Ed Byrne: interview
Ed Byrne, whose comedy career is currently experiencing a revival, tells Time Out why the 12 years since they last met have been turbulent – and how his style has changed from observational to conversational
The first (and last) time I interviewed Irish comedian Ed Byrne for Time Out was in August 1996. A week may be a long time in politics, but, apparently, 12 years is long enough for two careers in comedy. I take the article along to refresh his memory.
‘God, was that you who did that interview?’ he asks, looking at the old magazine. It has been over a decade so I forgive him for not remembering. ‘That photograph got me lots of favours; in fact, I ended up doing a joke about it,’ he recalls, admiring his younger self staring up from the page, tousle-haired and bare-chested.
What was it? ‘Well, I slept with this girl and the next morning she’s flicking through a copy of Time Out and at the same time looking at me on the bed – sprawled, knackered, a mess, and she just goes, “Doesn’t look like the one in the catalogue!”.’
He still has the same boyish face, which shows few obvious signs of his hell-raising, hard-drinking earlier life. When we spoke before, John Major was prime minister, the Spice Girls were at Number 1 with ‘Wannabe’ and Byrne was about to take his first solo show ‘A Stand-Up in the Making’ to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was a great success and kick-started a career which, by his own admission, has had some big ups and some equally large downs.
‘I had just done my television debut on Jonathan Ross’s “Big Big Talent Show”, which pretty much sold out the run for me. All the tickets had gone by the end of the first week. Saying that, the show still managed to lose 500 quid, but that’s Edinburgh for you,’ he says, smiling wryly. ‘The show stood me in good stead for ’97. Then, in ’98, I got the Perrier nomination, which was obviously very handy. In 2000, though,
I only did five nights up there and that was at The Playhouse. It was too big a venue to do five nights, but I still managed to shift almost 3,000 tickets on the Saturday, which was all right. Then I did a TV show called ‘Head on Comedy’, but it got shunted all over the airways and got lost. I think it was fairly good but it never got a chance. After that I did a sitcom with Davina. Not very well received.
'In 2001, I did a sitcom it Ireland. Not very well received. Then I started doing the Carphone Warehouse ads. I didn’t seem to do much else and started to slide off everyone’s radar.’ He’s referring to the seven years he spent as the voice behind the successful, though some might charitably say annoying, ‘Mobily’ adverts.
‘There was nothing more I could have achieved in Edinburgh, so I stopped going, and having done a one-man show every year for five years running, thought it was reasonable enough to take a break. I definitely went into a bit of a plateau or valley even from 2001-2004.’
How much of that was to do with burn-out? ‘There was definitely an element of that, but it was more to do with coming up with new material; you just can’t come up with that many jokes all the time. I think I also made some bad choices with regards to what TV shows to appear on. There was a while when I would do anything going.’
But everything turned around in 2006 when Byrne returned to Edinburgh with his highly acclaimed ‘Standing Up, Falling Down’. ‘I was really pleased with that show. Suddenly I was getting calls and being asked to do stuff again. Shows including "Mock the Week" and "Have
I Got News for You", which I’d never done before, ever. It’s almost like I’m having a second career.’
There’s obvious joy and a little relief on his face. ‘Now, I’m happier and I’m funnier than I was ten years ago. I find that very heartening. I remember thinking in 2000: I’m not going to get any funnier, I’m the funniest I’m ever going to be. Maybe that panicked me into doing anything other than fucking stand-up. I thought: Let's get so famous you don’t have to do stand-up anymore. I think that might’ve been part of the problem.’
He looks like a man who’s learnt a lot from his travels through the Land of Funny. As a performer he’s transformed his style. In his latest show, ‘Different Class’, he’s more relaxed and comfortable on stage than ever before.
‘I’ve become more of a storyteller. Before, I always thought of myself as an observational gag merchant. I would do routines. Now, particularly with this show, it’s more a series of stories and anecdotes. I think that’s fine. It’s an acceptable notion that by 36 I might just have some good tales to tell. If I didn’t by now, I’d be a fucking boring guy.’
It’s said that hindsight has 20/20 vision, with that in mind, what advice would he give the 24-year-old Ed staring up at it him from the magazine on the table?
‘I would say don’t do everything that is offered to you. Don’t talk too much – while you might think you’re being charming, others think you’re being an arrogant twat. But I think the best advice I could give to myself, looking back, would be, don’t be quite so messy… And possibly don’t piss off Mark Lamarr. It didn’t do me any favours. Pissing off Mark Lamarr: not a good career move.’
Ed Byrne will be performing ‘Different Class’ at Riverside Studios, September 10-October 12.
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