Classic Interview: Jason Byrne

jason byrne

The eternal quest for the perfect primetime mainstream sitcom continues with Father Figure, the TV transfer of Jason Byrne's hit madcap radio series about his eccentric clan. Byrne plays well-meaning but hopeless Tom Whyte, "the best and worst dad you could have". It's about time he got his TV break and I hope he can bring some of the freewheeling excitement of his live gigs to the small screen. Byrne is a truly spontaneous performer onstage. A little bit like an Irish Ross Noble, but that hardly does him justice.

Earlier this year he followed Lee Evans at the C4 Comedy Gala telling 16,000 comedy fans about his itchy arse – it seemed like an odd bit of billing at the time, but even Evans was aware that it is almost impossible to follow Byrne, so chose to go on before him. This interview, in which Byrne discusses his comedy roots, the comedy boom, some of his maddest gigs and his misgivings about TV comedy, first appeared in the Leicester Comedy Festival brochure in 2012. Father Figure is on BBC1 later this month and Jason Byrne is on tour this autumn. Dates here.

 

Jason Byrne’s most memorable festival gig involved a priceless piece of audience participation. “It was about four years ago. Before the interval I asked the crowd to get stuff from the foyer and put it on the stage. I did this all round the country and Leicester finished top of the leader board. I came back after the break and the place was covered in chairs, desks, cables, plant pots...someone had put a coffee machine there. It was just insane, a brilliant, brilliant gig.”

The flame-haired Dubliner started out as a stand-up in 1995, a year after the launch of the Leicester Festival, so they have grown together. In that time Byrne has seen comedy expand beyond all expectations: “In 1996 I did the So You Think You’re Funny competition in Edinburgh and came second to Tommy Tiernan, but nobody back then thought you could have a career in stand-up. People like me, Tommy, Dara O’Briain and Johnny Vegas all did stand-up by accident.”

Part of him misses those innocent days: “We were just doing it for a laugh and a bit of cash, then out of nowhere it became this massive thing. You see new comedians now and they already have long-term plans.” But part of him thinks that comedians deserve their super-rich status: “People like Cannon and Ball and Little and Large gigged for years for no money, whereas Jimmy Carr and Jason Manford could retire soon.”

While many of his contemporaries have been happy to move from stage to TV screen the anarchic 39-year-old has mixed feelings about it. You cannot ask fans to steal things for you on primetime TV. “I love the rawness of live comedy. And British audiences are so up for it they are the best in the world. Going to comedy has become like going to see a band, it has become part of British culture.”

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