Interview: Ed Byrne

Wednesday 01 February 2006
reading time: min, words

"People still tell me the best thing I ever wrote was the Alanis Morissette routine"


You’ve played in Nottingham a lot, do you have any special affinity for the place?
I do for Just The Tonic. It’s somewhere that I kind of grew up as a comedian, I suppose. I played it very early on in my career and I’ve always had a really good gig there. I get on very well with Darrell [Martin, who runs the club] as well, so it was one of the first places I picked when we were looking to do some warm up gigs for the DVD. The only time I had a bad gig there was one New Year. New Year gigs can be a hooer.

The DVD is a Greatest Hits, isn’t it?
Yeah, I’ve got this thing about always touring with new material, I don’t like doing stuff that I did on the last tour. With the DVD though, it’s a DVD, so people are going to watch it again and again. I’ve got all this stuff that I don’t really do on stage any more, because it’s old. But it’s good. And I just like the idea of it burned into a disc for all eternity, so it’s always there.

How do you know when a joke’s really good?
You don’t know, this is the weird thing. Sometimes you think the punchline is the really funny bit and the audience laugh at the set up. For instance, in the bed routine I talk about when you wake up and you’ve no idea what time it is, then you look at your clock and it’s 4 am. But then you remember you’re a milkman and you’ve slept in. The milkman’s the punchline, but it was waking up and seeing it was only 4 o’clock that was getting the big laugh. So when I do it now the milkman is like a tagline, just a little tail on the kite, as it were. You’ve really no way of predicting what people think is funny and what people don’t.

So what’s the best joke you’ve ever written?
People still tell me the best thing I ever wrote was the Alanis Morissette routine, so that’ll be on the DVD in some form or another. I’ll either do it live on the night or I’ll put a recording from years ago on as an extra feature, just to get it on there. One of my own favourites is about you how you know you’ve fallen in love because you can’t stand to see the other person suffer in any way. If my girlfriend cuts her knee or something I wish it hadn’t happened, I wish it happened to me instead. I’d rather I felt the pain for her than hear her fucking moan about it. I said that to an ex-girlfriend on holiday when she wouldn’t stop complaining about her mosquito bites, and we both laughed and went “That’s a fucking great joke.” It’s basic, but it’s a really nice lead away gag. All my favourite jokes are the ones that in conversation pop out fully formed without anybody thinking about them.

Well, you’re often described as an observational comedian, but you’ve said before you’re more anecdotal. Is there a big difference?
Anecdotal is “This is what happened to me”, observational is “Have you ever noticed when this happens?” The two go hand in hand but the majority of my act is taken up with anecdotes. I do a lot of travelling and I like to talk about that; when you look at different countries and different cultures it makes you see your own culture in stark relief. I went to Australia in the early days with half an hour of material and found out ten minutes of it didn’t work, so I had to hastily write new material while I was there. You’re looking at everything and thinking “that’s new, that’s different, we don’t have that at home,” and so you just write jokes about it. Then you come back to England and notice things that are different from Australia so you start writing jokes about that and it just ends up more anecdotal. It was a perk of the job when I started out. I lived in a shithole with Ross Noble and we turned it into a bigger shithole than it should’ve been, so it was nice to get away from the house anytime a comedy festival came up anywhere.

You experimented with short hair for a bit but you’ve grown it out again now.
Yeah, I got it cut for a sitcom, then I had it shaved for a play and things started to go tits up from there really. My manager disagrees, but I think it had an effect on my career. I did a West End run and the poster was me with short hair. People were like, “Who the fuck’s he, doing the Ambassador’s Theatre?” Whereas if I’d had the long hair they’d be going “Oh, that’s that bloke. We’ll go and see him.”

Another trademark is your smoking. When the new laws come in will you be forced to give that up too?
Yeah, that is a problem. When I started out I had this great visual joke about part time smokers, it worked really nicely but I needed to be smoking a cigarette and I needed to have a beer to be able to tell it. And every gig I did, I did that joke. I even got to do it on TV because if the joke specifically demands that you have to have a cigarette, then they have to let you do it. So I got very used to having a beer and a fag on stage with me at all times. But at corporate gigs or in the States a lot of the rooms are non-smoking, and as soon as you light up the audience just stop laughing. I don’t smoke when I do gigs in Ireland any more, so if they stop it here I won’t smoke on stage here any more, which is another reason why the DVD will be quite the curiosity!

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