Tiernan Douieb is a writer, comedian, podcaster, and always tired dad. He writes for TV, animation, live shows, and anything that anyone is silly enough to let him. Tiernan hosts and writes the popular UK political comedy podcast Partly Political Broadcast, which has satire about the week’s news as well as interviews with experts on current issues. He also co-runs the Comedy Club 4 Kids and hosts and writes the Radio Nonsense podcast for children of all ages too.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Finsbury Park in north London. I was pretty lucky to have parents who supported me in what I wanted to do and a brother and friends who were able to laugh about most things. I think having all the clubs, pubs, galleries, theatres, and museums (that were mostly free at the time) just a short tube or bus ride away when I was a kid was invaluable. I also once saw a squirrel eating an ice cream cone like how a human does and I’ve never been able to stop thinking about it since.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That a lot of things you think really matter absolutely don’t in the grand scheme of things. And that if I will insist on putting a lot of chili sauce on everything then I just have to deal with the consequences.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
It’s usually the sort of advice that suggests changing what you do to find an industry standard or a style that’s already around rather than doing something original and unexciting even if it’ll take a while to catch on. There’s a weird attitude, particularly in entertainment, to hail innovators and originality while at the same time only trusting behind ideas they know already work.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
Just recently, with the pandemic (which I know has been a traumatic few years for many people). I work mainly in live comedy and overnight I lost a year’s work and my job became illegal because who’d have thought shouting at strangers in poorly ventilated basements would be perfect virus territory? I had a good few months of panicking and then worked out how to still do what I do best but outside of the live world. So, I turned to scriptwriting, approaching PR firms and magazines, to show that I could write comedy copy or articles for them. Turned out someone who could write comedy was a novelty to them and so I managed to keep going. I’m now doing all those things while also returning to live work, so it ended up being really handy to have to think about how my skills could work elsewhere. Though adversely I now definitely have too much on and really need a holiday so it’s kind of backfired.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Being very lucky to regularly find people I like working with and whose opinions I trust, on top of (over time) being able to just do work I actually want to do and get excited about doing.
What is your morning routine?
My daughter wakes us up far too early around 6 am by yelling into the monitor in her room. She knows she could come and get me and my wife but likes lying in bed and yelling so it’s like the harshest alarm clock you could get. Then I go get her in front of whichever series she’s hooked on and her breakfast sorted, while I make a very strong coffee. Or two. Or twelve. If I can, I prefer slow mornings, and even though I’ll do admin work the first thing I rarely manage anything creative before 10 am. It’s like my brain needs to warm up so I’ve stopped trying to force it to start any earlier. Then I get my daughter to nursery (kindergarten for you in the US. She doesn’t get sent to a garden center) and do either gym or a run or just relish in the sheer joy that I don’t have to do either of those because I did them the day before. Those are the best days. I enjoy not running a lot more than running. But to really enjoy not running you have to run regularly which does ruin it a bit. Then after that, I try to plot out just what I have to do that day because every day is so variable if I don’t try to structure it in some way I can easily end up doing nothing useful.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Saying no to work I really don’t want to do. I’m still not very good at it but I’m getting better and sometimes I can get a real buzz off just knowing I’m not doing that work that I could have done and would’ve hated. Oh, and buying actually nice coffee. I never used to do that before I was a parent and now I do and it made everything much better.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
The one it’s taken me years to understand is that sometimes I need to make sure I’ve got proper breaks in my day. If I hit writer’s block it’s often that I just need to think about things in a different way or take a break and come back to it. I’m definitely more productive when I remember to not overwork and exhaust myself. Then bizarrely I’m more efficient in the time I am working even if there’s less of it. Also: Childcare. That really helps otherwise with a 4-year-old shouting at you it’s very hard to get anything done in any amount of time. I’d definitely recommend it.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Not only did it entirely shape my sense of humor, but it also really opened my brain up to how to view things in a completely different way. It blew my mind to read lines like ‘the ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t’.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Thomas Henry Huxley – “The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.”