Top stand-up Ed Byrne is bringing his new tour to Yorkshire this winter. He spoke to Brian Donaldson about the EU referendum, being a modern parent and his rise from working-class Dubliner to a paid-up member of the middleclass.
If comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, then wiry Irish comic Ed Byrne is its comeback king.
After shooting to fame in the ‘90s with a sharp, witty style that made him the height of cool with hip, young audiences, he burned-out spectacularly while still in his twenties and retreated from the stand-up scene.
However, 10 years ago he resurrected his comedy career to widespread acclaim, and in an age where comedians are now selling out stadiums in the UK, Byrne is reaping the rewards of this triumphant return. “It’s amazing to be around at this time,” he says. “What’s interesting now is that people are watching comedians on TV shows, and as well as laughing at them on TV they’re then rushing off to see them live. Comedy is no longer niche entertainment.”
Now a parent and wiser than he was when he first burst onto the scene, Byrne’s new show tackles issues that modern Britain is now facing in a more reflective way.
And as he prepares to launch himself upon the nation with another tour, he is firmly of a belief that the current breed of parents spoil their kids rotten.
He said: “My dad wasn’t a bad dad but he was just a 1970s dad and I think we have made a rod for own backs by giving in to the ever-increasing demands of children today.
In his new show, the perfectly-titled Spoiler Alert, Ed compares and contrasts the old-school child-rearing days with 21st century methods and suggests that there are different ways to learn how to be a mum or dad.
He said: “If I could never see my children again from this moment on, I would have already done more parenting then my dad did in his entire life and that is not a reflection on him it is just that times have changed and kids get spoilt rotten as a consequence.”
As well as stories about his two young sons, Ed weaves in routines about running out of petrol in the most awkward place imaginable, helping rescue an injured man in the Cairngorms, and the nation-dividing campaign and result of the EU referendum.
His way of tackling Brexit is to draw an analogy with the time his son was determined to touch an electric fence him trying to warn him of the dangers.
He recounts: “I was telling the story of the electric fence for a while, and then suddenly it struck me that it was Brexit in microcosm and it works as an analogy whichever side you’re on.
“The government told us not to do this and that it would be a terrible idea, but we said ‘no, we want to do it anyway’. So now we’re doing it and it’s proving a terrible idea. I do think it’s a fair analogy, but no doubt for some it will come across as me being a typical liberal elite Remoaner.”
It was back in 1996 that Byrne got his big break with an appearance on Jonathan Ross’s Big Big Talent Show, and the young, straggly-haired Irishman soon became something of a rock ‘n’ roll comedian.
Hip, Britpop-savvy audiences lapped-up his chordstriking riffs on popular culture, such as his now legendary tirade against Alanis Morissette’s hit song Ironic – where he pointed out that “the only ironic thing about that song is it’s called ‘Ironic’ and it’s written by a woman who doesn’t know what irony is”.
There were showbiz parties, offers of big TV shows, and he got to perform in front of the Queen at 1999’s Royal Variety Performance. But trouble was just around the corner.
“I burned out really,” he explains. “I was writing more and more new material which got eaten up doing TV, and in the end I had to take a break from it all.
“I spent a couple of years not doing much, just doing a bit of acting or presenting or voice-overs…”
Fortunately for Byrne though, he would eventually return to a hero’s welcome. His 2006 Edinburgh show Standing Up, Falling Down won him a huge amount of acclaim, offers of TV shows started flooding in and his “second career”, as he refers to it, had arrived.
Armed with a more mature outlook, a level-head and greater life experience, Byrne believes he now has both the approach and the material to cope with the pressures of success.
“I feel like I’m in my prime now and I’ve actually got stuff to talk about! I’m living a normal life, and not just getting p*ssed with my mates like I used to. “My opinions on things like politics are coming into it more too – partly because I’m older and grumpier, but also because now I can just say what I think about things and make it funny. That’s what I’m enjoying.”
Ed Byrne plays St George’s Hall in Bradford on 9th December..