Across three hilarious decades, Jason Byrne has been pulling in huge crowds with his unique brand of madcap nonsense, crazy props and delirium-induced improv. His major success with critically acclaimed live tours including Cats Under Mats Having Chats With Bats and 20 Years A Clown is furthermore boosted by his screen appearances on the likes of renowned shows such as Father Ted and Live At The Apollo, whilst also starring in his very own BBC sitcom, Father Figure.
As the Irish comic gears up to take The Man With Three Brains out on a 37-date UK tour, a new part of his comedic armour is beginning to shine through more prominently.
“John Bishop said to me, ‘why don’t you just do a whole hour of stand-up?’” recalls Byrne of a recent conversation with the Liverpudilan comic. “What has happened is that my audience has come to expect improv, the stunty thing and a bit of stand-up. So, if one of those elements is missing, everyone is a bit confused about how to act. I still do all the elements but I’m especially loving the stand-up right now.”
A key ingredient to any Jason Byrne live extravaganza is his side-splitting and personable interaction with the audience. Be it with them sitting in their seats, or for those lucky few who are even invited to join Jason on stage and participate in the ensuing mayhem. Alongside revelling in his new found love of one-man-and-a-mic chat, Jason uses his acumen and natural flare for stand-up as a device to suss out his crowd.
“The first half of the new show will have a lot of stand-up, which will give me a chance to do a little bit of housekeeping so I can work out who to pick for the second half. I’ll do maybe two stunts in two hours. It’s so conflicting for me, because people will say they love the stand-up storytelling and others just want the stunts. But as I go on, I’ll keep pushing the stand-up. I tend to drift off when I watch stand-up, unless it’s someone amazing like Dylan Moran or Tommy Tiernan. And I’ve often been envious of someone like John Bishop because his audience will expect him to just stand there and not move.”
As with previous tours, you can expect the visual elements to Jason’s show to be as vivid and wild as ever. The new tour will feature an enormous button on stage that triggers some erratic dancing, alongside a farm pen used for an improvised piece of horse-herding, and a box of tricks that could result in just about anything happening at any time.
“It’s called The Man With Three Brains because it’s a mix of improv, stand-up and the stunts. I try to explain to people that there’s a chaos going on which makes me feel as though I have three brains; I’ve got too much going on. All three want to go at it at the same time. I know other comics have a filing system in their head with files ready but it’s quite easy for them because they’re just doing stand-up; my files don’t come out in order, they’re like a web, fighting to get out at the same time. So, when I’m doing the stand-up, another part of my brain is scanning the audience and seeing who I can pick out.”
Alongside the mayhem, Jason will also be touching upon a more personal story: his recent vasectomy.
“I thought everyone would get a vasectomy done in a clinic, but mine happened in the doctor’s house. Now, it’s really not that big a deal but I just blow it up and make it a deal. Billy Connolly would have definitely done a story like that. I’ve seen him talk about a prostate exam, which isn’t a funny thing at all, but because he has his facial expressions and his noises, he makes it brilliant. I’m a ‘you won’t believe what happened to me’ type of storyteller.”
Another large element of the stand-up concerns the time that Coldplay came to play in Dublin, a gig Jason attended. In direct contravention of any semblance of health and safety regulations, a man in a wheelchair was crowd-surfed on the stage. As well as retelling the incident, Jason gets inside Chris Martin’s head as he suddenly clocks what’s happening in front of him.
“I love that story. In the footage you’ll see him just being taken along like he’s in a throne. What makes it funny is that people have different information about it: people at the gig only see him being surfed, but I add in the bit about Chris Martin. It’s a feel-good story because wheelchair users often just get ignored at gigs and are pushed over there to the side.”
Not content with just creating another barnstorming new show, Jason has also been busy writing a series of children’s books called The Five Os.
“After my first draft, the editor said, ‘this is so complicated Jason, maybe not in your head, but you’re going to have to iron this out’. I love writing. It’s about these four children and a tortoise who save children’s imaginations. Slipping mad stuff onto a page is kind of where I belong. What you see on stage is like looking inside a kid’s head. Just look at all the props I’ve had over the years, like rubber hands and the ducks. It can be pretty wild.”
Also on the horizon for Jason this autumn is Don’t Say It, Bring It, a street-based game show for the Dave channel. Twenty half-hour episodes were filmed across the UK in cities such as Belfast, Glasgow, Newcastle and Bristol, with contestants playing either on their own, in pairs, or in groups. The object of this scavenger-hunt style exercise is for them to bring back an item Jason has asked them to find, but without saying what it is in return for a cash prize.
What with the stand-up now pushing its way forward to have a more prominent role in his show and the writing career bringing him great pleasure, it’s intriguing to consider what a live Jason Byrne show will look like in 15 years’ time when he’s reached the age of 60.
“I’m good at telling stories and that’s definitely going to happen more in my shows and probably sooner rather than later. Years ago someone spoke to me about all the physical stuff and said, ‘what are you going to do when you’re 40’? Well, I’m now 45 and still doing all this. Although in 15 years, I certainly won’t be lifting a guy by his belt with one arm and moving him around, that’s for sure.”