Jason Byrne on getting Unblocked in Belfast and his Paddy Lama Shed Talks
David Roy chats to Dublin comedy star Jason Byrne about his new stand-up tour Unblocked and a very special one man show which finds the funnyman paying tribute to his late father...
JASON Byrne has had a hard time of it over the past couple of years, with relationship woes, an undiagnosed heart condition and the death of his father all adding to the stress of losing his livelihood during the Covid lockdowns.
However, after splitting with his wife of 14 years, Brenda, father-of-two Byrne (50) is now happy with a new partner, Tracy, and last year underwent a heart op to keep him ticking over for another half-century.
The Dublin comic also sees a therapist to help him stay reasonably sane, and getting back on stage has also helped him 'deal'. Unblocked, Byrne's new stand-up show, finds him delving into some of the aforementioned incidents along with his recent social media mishaps – not only is the comedian one of the few adults over 40 who actually knows how to use TikTok, he also managed to get banned from it for a lewd sketch lampooning Joe Wicks's lockdown workouts.
Of course, as fans will know, that's only a fraction of what the show will actually be about: the bulk of Byrne's reliably riotous live comedy is sparked by off-the-cuff interactions with the audience in front of him: sit in the front row and you'll likely become part of the show.
"I find that talking about this stuff with the audience, they really do have sympathy for you," says the Ballinteer man, who plays The Abbey Tavern in Howth tonight and will be back in Belfast at The Ulster Hall on October 8.
"They're kind of laughing at me, but at the same time they're kind of going 'f***sake Jason, you poor b***ard'.
"Like, my dad passed away and I had the Covid kick in after that so I'd no gigs, then I'd the heart surgery... It is quite a lot for one human to take on – but funny enough comedians are quite good with stress, we kind of live with it.
"So it's how you manage your stress that matters and I found that going to therapy was a big outlet as well – that helped me gig. The best line that my therapist said was, 'You probably think you've come here for me to solve your problems'. And of course I immediately went, 'Yeah – can you do that?'
"She says, 'No, I'm not doing that: I'm going to teach you how to sit in your own s***.' Which is a great way to kind of think about it – to just accept that you actually have a lot of problems.
"It's like what my dad used to say: 'Look son, life is sometimes s***e – and there's nothing you can do about it.' Accepting that can actually make your life better, instead of sitting feeling sorry for yourself going 'oh why me?', which I was certainly doing at times.
"I had to tell myself 'look Jason, there's nothing you can do about this. It's your heart and it's hereditary, it's not your fault'."
To be fair, Byrne was actually pretty lucky with his heart: having experienced chest pain while running, the comedian was diagnosed with a familial heart condition where his body produces too much artery-blocking cholesterol.
Happily, his doctor was able to perform an angioplasty, inserting five stents to reinforce his freshly unblocked bloodways. The comedian now takes tablets to prevent future build-ups which would eventually lead to a heart attack.
Being able to go back on the road also means that Byrne has been able to pay tribute to his late father, Paddy, who died following a stroke in early 2020. His other new show, The Paddy Lama Shed Talks, is a one-man dramatic performance inspired by his dad's fondness for basing himself in the family's garden shed, from where he would dispense infamous words of 'wisdom'.
It's a first for Byrne, in which the Perrier Award-nominated stand-up actually plays his dad, even wearing his clothes for a poignant touch of added authenticity.
"I've had a director helping me with that one," admits the comedian, who will be bringing both of his new shows to the Edinburgh Fringe next month.
"I thought it might be a mammoth task, but it's actually been quite enjoyable. Basically, the idea was that I would be my dad on the stage in a little shed. He was a very Dublin kind of dry wit fella who was very funny, and the show takes place over the two days when he was having the stroke.
"My director had a really good idea where I went and interviewed my sister and my mother about my dad and the stroke and everything, so that gets played in [as on-stage audio] and I react to the voice-overs as my dad as if he's actually talking back to them.
"My director asked me, 'Why do you want to do this play?' and I had a couple of goes at answering him. He was like some sort of guru going, 'No, no, no' every time, until finally I said, 'I suppose I just want people to know who my dad was'. He goes, 'That's it'.
"The reason I want people to know who my dad was is because he was so funny. He was a very unusual, hilarious man who always had this kind of really s*** advice that actually worked. So I want people to get to know him and to remember their loved ones and stuff – the main thing about the play is to encourage people to actually talk about their loved ones when they die because that's how we keep them with us."
As for Unblocked, the comic explains that his latest stand-up set will be a joyous affair poking fun at himself and the audience, who as ever, will be very much a focal point for the evening
"The Unblocked show is very much a celebration of life, having fun with the audience," Byrne tells me.
"I want them back up on stage the way they used to be with me, doing stunts and just having a laugh – because we all just need it right now, we've all been in the s*** together.
"And I like having a good laugh about the heart surgery. I've always said it's best to try and find the humour in something like that, and that's how you kind of get through it."
Of course, some people's sympathies are more helpful than others, as the comic explains.
"I put up on Facebook that I'd had to have heart surgery and so couldn't do some gigs I'd coming up in Britain," says Byrne, who was recently seen on TV as a judge on Ireland's Got Talent.
"I got messages from all around the world saying 'best of luck', 'it'll be a new lease of life' and that sort of thing, but the ones I got that were the most miserable were from Irish people. One woman wrote, 'My husband had eight stents in, Jason, and he was very very sick afterwards. It took him weeks to recover – and then he got a brain tumour and died two weeks later. So, best of luck'.
"I was just like, why do Irish people always have to tell you that they know someone who died from the thing you have? I think we're all just crazy b***ards."
:: Jason Byrne's Unblocked tour comes to the Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 8. See jasonbyrne.ie for tickets and full tour details.