Emer, Stop, Stop, playing the fucking Race Card. Stop, I am Irish, and Proud, to be. What’s your Problem, Calling us all, Racist, you got a handy Job, in RTE, so Again, be proud, of What country and Race, you are, as all People, of Different, Nationalities are Proud; now you Demand, an Apology, for Fuck all, Get a life, and Appreciate, your life here, Welcome? Irish Culture involves Jokes, Watch the Movie, the Guard, and Laugh?

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The Guard by Mike and Søren • Movie Review

Tommy Tiernan in controversial zoo joke storm – as fellow RTE presenter walks out of his gig

Emer O’Neill was left so upset, she ended up walking out of the gig with her friends

Tommy Tiernan
Tommy Tiernan was performing a comedy gig in Vicar Street in Dublin on Friday night (Image: Gareth Chaney/Collins)

RTE star Emer O’Neill has hit out at comedian Tommy Tiernan after he told a controversial joke about taxi drivers.

Emer attended the Navan native’s comedy gig in Vicar Street in Dublin on Friday night with her friends, who bought her a ticket for her birthday.

Having never seen Tiernan before, she was excited to see him on stage for the first time.

But she said her “heart sank” when he began by telling the audience a joke about Dublin Zoo – claiming: “My daughter told me not to tell this joke”.

The mum-of-two said: “I’m shocked more than anything.

“I’ve never watched anything of his. I wouldn’t have known anything about him. My friend bought us tickets. It was for my birthday and the four of us went in. I didn’t know what to expect but I know he is a household name.

“A lot of people have said to me ‘you should have known before you went that this is his thing?’ Like what do you mean, ‘this is his thing?’ Who in this day and age is still writing comedy where racism is supposed to be funny.”

Emer detailed her experience when she first sat down in Vicar Street, saying: “I took a video at the beginning. They were playing Irish traditional music…. And I was really vibing. I was thinking ‘this is going to be epic’ and I was feeling patriotic.

“He comes out on stage, and you can hear me cheering him. His first joke out of the gate – the first joke of the night – he started with ‘my daughter told me that I shouldn’t say this joke’ so that was the first thing he said.

“As soon as he said that I kind of thought to myself, I wonder what this is about. My radar wasn’t going off at all. I’m at a professional gig in Vicar Street, I’m not thinking I’m potentially in a place that is going to be harmful for me.”

RTE presenter Emer O'Neill and her daughter Sunny Rae
RTE presenter Emer O’Neill and her daughter Sunny Rae

Emer recalled how she wasn’t thinking anything “negatively” when Tiernan told the audience about his daughter’s advice, thinking maybe she meant not to tell the joke simply because she thought it was bad and not a funny 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.

“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’.

“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. He acknowledged that the room was full of white people” and said that everyone is laughing so it mustn’t be a racist joke.

The Bray native was left so upset, she ended up walking out of the gig with her friends a few minutes later, admitting she felt too scared to get up straight away in case she was heckled.

“I was like a statue. I was processing what was said. When he said, ‘I’m here in a room full of white people’, I wanted to say ‘well hey, I’m not white’ but nothing came out.

“I wanted to stand up because what he said was not right. Not everybody who is African is a taxi driver. I have a degree in education.

“I wanted to leave but I was scared because I felt that if I stand up now after him saying ‘See you are all laughing, it’s not racist’ and I stand up, I already could hear two women beside me saying ‘oh look at her, she does not seem happy with that’ so I already knew that people had spotted me in a room.

“It was probably four minutes after he said it. By the time I stood up, people probably would’ve forgotten about it. But for me, I was not able to stand up in that moment because I was afraid that he would say something or that someone in the crowd might shout something. I’ve been in situations over the course of 37 years to know that that is generally what happens to me.

“I did not feel safe to stand up and walk out at that moment. I was also embarrassed because I felt so bad for my friends that their night was ruined over the potential that we were going to have to leave.”

The anti-racism activist decided to highlight the incident on her Instagram account, sharing a video of Tommy on stage before he told the joke.

She later told her Instagram of the incident: “A night that was to be fun and full of laughter turned sour with a way too close to the bone joke by @officialtommedian at his @vicar_st gig tonight.

“His first joke of the night straight out of the gate began with and I paraphrase (please if you were there too, correct me if I am wrong).

“‘My daughter told me I shouldn’t tell this joke’… long pause ….

“‘So I was at the zoo the other day and looking at the penguins, they are like little nuns walking around with rosary beads.

“Then the wolves were so Irish fierce/strong then we went to the African Savannah and ….. it was full of taxi drivers!’

“Ok now I’m looking at a room of white faces and everyone is laughing so I think I’m ok it wasn’t a racist joke.”

Emer told us that what is important to her is that the joke is “acknowledged” and removed by Tiernan, adding: “We have done enough of sweeping things under the rug. For me, this is the perfect example of ‘there is no racism here in Ireland’ and this is Exhibit A because I sat in a room full of my fellow Irishmen and they allowed for that joke to happen and be laughed at.”

Emer added her disappointment in Tommy – but insisted she is not calling him a racist.

“I’ve never met the man. I don’t have a personal vendetta against him.

“I’m not calling him racist. What was said was racist and stereotypical– that is a completely different thing.

“For me, what my concerns are is that Vicar Street be held accountable that it is an act of theirs that they have on stage, they’re giving him a platform.”

Emer is currently drafting up an email to Tommy and Vicar Street and is looking hopefully for a response.

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