Friday, 23 August 2019

Irish comic’s taking the mick — out of himself

Irish comic’s taking the mick — out of himself

NOBODY spins a yarn like Jason Byrne.

The comedian and Ireland’s Got Talent judge once built an entire Edinburgh Fringe show around a childhood tale about his lazy eye — a routine that subsequently became one of the highlights of that year’s Live at the Apollo.

He is currently back in Edinburgh with his new show, Wrecked But Ready, which he will be performing at the Assembly Hall until Sunday, August 25, followed by a 31-date national tour that takes him to the Oxford Playhouse on Thursday, October 31.

One critic wrote that “watching a new Jason Byrne show is a bit like witnessing lightning in a bottle”.

But for Byrne, as he embarks on his 24th consecutive year of touring, the secret of his success is a lot more down to earth.

“People buy my tickets because they say I’m a guaranteed laugh — and people need laughter in their lives,” he says.

“That’s why I can’t go on and selfishly talk about my own misery. People don’t want to go to comedy to hear about your unhappiness — ‘I’ve had a terrible day, and now you’re telling me about your terrible year!’

“After a show, people often say to me, ‘I needed that so much — I got bad news last week, and that really cheered me up’. The key is that I just go on and take the mickey out of myself — and people seem to really like that.”

When it comes to performing live stand-up, the Dublin-born comic seems to thrive on the manic unpredictability of it all.

“My energy is based on the audience,” he says. “I feed off them. I include them in everything I talk about, and that’s how I make the show different every night.

“There is no editing and no pre-planning. That gives me such a thrill. I’m 47 now, and as you get older they say that the way to stop Alzheimer’s is to keep your brain stimulated. As long as I keep gigging, I’ll definitely keep my brain stimulated!”

Not all comedians go in for audience participation in their shows, but Byrne is a big fan.

“I love audience participation because unpredictable things always happen. The great thing is that audiences are not trained and not used to being on stage.

“I do a simple thing where I get three guys up on stage. One talks about his job, the second translates using a made-up sign language and the third explains it using interpretative dance. So you have got a guy talking into a microphone who has never done it, a guy doing sign language who has never done it and a guy doing interpretive dance who has never done it. Because they don’t have a clue about what they’re doing, it’s so funny.”

Another aspect of Jason’s live performance is his rapport with his army of loyal fans — many of whom bring him gifts.

“Every year in Leeds a woman leaves me a pomegranate on stage,” he laughs. “She doesn’t care what I’m talking about — she just wants to give me a pomegranate!

“One year in Birmingham I talked about people in the audience eating. So now in Birmingham they always leave me boiled sweets on stage. It’s my own fault for talking to the audience. Dylan Moran would never get that, but I engage the audience and say hello to them — more fool me!” Potential audience members should beware — there is more fun lined up for the Wrecked But Ready tour.

“I will get a couple on stage to do a marriage survey — just to tease them. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get people to separate on stage!”

Byrne, who will take to the stage wearing a dinner jacket on the top and underpants on the bottom, is also an inspired improviser. There is no one better at going off-script and creating superb comedy plucked out of thin air.

“Improvising keeps me stimulated,” he admits. “I don’t have to rattle out the same stuff every night. I was with Ed Byrne at the Kilkenny Comedy Festival and he asked me, ‘Are you going to make up the whole show tonight?’ ‘No!’ I replied, ‘I’ve got lots of material.’ But then I went on stage and made the whole thing up — just to annoy Ed!” He pauses. “I can do both. I can do an hour of scripted material or an hour of improvised stuff. It’s a lovely feeling when people react to something I’ve written, but I get great joy out of everything.”

Byrne certainly has some wonderful scripted material in his locker, including a routine about Britain’s seeming inability to leave the EU.

“I imagine that Britain is like a little girl misbehaving because she won’t leave. Brussels says to her, ‘OK, Britain, what the hell is going on?’ I fall to my knees and say, ‘We’re going to stay.’ ‘OK’. ‘Actually, we’re going to leave!’

“I also imagine Boris Johnson talking to Brussels, and he keeps saying mad stuff like, ‘I like monkeys.’ If you turn politicians into children, you realise that they’re the same thing!”

One of the stars of Byrne’s previous shows was his long-suffering wife Brenda, but sadly it was reported last year that the couple — who have two sons aged 19 and 12 — had separated after 14 years of marriage.

Byrne is invariably the butt of his own jokes, and talking about his divorce is no different.

“That’s really important,” he affirms. “The audience needs to know that I’m the idiot. The divorce is my fault. My wife was trying to deal with my nonsense all her life.

“But the advice you get when you’re splitting up is hilarious. My favourite is ‘It gets easier’. That always comes from people who are not divorced — how on earth do they know?”

The comedian, whose second children’s novel will be published this autumn, goes on to emphasise that it is vital to make the material about his divorce funny.

Wrecked But Ready is not a show about divorce and misery. If it were, my crowd would say, ‘Oh, for God’s sake!’ It’s very light-hearted. So, for instance, I point out that you can always spot a single man. He’s the one on the beach who always has a square patch of sunburn on his back which he can’t reach with sun cream. He also always has crumbs on his shoulders because his wife used to pick them off.”

In the end, Byrne concludes, “My crowd don’t care about my life. They’re just saying, ‘Make me laugh!’”

They needn’t worry on that score — he absolutely will.

Wrecked But Ready is at the Oxford Playhouse on Thursday, October 31, at 7.30pm. Tickets are £21.50. To book, call 01865 305305 or visit www.oxfordplayhouse.com

For more information, including a full list of tour dates, visit www.jasonbyrne.ie

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