It goes without saying that someone menacingly brandishing a chainsaw is perhaps not to be messed with, even if the person in question is Dublin born, UK based and much-loved comedian Ed Byrne. It may be his supremely genial exterior conceals a darker inner core although I’ve not heard reports of any of his live shows bearing witness to him donning a leather mask and swinging the horticultural aid above his head… there is still time though.
Catching up with Ed at the back end of the Autumn leg of his epic Spoiler Alert tour; you’ve only got to look at all the dates to start reaching for the travel sickness tablets. Today Byrne is en-route to Hull, the first of a brace of pre-Christmas dates in the county, the other being at Bradford’s splendid Alhambra Theatre. Following a Yuletide hiatus, Spoiler Alert resumes in mid-January, Ed preferring to zigzag across the land playing smaller venues as opposed to taking the arena route increasingly popular with his contemporaries these days. Instead he’s returning to Yorkshire in February with two nights at the delightfully intimate Leeds City Varieties, followed by Harrogate’s Royal Hall the night after, appearing at Sheffield City Hall on 2nd March.
The show’s theme basically does what it says on the tin, Byrne railing against our lazy modern culture, too much choice, instant gratification yet he’s quick to concede he’s perhaps part of the problem. “I’ve always been someone who complains about little things in life, that’s always been in my act… sweating the small stuff as they say. It’s different to complain about things when life is so easy; why do we now start a car by pressing a button, since when did turning a key become too difficult? How lazy have we become? We’re just brats, first world solutions if you like.”
Other themes include Ed’s dissimilar experience growing up to that of his children. “I did stuff a few years ago about class and part of this show is the fact that I came from comparatively working-class roots but my children are resoundingly middle class. My kids have it immeasurably easier than I did. Looking at their upbringing versus mine is a big part of the show; trying to compare what it’s like being a kid now to the 1970s.” They don’t have it all their own way though, Byrne conceding “One of the jokes is I’m giving my children the life I never had. They go to a nicer school, have more choice, I own my own home, they never f***ing will.”
Naturally, with so many dates, Spoiler Alert’s material is constantly evolving. Ed explains, “It started as an hour-long show; touring with a support act for a few months. The show gets longer organically, some bits get dropped, more are added so the second half of the tour will be done without support.”
When questioned about the nights spent far away from home, Byrne appears relaxed and pragmatic, “I mean, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I sometimes think it’s good for a marriage if you piss off for half of the year”, intimating that there are worse ways to earn a living.
Despite the regular TV appearances, performing comedy before a live audience is where Byrne feels most at home. “I love stand-up because I can say what I like, as long as I make it funny. I don’t read reviews or even wait for the (TV) shows to come out; see how it’s been edited, see how I come across, with stand up I know as I’m doing it. I recorded a show last summer which will be on TV in February where me and a group of other celebrities go on a pilgrimage through Spain and I’ve no idea what it’s going to be like, what the tone of the show will be, whether I’ll be funny, serious, even though I’m in it. I quite enjoyed watching the shows I did with Dara but even then, it’s like “I’d forgotten I’d said that”. You have to divorce a lot of responsibility to the director and editor as to how the whole thing looks. With stand up there is none of that. It’s exactly as I wish it to be and if a show is particularly good it’s not because I made it particularly good, it’s that the audience has been a better audience. You walk off stage and go “Wow they were great.”
Ed is also adopting “scientific” methods to try and get a sense of how an audience is going to be before a show. “I keep a diary now and it’s not just the place, it can be the day of the week. I may do a show and think, next time I’ll come back and do a weekend because the audience is better. Another place the weekend audience may be less fun than the midweek. New Brighton on a Friday was OK, but on a Tuesday they were much better.”
Other irons in the Byrne fireside include appearing in a new radio production of And Another Thing… the most recent instalment of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, along with Jim Broadbent, Lenny Henry, plus several members from the original radio and TV series; part of the 40th anniversary celebrations. Ed plays Hillman Hunter, an Irish property developer: “We’ve just recorded the book written by Eoin Colfer done with the blessing of the family of Douglas Adams with a lot of the same cast as the original radio show with the same woman from the TV show. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of that. I’m excited cause I was a big Hitchhiker’s fan as a kid. I discovered it through the TV show, then read the book and discovered the radio series which I borrowed from a Library on tape.”
Ed’s other passion, hillwalking, is also touched upon during live performances although when pressed as to whether the outdoor pursuit serves as an outlet of creativity, Ed demurs, adding, “No, I try and switch off although a lot of my hillwalking adventures have made it into the show.” On informing Ed of a recent encounter with another keen celebrity walker, Stuart Maconie, he replies: “I’m seeing Stuart Maconie tomorrow morning, he’s invited me onto his [6music] radio show. He’s president of the Ramblers Association.” Like Maconie, Ed’s outdoor pursuit is still regarded with incredulity by some of his friends and associates, Ed concurring by repeating some of the questions he’s asked: ‘‘You own a cagoule, you have a haversack…?”
Catch Ed Byrne’s Spolier Alert at Leeds City Varieties on 21st and 22nd February 2018.