Ipswich: Comedian Jason Byrne talks about his new show
JAMES RAMPTON talks to comedian Jason Byrne about his fans, talking underpants and his new show
Last year, magnetic Irish comedian Jason won the Sony Radio Gold award for “the best use of an audience”.
In their citation for Radio 2’s The Jason Byrne Show, the judges declared it was “organic comedy with great timing and huge warmth. The judges were won over by the best use of the audience in any entry this year and by its consistent laugh-out-loud moments”.
“That connection with the audience was what clinched the award, the judges couldn’t believe that I was doing it off the cuff. But I was just thinking on my feet. That’s basically what I do,” he says, looking back.
It’s that spontaneity that makes Jason such a terrific stand-up. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself as embarks on a UK tour with new show People’s Puppeteer.
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It follows on from “Cirque du Byrne”, his hugely successful debut solo tour last year, and promises to be another tremendous night of comic pyrotechnics. Famous for his onstage antics and stunts, Jason has a really unique act.
What is so good about his show is that every single night is different. A comic who by his own admission is easily bored, he is constantly pulling new humorous rabbits out of his entertainer’s hat.
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When we chat in the run-up to the tour, Jason proves just as funny as he is on stage.
He begins by revealing that: “Before the show, I hear people saying ‘I can’t wait to see what he is going to do tonight’. That phrase should be on the T-shirt for my show!”
Jason, who is releasing the DVD of his hit Cirque du Byrne show on November 19, goes on to explain why he thrives on his rapport with the audience.
“The audience is vital to me. I want them to feel that night is the only night that will happen. It’s their night. I’m giving it to them. The more I involve them, the more unique it feels for them. I go on stage saying ‘everybody get on this train. I don’t know where it’s going, but let’s all jump on it anyway’.”
Jason, a deserving winner of the Chortle Award for Best Headliner in 2007, continues: “The audience leave the theatre saying ‘wow! What was that’? I’m pretty diverse and appeal to all ages. People bring along their grannies and grandads. But I’ve never met anyone who comes out, saying ‘that was disappointing’.”
The stand-up, who began his tour with 12 nights at the EICC in Edinburgh at the beginning of August, says he gets the biggest buzz out of conjuring up routines out of thin air.
“The past three months I have been working on the new show in Australia and New Zealand. But when I get to the point where everything is polished and lovely and shiny and tried and tested, my brain goes ‘why don’t you make something up’?
“So I start making stuff up to entertain myself. I recently just did the Kilkenny Comedy Festival. I was doing six sets of 20 minutes each and I gave myself the challenge of doing six completely different sets. You will be very pleased to hear I managed it!”
So why does Jason get such a thrill out of improvising his material?
“My attention span is so low! If I start telling a story I’ve told for the past two weeks I think ‘I know the end of this’. I get bored and want to mix it up. That’s my drug!
“When I’m on stage, I have a clever head on. I’m at the peak of my intelligence. All parts of my brain are fusing and I feel completely in control - more so than at any other time in my life.
“The adrenaline rush of stand-up opens a new part of my brain. If I ever wanted to write a book, I reckon I could get it done very fast on stage! I just love performing live.”
The comedian makes outrageous demands on his audience. In the past he has, for instance, got four men up on stage and played the song Popcorn on their groins.
For all that, Jason never takes the mickey out of his audience - the comic is always the butt of his own gags. He also stresses he only ever chooses volunteers who are clearly up for it.
Jason, who has in previous years been the biggest selling comedian at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, observes: “I’m very good at reading body language. I’d never get someone up who was clearly too shy. I can gauge audience members by looking at them. I can tell if they’re up for fun.”
To emphasise his close relationship with his audience, they bring Jason gifts every night and leave them on stage for him. The comic laughs he recently received one of his strangest ever offerings at a live show.
“A guy brought up the boxer shorts that he had been wearing that day. I put them on the end of my foot, so that they looked like a face. Then I did the whole show with the shorts talking to the audience! It was a total riot.”
He goes on to explain the title of this year’s show.
“For last year’s show, Cirque du Byrne, I wore a ringmaster’s hat and jacket. It was good to have a uniform. I’m old-school and think it’s nice if the comedian has clearly put a bit of an effort into the show. I want the audience to think ‘he’s wearing a uniform - good on him’.
“I wanted to keep the idea of a uniform, but I couldn’t wear the same thing so I had to think what else was circusy. Then I came up with the idea of wearing a puppeteer’s uniform because I use the audience as puppets and get them up on stage to do stuff. But nobody should panic! They can rest assured there are no puppets in this show. I can see people now texting in, ‘thank God for that’.”
Jason closes by returning to the subject of the Sony Radio Gold Award.
“I was so pleased to get that award, but I’m afraid my wife and my mum are still battling over who should have it in the house. My mum says to me ‘tell your wife I should have it. I raised you’. But I’m afraid it makes no difference. Who do you think is going to win that battle? My wife, of course!”
Jason Byrne, People’s Puppeteer, comes to the Ipswich Regent on October 27.