Tiernan Douieb: interview
Time Out talks to comic and promoter Tiernan Douieb about violent landlords, his type-one diabetes and why he will always open his wallet
Tiernan Douieb runs the fortnightly Fat Tuesday shows in Islington, setting up the club back in May 2004 with the help of American comedian Matt Devlin. ‘We both wanted to gain experience as MCs,’ Douieb explains. ‘We also thought it would be a good way to meet other acts, agents and promoters. The main intention was not to have just another open-spot night, as many new acts do. Instead we wanted to get big headliners and acts we were really keen to see playing there.’
Three years on, the aims have been achieved – although a few things have changed. Devlin has gone back to the States and Fat Tuesdays are now installed at a different venue. Douieb and Devlin had originally put them on at the Old Parr’s Head. Then, one eventful night in November 2005, the pub manager, who was allegedly blind-drunk, started to heckle the headline act and call him ‘a miserable fucker’.
‘He went on and on,’ Douieb recalls. ‘Relentlessly. After a few minutes, the headliner gave up and said he’d had enough. The manager then proceeded to push him round and tried to start a fight.’ Douieb kept them apart. The manager barred the club from the venue. ‘Weird as it was, it turned out well,’ Douieb declares. ‘We moved to the Salmon & Compass, where the staff and management have been tremendously supportive. The Old Parr’s Head is there no longer. It’s now a women’s clothes shop.’
Douieb’s a north Londoner, born and bred in Finsbury Park. He got hooked on comedy while he was studying drama at the University of Kent. ‘Through being lazy. In the final year I specialised in stand-up, because it looked fun and it only took seven hours a week of tutorial. The course, taught by Dr Oliver Double, turned out to be brilliant.’ He went straight from university into performing stand-up. ‘Apart from some crappy jobs at various places to stop me from being completely broke. The worst was at a housing association, where I worked in the repairs department. I got a few good gags out of that, though.’
As a comedian, he’s reached what he describes as ‘a funny stage’ in his career. ‘I’ve been going for a while. I’m doing some good gigs alongside some very top comedians. But I’m not playing the really big clubs yet. I probably have some way to go until I do.’ He says his humour resembles how he is anyway: ‘Quite excitable. Childlike observations. Sometimes I talk about things that make me angry. My current set has some stuff about being type one diabetic. I have been since I was four. It’s tough to know how to talk about it without boring people with medical stuff. So I have a go at GPs instead and I talk about the cool gadgets I get.’
The club has found a distinct niche for itself on a London comedy circuit now so vast that it can swallow small clubs without leaving any trace they existed. ‘It’s called Fat Tuesday because that’s the literal translation of Mardi Gras,’ Douieb explains. ‘So it’s like we’re having a small party at every gig. It also proves that French sounds rubbish when it’s translated. It’s a fortnightly club – mainly so that people can have a breather between shows. It also allows me to gig elsewhere on the other Tuesdays.’
The Salmon & Compass room has a capacity of around 80 and frequently sells out. This is partly due to the fact that leading comedians, such as Frank Skinner and Russell Brand, often drop in (sometimes unannounced) to try out material. ‘Our regulars in the audience know we have high standards,’ Douieb adds. ‘They’ve seen quite a mix of comic styles. They’ve become more patient. They allow acts to get into their sets, rather than expecting them to dish out any number of gags in the first 30 seconds.’
So all’s well with the world, apart from one or two features of the business that get Douieb mildly annoyed: acts who cancel at the last moment, acts who overrun, acts who drive a show into the ground by persisting in trying to get a laugh when it’s obvious the audience hasn’t warmed to them and it’s just not working. That’s nothing compared with renegade promoters: ‘I’ve turned up to a gig that’s half empty and done my set as asked. As I’ve left, the promoter has told me there isn’t enough money on the door to pay me. That’s out of order. If it happened at Fat Tuesday, I’d take money out of my own wallet. Comedians have to earn a living.’
Tiernan Douieb hosts the Fat Tuesday show this Tuesday.
- Add your comment to this feature