Prop idol: Comedian Jason Byrne on his new tour featuring Gwyneth Paltrow
Dublin comedian Jason Byrne tells David Roy about getting back to his comedy roots with his new tour Jason Byrne is Propped Up, which arrives in Belfast later this year
SOME comedians might get nervous about being upstaged by sharing a stage with a giant rubber duck and a huge replica of a well-known Hollywood actress/'lifestyle blogger''s head.
However, Jason Byrne is not most comedians. The Dublin funnyman has built his 20 year long stand-up career on the success of unpredictable, audience interaction-fed live shows incorporating an array of bizarre comedy props.
Although he's scaled the latter element back in favour of 'bigger' interactive skits and stunts – Byrne's 20 Years A Clown tour found him inviting fans to help mark his two decades in comedy by physically assaulting him via a real life version of the classic children's game Buzz – last year's anniversary tour also found the weird and wonderful items beginning to reappear in the show, much to his audiences' delight.
It seems Byrne took this as a sign that he should finally go the whole hog – or indeed, giant rubber duck – and create an entire live show based around props.
And, although he already has a formidable arsenal of inflatable and/or wearable novelty items that would give the best joke shop in the world a run for its money, the Dubliner is constantly on the look-out for new additions to his comedic collection as he tours Jason Byrne is Propped Up.
"I just keep buying stupid s*** – so f*** knows what the show is going to be like by the time it gets to Belfast," laughs Byrne, who looks forward to being back in his north Dublin home an hour after leaving the stage after his regular pre-Christmas engagement up north.
"Basically, the whole show is just going to be props. I've been adding props on nearly every gig I've been doing.
"I've got a wearable dolphin's head, a wearable horse's head, rubber hands, owls, big wooden pegs – at the moment we're in the process of making a giant Gwyneth Paltrow head for a big finale."
As you do.
Ballinteer-born Byrne has 'history' with the former Mrs Chris Martin: when the pair appeared on The Graham Norton Show last year, he made a gentle joke about her daughter Apple's name being connected to the Sliding Doors star's famously selective dietary preferences.
While Paltrow's frosty reaction to this light-hearted enquiry meant the entire exchange was left on the editing room floor so as not to spoil the show's otherwise upbeat vibe ("she wasn't much craic" is how Byrne describes the incident), it's become the inspiration for a live finale that pays sly tribute to the star's role in David Fincher's Se7en.
"I do a bit of stand-up about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin and how much happier he is now that he's left her," Byrne tells me.
"At the very end, everybody who has taken part in the show gets up on the stage and we play that Coldplay song Adventure of a Lifetime, which is this big lively number that everyone jumps around to.
"The people on the stage sing the big 'woo-hoos' in the song and get the rest of the audience to copy them while I sit down in a chair at the side of the stage – it's so funny to see the punters actually controlling the crowd.
"Then what happens is that the big Gwyneth Paltrow head will come down out of the ceiling, the song will change to (Coldplay ballad) Fix You and everybody goes 'unhappy'.
"It's mad watching the whole room 'go sad', because they're basically copying what I did in my stand-up earlier.
"At the moment, all I have is a massive cut-out of her head that I hold up at the back of the stage – but I'm hoping to have the full-sized head for Edinburgh.
"What happens at the end is that whole crowd 'woo-hoos' Gwyneth Paltrow's head away as we all leave the venue together."
As yet, we've had no word on whether the new and improved Gwyneth head was indeed ready in time for his annual appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe – where Byrne is billed as the event's best-selling comedian – last weekend.
While that particular prop is being custom built, Byrne likes to trawl charity shops and second-hand shops in search of potentially hilarious implements, as well as gratefully accepting all donations to his comedy cause.
Other bits and pieces are bought new 'off the shelf' for the show – indeed, it seems one of his other most bizarre items was sourced from the world's most popular retailer.
"We got that on Amazon," laughs Byrne of his new tour's signature prop.
"That was f***in' hilarious because we ordered what we thought was an ordinary sized duck and this big f***in' thing arrived. I couldn't believe it – but now we're trying to go even bigger, I want the biggest rubber duck I can get my hands on."
It's all part and parcel of a comedy career that's been more about designing heavily spontaneous shows that revolve around each night's audience than perfectly crafted 'gags' – and it's this madcap element that's provided the Irishman with his unique, irresistible hook as a live performer.
"Look, I love doing the stand-up but my favourite thing is messing about with people," he explains.
"Like we've all seen one of those dolphin heads before, right? But it's how you use it. We had this guy the other night in Bristol called Simon wearing it, standing there on stage with a duck and an owl in his hands.
"I was interviewing him in this get-up and when he spoke he had this voice that was deeper than the ocean. It was the f***in' funniest thing ever, we all just got the mad giggles.
"So that's what I'm trying to do with the show every night now – I keep pushing myself all the time. I just want it to be complete and utter madness."
Well, if fans do 'lose their heads' at the show, at least they're guaranteed to be in good company.
:: Jason Byrne is Propped Up, Sunday December 11, The Ulster Hall, Belfast. Tickets on sale now via Jasonbyrne.co.uk