If anyone is in any doubt about the truth of the old motto “laughter is the best medicine”, then they should hurry along to a Jason Byrne gig as soon as possible.
I can guarantee you that, however down you may be feeling when you go in, when you go out, you will be on a high – and very likely sore from laughing so much.
Jason has an infectious ability to make people laugh – and that’s what makes him one of the most successful stand-ups at work today.
And that is why I would urge you to rush to buy a ticket for his new show, Wrecked But Ready, which he recently performed at the Edinburgh Festival, before embarking on a 31-date national tour, starting in Stockton on September 18.
The critics agree that Jason has few peers when it comes to leaving you helpless with laughter. The Daily Telegraph comments that he is, “An absolute master at wringing comedy from his audience”.
Metro observes that, “Byrne is consistently brilliant”, while The Times calls him, “The outright king of live comedy.” The Evening Standard, meanwhile, is short and sweet in its assessment of his stand-up: “Unmissable”.
Jason is equally unmissable offstage. Half an hour in his company will brighten up your week, if not your month. The stand-up is chatting to me in the run-up to the tour.
As he embarks on his 24th consecutive year of touring, Jason begins by underlining the importance of comedy. “People buy my tickets because they say I’m a guaranteed laugh, and people need laughter in their lives.
“That’s why I can’t go on and selfishly talk about my own misery. People don’t want to go to comedy to hear about your unhappiness – ‘I’ve had a terrible day, and now you’re telling me about your terrible year!’”
He continues that, “After a show, people often say to me, ‘I needed that so much. I got bad news last week, and that really cheered me up’. The key is that I just go on and take the mickey out of myself – and people seem to really like that.” They undoubtably do.
One of the many marvellous things about Jason’s dazzlingly energetic and dynamic live show is that no two nights are ever the same.
The comedian, who has starred in Live at the Apollo (BBC1), The Royal Variety Show (ITV1), Don’t Say It, Bring It (Dave), and Wild Things (Sky), thrives on the sheer unpredictability of his stand-up.
According to Jason, “My energy is based on the audience. I feed off them. I include them in everything I talk about, and that’s how I make the show different every night.
“There is no editing and no preplanning. That gives me such a thrill. I’m 47 now, and as you get older, they say that the way to stop Alzheimer’s is to keep your brain stimulated. As long as I keep gigging, I’ll definitely keep my brain stimulated!”
The comedian is certainly absolutely brilliant at encouraging audience participation. Jason, who is also a judge on Ireland’s Got Talent (TV3), gives us an example that always goes particularly well. “I love audience participation because unpredictable things always happen. The great thing is that audiences are not trained and not used to being on stage.
“I do a simple thing where I get three guys up onstage. One talks about his job, the second translates using a made-up sign language and the third explains it using interpretive dance. So you have got a guy talking into a microphone who has never done it, a guy doing sign language who has never done it and a guy doing interpretive dance who has never done it. Because they don’t have a clue about what they’re doing, it’s so funny.”
Another marvellous aspect of Jason’s live performance is his legendary rapport with his armies of loyal fans, many of whom regularly bring him gifts.
He reveals, for instance, that, “Every year in Leeds a woman leaves me a pomegranate on stage. She doesn’t care what I’m talking about – she just wants to give me a pomegranate!
“One year in Birmingham I talked about people in the audience eating. So now in Birmingham they always leave me boiled sweets on stage. It’s my own fault for talking to the audience.
“Dylan Moran would never get that. But I engage the audience and say hello to them – more fool me!”
The comic promises that in “Wrecked But Ready,” “I will get a couple on stage to do a marriage survey – just to tease them. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get people to separate onstage!”
Jason, who will go on stage for “Wrecked But Ready” wearing a typically ridiculous outfit of a dinner jacket on the top and underpants on the bottom, is also an inspired improviser. There is no one better at going off-script and creating superb comedy plucked out of thin air.
He comments that, “Improvising keeps me stimulated. I don’t have to rattle out the same stuff every night. I was with Ed Byrne at the Kilkenny Comedy Festival and he asked me, ‘Are you going to make up the whole show tonight? ‘ ‘No!’ I replied, ‘I’ve got lots of material’. But then I went on stage and made the whole thing up – just to annoy Ed!
“I can do both. I can do an hour of scripted material or an hour of improvised stuff. It’s a lovely feeling when people react to something I’ve written, but I get great joy out of everything.”
Jason certainly has some wonderful scripted material. For example, he has an excellent routine about Britain’s inability to leave the EU. He explains that, “I imagine that Britain is like a little girl misbehaving because she won’t leave. Brussels says to her, ‘OK, Britain, what the hell is going on?’ I fall to my knees and say, ‘We’re going to stay.’ ‘OK’. ‘Actually, were going to leave!’
“I also imagine Boris Johnson talking to Brussels, and he keeps saying mad stuff like, ‘I like monkeys’. If you turn politicians into children, you realise that they’re the same thing!”
In “Wrecked But Ready,” Jason also has some terrific material about his divorce. As always, his paramount ambition is to make people laugh, and to that end he ensures that he is always the butt of his jokes.
“That’s really important,” Jason affirms. “The audience needs to know that I’m the idiot. The divorce is my fault. My wife was trying to deal with my nonsense all her life.
“But the advice you get when you’re splitting up is hilarious. My favourite is: ‘it gets easier’. That always comes from people who are not divorced – how on earth do they know?”
The comedian, whose second children’s novel will be published this autumn, goes on to emphasise that it is vital to make the material about his divorce funny. “’Wrecked But Ready’ is not a show about divorce and misery. If it were, my crowd would say, ‘Oh, for God’s sake!’ It’s very light-hearted.
“So, for instance, I point out that you can always spot a single man. He’s the one on the beach who always has a square patch of sunburn on his back which he can’t reach with sun cream. He also always has crumbs on his shoulders because his wife used to pick them off.”
In the end, Jason concludes, “My crowd don’t care about my life. They’re just saying, ‘Make me laugh!’”
But they needn’t worry – he absolutely will!
Jason Byrne - Wrecked But Ready UK tour comes to the Core, Corby, on November 1. For tickets visit jasonbyrne.ie