Canada, I'll be asking you to try to understand Ireland. And maybe there are some points of contact there."

Tiernan, whose around-the-globe touring recently included his first-ever set of shows in Dubai, says he doesn't believe it's the role of the comedian to adapt to the places he plays.

"It would be quite depressing, actually, to try to become whatever you think your audience would appreciate. You know, if a South African comedian is playing in Ireland, I don't want to see him try to be Irish; I want to hear about South Africa. That's sort of what informs my (comedy) -- I guess maybe I'm just looking for a reasonable excuse for having prepared so badly for the tour, and under the guise of Irish pride is where I'll find it."

Liltingly delivered self-deprecation aside, there's every reason to believe Tiernan will be fully up to speed on this Stray Sod adventure. A veteran of more than a decade of headlining gigs all over the world, he has developed a style that is fearless in its exploration of personal-life details and hot-button societal issues.

The creative process, he says, is never ending.

"With something as whimsical as standup, it's unending humiliation," he laughs. "If you're a great filmmaker, and you make a movie that the world loves, you're forever known as the person who made that movie, and you really needn't make anything else again. But standup is so flippant and casual that even if you end up, after two or three years of touring and tinkering and re-imagining, with an amazing show and you think you've really nailed it, when it comes time to start the next tour, the greatness of the last tour is irrelevant.

"Rather than being something where the longer you do it, the better you get at it, I think it's more a situation where the longer you do it, the less options you have. I find it almost embarrassing and a bit depressing -- each time I start a new show, it's, 'Oh, God, how do I do this again?'

"You start off with this young-buck energy, this brand-new-stallion giddiness, and by the time you get to my age, it becomes more difficult. I do think, though, that you become more mischievous as you get older -- you realize that you can take bigger chances and more risks, because you've experienced failure and you're not as afraid of it."

When asked to consider whether a decade-and-a-half in standup makes it harder to find things to rage against, Tiernan says it's important not to overthink the process of creating comedy.

"I don't think you can intellectualize about it too much," he says. "I think you just have to allow yourself to talk, and see where you end up. I think I'm becoming more mischievous, and I feel I'm taking more chances with style than I did when I was starting off.

"If I feel that I'm doing something that other people are doing, then I'm not able to do it. It has to feel new. It has to feel like a bit of an adventure to me; otherwise, it's a poor excuse for a trade."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2013 C7

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Updated on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 8:24 AM CDT: adds fact box

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