Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

‘I used to get criticized for ‘just being’ funny’

By Vaseline May31,2024

“I really wanted to still make it a funny show,” Ed Byrne explains of the daunting task of putting together his latest stand-up routine, the critically acclaimed Tragedy Plus Time, a slightly more emotionally charged affair than his previous outings.

It features the Swords-born comic exploring how he and his family coped with the death of his younger brother Paul, including the many moments of unlikely levity they shared with him and each other during his long battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Paul died in 2022 at the age of 44. Paul Byrne, a respected director/producer who worked with the likes of Dara Ó Briain, Andrew Maxwell, Roisin Conaty and many other well-known comedians, was the man stand-ups turned to for advice. on how to ensure their live shows are delivered.

Ed Byrne

Somewhat ironically, Ed (52) probably could have used his little brother’s advice when, after thirty years of mainly gag-oriented material, he tried to shift gears to write the more personal Tragedy Plus Time.

“I knew I was going to be introducing some sadness into a show for the first time ever, so there was a certain amount of trepidation about that,” Ed explains of how he felt preparing for the show.

“I did ask advice from a number of people with whom Paul worked. Because I wanted the show to be as if he had directed it, if you know what I mean.

“The most important thing that kept coming back was this: his agreement was that you can be as serious as you want, and as sincere as you want, but there has to be a joke in it. You can’t just say something serious and then leave it hanging and move on to the next bit.

“It has to be in service of something comedic, at that moment or at least later in the show. So I’ve made sure I stay true to that.”

Fortunately, it seems punters in Edinburgh and on the recent dates of his Tragedy Plus Time tour have responded well – with a few exceptions.

Ed Byrne: Tragedy + Time
Ed Byrne: Tragedy Plus Time PHOTO: ROSLYN GAUNT

“I knew it would probably do well at the Edinburgh Fringe, but I wasn’t really sure about taking it on the road next,” admits Ed, who is also known for his TV appearances in films including Mock The Week, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Live At The Apollo, and his great outdoor-themed vodcast series Ed Venturing.

“But actually it’s going very, very well. In fact it’s probably better done on the road than in Edinburgh. There were definitely more people walking out along the edge than on the way.”

Yes, apparently the ‘serious’ theme in Tragedy Plus Time surprised some festival goers who had not done their homework.

“I think there were still a few people who just didn’t know what it was going to be about,” he explains.

“There were probably a few who thought, ‘Oh, we’re going to watch something more challenging in the afternoon and then we’ll go see Ed Byrne, because he’s a little more reliable when it comes to making jokes that make us forget.’ about everything’.”

To be fair to these types, it seems that the version of Tragedy Plus Time performed in Edinburgh was slightly more exciting than the version that Irish fans can look forward to when Ed tours here next month.

“It’s less graphic than it used to be,” he admits.

“I had something in there that described in more detail the actual moment when you remove life support from someone, and the sounds they make. I think that was just a bit much, so I toned it down a bit.

Ed Byrne
Ed Byrne

In a way, tapping into the loss of Paul for comedic inspiration has helped London-based Ed ‘move with the times’ in an era when every other stand-up show seems to act as a free therapy session for the person holding the microphone holds.

“I think it’s very accepted and almost expected these days that people will incorporate some sort of trauma into their standard shows,” says Ed.

“Especially if you go to the Edinburgh Fringe or the Melbourne Comedy Festival, for example, if you have only made jokes there for an hour, it is almost disappointing.

“It always annoyed me a bit that I was written off by critics, so to speak, for making a show that was ‘just funny’. Because I really felt like I had no ambition to be anything other than funny.

“Even if I were to convey a strange political opinion or put some sort of ‘woke’ political message into a routine or something like that, I had very little ambition beyond just trying to make the audience laugh or make them go away feeling that they know me a little better.

“But now that I’ve done this show, I get it. I understand why people think comedy needs to do more than ‘just’ make people laugh.”

While Ed is proud of the way the show has been received and the “journey” it has taken him on, from early work-in-progress shows that left him in tears while overcome with still-raw emotions, to the current, well-polished form in which he can enjoy every evening introducing the audience to the younger brother he knew, loved and occasionally clashed with (at one point they had been speaking to each other for years not anymore). He’s already wondering what impact Tragedy Plus Time will have on his life. comedy in the future.

“I hope the next show I do will be a little more relaxed,” says Ed.

“Not that this show isn’t funny, by the way. Without doing her a disservice, it’s not Nanette (Hannah Gadsby’s critically acclaimed 2017 special): I don’t stop comedy 20 minutes before the end of the show and just talk about my pain.

“This show is funny from start to finish, with a few sad parts thrown in, you know?”

Ed Byrne – Tragedy Plus Time: June 20, Millennium Forum, Derry / June 21, Waterfront Hall, Belfast / June 22, Liberty Theatre, Dublin / June 23, Black Box, Galway.

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