Jason Byrne talks brains and vasectomies ahead of his Ulster Hall gig
Ahead of his exhaustive new tour which stops off in Belfast, Dublin funnyman Jason Byrne tells Gail Bell why comedy is a serious business for which he needs three brains
FUNNYMAN Jason Byrne is not someone who necessarily believes nothing is sacred in comedy, but he did move his own goalposts a tad when sharing details of a recent vasectomy with an agog audience at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.
"Well, you couldn't just ignore something like that; it was too good an opportunity to miss," says the Dublin-born "Man with three brains" who brings his new show to Belfast's Ulster Hall next weekend.
The father of two "men-children" (aged 10 and 17) may have called time on fatherhood, but just couldn't let the personal matter rest within the family.
"Personal matters are personal, but I thought this was something my audience would like to hear," he says. "After all, it's all about me, and I gave permission to myself to tell the story.
"I certainly didn't do it for the sympathy, though – the audience don't give a sh**t. In my experience, they like to laugh at you, not with you. My wife, Brenda, asked, 'Is nothing sacred in life?' but, at times, you have to share your pain."
He has pain of another kind the morning we speak, having exited the Edinburgh stage – he has now appeared 22 times at the iconic festival – at 3am after a "late gig" and, consequently, finding it difficult to coax his voice into full working order.
It is a bit of an occupational hazard for a comedian, of course, but in Byrne's case, it is made all the worse for the punishing schedule he has planned out for himself – following a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, he embarks on a 37-date UK tour, beginning in October, with his 'The Man with Three Brains' show – a self-styled mix-up of stand-up, improvisation, magic and stunts.
"It's a bit like a Royal Variety show, only I'm the only person on stage," he ventures, the distinctive vocals slowly returning. "It's exhausting and really, really hard work. I wish I could just get up and tell stories like John Bishop, but I've left it too late for that and my audiences now have certain expectations.
"It's my own fault, of course; audiences are trained to react in a certain way, like dogs are trained to react to something they expect to happen. I have dogs and if I suddenly do something outside of their experience field, and they don't like it, it's my fault."
I am still mulling this over and wondering if he is seriously comparing an audience to dogs, when Byrne has raced on to the next thing (literally) in his head: his brains.
He has three of them, apparently, so it is difficult to keep up. Put simply, each of Byrne's brains all have a different function, and like the aforementioned dogs, they know exactly what is expected of them.
His left brain scans the audience and room, looking for "improv moments", while his right brain collates stand-up material and stunts, poised to dish out the funnies at speed. His centre brain, meanwhile, is "the coach", pushing him to the limit of his mental and physical capabilities.
It was a "fun name" which came from having to have three different personalities on stage during the last tour – 'Propped Up' – which comprised giants ducks and wooden pegs, among other things.
"On my last tour, I created an entire show full of props, and the audiences couldn’t stop laughing," he recalls. "I wanted to show them some of the method behind the madness, peeling back to reveal my three brains. It’s going to give audiences an insight into my mind..."
Sometimes, the former electrician, who used to rig up the lighting on stage for other people's shows, worries that the effort required is too much and he set the comedic bar too high at the outset.
"I wonder if I want to go back to my 'real job' and just laugh in the pub with – or at – friends at weekends, as I've never really wanted to do [comedy4]," he says emphatically – but, then again, he could be joking. "I had never any interest in doing comedy and the only person disappointed that I did go on to do it full-time is me.
"I miss being able to play in a football team at the weekends and I have never worked so hard in my life. When I first thought about doing this for a profession, my parents were, like, 'That's great, you go for it', and I was like, 'No, no, I don't think I can; I want something steady and not as chaotic.'
"It is exhausting and you have to concentrate like f**k. I prefer doing as little work as possible, really. I like listening to other people being funny and the funniest people are those you meet in the streets or in the pub.
"I'm definitely not one of the comedians who tell jokes the whole time they are talking to you. People don't realise there is a difference in being funny at school or in the pub and doing it professionally as a craft. They are two distinct things."
The physicality of the shows requires a certain level of physical fitness which Byrne hones with the help of a personal trainer – and also a bicycle which he buys when in Edinburgh, "where the hills are vicious", and where he cycles ferociously between the back-to-back performances.
If he's not selling comedy as his ultimate dream job, the reluctant comedian has done pretty well with it so far – 22 years and counting.
In addition to extensive touring worldwide, his Radio 2 show was awarded the UK radio industry’s Sony Radio Gold Award and, as well as fronting a new studio-based comedy chat show, Jason Byrne's Snaptastic Show for TV3 in Ireland, he is co-host of Sky’s hugely popular entertainment programme Wild Things, on Sky1.
But, the star who has appeared at Live at the Apollo (BBC1), The Royal Variety Show (ITV1), The John Bishop Show (BBC1), and Father Figure (BBC1), is having the most fun at the moment with a new game show, Don't Say It, Bring It, going out on the Dave channel from November 13.
Loosely based on a scavenger hunt, he says the show feeds into his love of "silly stuff and immature humour" and is the perfect antidote to the worrying hard work of stand-up.
"The thing about comedy is you have to make people laugh whatever your own mood, and there is a certain pressure that comes with that," Byrne explains. "Everyone has a bad day and when I have one, I look at it a bit like an acting job where I will step out of my own body for a few hours of self-escapism.
"The Dave show, though, is great fun without the worry. It's like a trampoline; I enjoy being on a trampoline, but I don't have to think about it before jumping."
:: Jason Byrne, The Man With Three Brains, takes to the Ulster Hall on Sunday November 5 (ulsterhall.co.uk). For more tour dates see jasonbyrne.ie