Ed Byrne started his comedy career in a 1990s Glasgow basement. On tour again at 42, he may be older, but as he tells Alex Raynbird, he is still pretty silly
No sooner have I introduced myself and our website to comedian Ed Byrne and the banter is flying. “Essential Surrey? That’s a very urgent name!” he jokes. “These are the parts of Surrey you must have!"
The Mock the Week star is touring the UK with his new Roaring Forties show and is clearly on a comic roll. Given the clue in the title it’s no surprise that Byrne is in reflective mood.
“There’s a theme that pops up throughout the show about getting older. But it’s not really all about being in my forties. Any show I do is basically what I’ve been up to in the last few years, and one of those things is turning 40. Other things include having a second kid, going on the driving awareness course for speeding, having a hernia, and going for a vasectomy. I talk about all these with hilarious consequences."
Hilarious and painful, by the sounds of it, but has this watershed changed much for Byrne who turns 42 this month?
“No. I’ve become sillier in my everyday life, because I find it’s an easier way to get through the day. When you’re daft and do something stupid in your teens or your twenties people kind of expect it of you, whereas when you’re daft in your forties people are absolutely baffled by it. That makes it a far more powerful thing.”
A sometime horticulture student, Byrne started his comedy career at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, before deciding to abandon the course after a year to start a comedy club in a pub basement. I wonder when he realised he had a talent for making people laugh.
I was working at the Student Union and I ran for Vice President, so I had to make speeches and I decided to jazz them up with the odd joke. I got a feel for talking. There was a guy who worked in the Student Union who was convinced I should be a stand-up comic and he used to write down funny things I said. At the end of the month he would present them to me and say: ‘look, here are all the funny things you’ve said in meetings this month.’ I’d go wow - there’s some quite funny stuff here!
“That sort of convinced me I could actually do it. I bought a Dictaphone and recorded, you know, brain droppings. I started the comedy night and it went alright. I then packed my comedy knapsack and moved to London, where the streets are paved with comedy clubs."
And the rest, you could say, is history. Nowadays Byrne is a household name, thanks largely to his frequent appearances on comedy and current affairs shows. Has his style and content changed much since those heady student days?
“Yes, it’s become more anecdotal; it used to be more observational. I’ve become more of a storyteller I suppose. I won’t just say I believe something to order to make the joke work; I now only say what I actually think about things. Whereas before I might have done a joke saying that I hate kids, because I’ve got a routine that works nicely about hating kids, but I’ve never actually hated kids. I find it a bit more of a challenge trying to write because of that."
Given he likes an anecdote, has his tour provided him with any good stories?
“Well, I’ve had four people faint on this tour,” he laughs. “I talk about having a hernia operation and it's not really bad but all the fainting people have been middle-aged men. I make a brief reference to the needle because I talk about the anaesthetist, but it’s not like I graphically describe the needle going in or the operation, I just talk about what a hernia is and what happened when I had the operation. And it has always been at that point in the show as well!”
Audience members passing out aside, what career highlights stand out?
“Oh gosh. That’s tricky. Probably getting to meet people who I myself admire. I met Eddie Izzard at the Edinburgh Fringe in ‘95. At the time he was someone I was a massive admirer of. He shook my hand and said 'that was very funny’.”
Is he planning to diversify, move into comedy drama perhaps? Rumour has it he is writing his own sitcom, but he laughs this off.
“Everyone I know is writing a sitcom! I’m seven pages in and have been for six months now. Don’t hold your breath.”
He may not be a prolific sitcom writer yet but it hardly seems likely that Ed Byrne will be twiddling his thumbs any time soon. Once the tour is finished, his comedy muscles will soon be flexing once again.
“I’ll be doing a radio show for Radio 4 called Britain vs the Rest of the World, which is a radio panel thing. I’ll be hosting, and Hal Cruttenden is Captain of the British team and Henning Wehn is Captain of the Rest of the World team. They’ll have a group of guest comedians with them. It’s being recorded in May and will be out later on this year.”
And in the unlikely event that he ever runs out of jokes, there’s always gardening.
Ed Byrne is at Dorking Halls, Apr 26