A head for comedy

STAND-UP: Jason Byrne is heading to Yorkshire this autumn.
STAND-UP: Jason Byrne is heading to Yorkshire this autumn.
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Jason Byrne has been a popular figure on the stand-up circuit for more than 20 years and now he’s back with a new tour. Chris Bond talked to him.

JASON Byrne is at the Edinburgh Festival right now, fine tuning his new show, The Man With Three Brains, before heading out on a nationwide tour in October that takes in Harrogate, Huddersfield, Leeds and Sheffield.

The Scottish capital, and the festival in particular, is something of a spiritual home for the high-octane Irish comedian. For it was here back in 1996 where his stand-up career started. “I did the regional heat of this competition called So You Think You’re Funny? It was in Derry and Patrick Kielty was the MC. I got through and the final was in Edinburgh,” he says.

He ended up coming second in the talent contest at the Edinburgh Fringe and he’s been a regular at the festival ever since. It is, he says, a labour of love. “I’m playing every night for four weeks in an 800-seater venue. It’s hard work but I can’t moan, it’s a great place to do comedy and there’s a great atmosphere.”

At the age of 45, Byrne is something of a veteran, not that he subscribes to the view that stand-up is a young person’s game. “When you’re younger you get stressed and you worry about bad reviews. But as you get older you deal with this stuff better. It’s like working a night shift.”

His latest show is a continuation of his previous tours that blend stand-up with improv and off-the-cuff comedy. “It’s even more chaotic, if that’s possible,” he says. “When I’m on stage it feels like I’ve got three different streams of consciousness going on at the same time so that was the idea with the title of this one.”

It’s often assumed that comedians have an easy life but Byrne says it’s harder than people realise. “Comedians are under constant pressure to write new material. I went to see Coldplay and they played songs from 2008 and 2011, but if a comedian does some old material people say ‘I heard that last year.’ You wouldn’t have had someone going up to John Lennon and saying, ‘yeah, Imagine was great but we’ve heard that now, we want to hear another great song.’”

Byrne’s routines can appear haphazard but he says they’re carefully pieced together. “I work hard on the routines. They’re stories and one word can make or break a routine. It’s a bit like writing a song.”

He incorporates a lot of improvisation into his work. “It started by accident but it’s gradually crept into my shows. My style of improv is the glue that binds the material together, there’s a reason for it.”

He says doing improv is something of a balancing act. “If you keep doing it for too long then you lose the routine so you’ve got to get the timing right.”

The Dublin-born comedian’s TV credits include Live at the Apollo and Channel 4’s Comedy Gala, 
and his Radio 2 show won a Sony Gold Award for Best Comedy in 2011.

It’s stand-up, though, for which he’s arguably best known. “It does get exhausting and I understand why people give it up because it is so mentally and physically demanding. But I still get a buzz from doing it,” he says.

So he’s not planning to hang up the mic any time soon? “If I stopped doing it I guarantee that two weeks later I’d be saying to myself, ‘now why did you do that?”

Jason Byrne plays Harrogate Theatre on October 4, City Varieties, Leeds, October 5, the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, October 26 and Sheffield’s Memorial Hall, on November 26.