Ed Byrne interview: Star Trek, stand-up, Jet Set Willy and Monday night crowds

We talk to Ed Byrne, recipient of the Best Supporting Actor at the Monaco International Festival Of Non-Violent Film, about what he's up to, and his new stand-up DVD...

Ed Byrne’s latest stand-up DVD, Crowd Pleaser, is well worth checking out, not least for the terrific in-vision commentary, where he sits with Dara O Briain and watches his own gig. He spared us a bit of time to tell us what he’s up to, and here’s how it went…

Congratulation on having the only stand-up DVD to reference the videogame Jet Set Willy. That’s some achievement…!

Thank you, thank you! I don’t even remember doing that!

You did in the in-vision commentary part of the disc, that you recorded with Dara O Briain.

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Of course! I have to say, congratulations first of all. Only someone from a website called Den Of Geek would have watched the in vision commentary!Can I go back to your last tour, first of all. Because I think we saw the birth of your geek irritations on stage there, where you addressed the issue of Marty McFly in Back To The Future. Do you have any other nerd irritations tucked away, that haven’t yet made it to one of your shows.

There’s something that’s got to come out in some form. I went to a chemists, and they were selling Arnica cream, for bruising. And they were also selling homeopathic Arnica. Now, I thought the whole way that homeopathy was supposed to work was to take something that causes the thing to heal, and then you dilute it, homeopathically.

It’s all bloody nonsense, bullshit. The point is that this highlights why is regular Arnica being sold for the same thing that homeopathic Arnica is, when the homeopathic remedy is supposed to do the opposite? It just highlights what bullshit the whole thing is.

There’s a load of things. I think the last DVD had more of those nerd irritations on it. Like Thriller not being a thriller, but a horror.

Before you went on this tour, you gave a few interviews where you said that this is the one where you’d be bringing your geeky side to the fore. It almost feels, on your new DVD, that you’re using a Star Trek gag to test the nerdy waters a little?Yeah.

Did you find the audience had much trouble locking into it?

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Yeah, yeah. Some of that stuff on the DVD, is very shortened in the live show now. I don’t dwell on it quite as much now. The thing about the CERN, and if they open up a parallel universe, how they might want to work out a secret signal, I’ve just stopped doing it. It’s one of my personal favourites, but it just falls flat. It falls flat half the time.

So where’s your nerdiest audience?

You can never really predict it. But generally, if it’s somewhere that’s sold out on a Monday or Tuesday night, there’s a good chance that they’re a slightly nerdier crowd.

What percentage of your audience could answer your question where you get them to try and name a ship from Star Trek?

Very, very few people!

So you got lucky on the DVD recording, then? Or did you have to plant that?

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No, it wasn’t a plant! Generally, there’s one person, maybe two. But there are a few times where they let me down completely! And there’s a few times where they shout out the answer ‘Enterprise’, and I pause, and do a whole, over the top, “Durrrr!”.

It’s like your gigs are like Choose Your Own Adventure books.

That’s funny. I did an interview for a walking magazine, and the guy there said the exact same thing. That the gigs are like Choose Your Own Adventure books, in the way that depending on what’s in the audience, you react in a certain way, but the whole thing is mapped out in your head. It’s actually quite a clever analogy that he made.

You were playing a funny, but presumably dangerous, game when you started asking your audience for stories of meeting their heroes. Presumably, just putting stuff like that out on a DVD, you have even more problems with lawyers than usual.

But what kind of extremities were people coming up with, that you can talk about?

Funnily enough, possibly because I’m a nerd, and the crowd I therefore draw, Patrick Stewart has come up a number of times.

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In a positive or negative way?In a negative way.

What, a bit grumpy?

Grumpy, that’s the basic one, yes.

But one woman was very odd. One woman said he was [allegedly] coming out of an Ann Summers. And I think any celebrities you stop coming out of an Ann Summers are likely to be brusque! She says that she started talking to him about Star Trek, and he was very happy. Then she started talking to him about X-Men, and he was like, ‘I don’t want to talk about that’! That was weird…

We should talk film recommendations, and now seems as good a time as any! Were there any decent ones you managed to slot in amidst the touring that you’d recommend?

Whilst I’ve been on tour, I haven’t been to the cinema. I’ve been sitting in a hotel room watching DVDs. I’ve been watching In Treatment, and I’m enjoying it. I’ve got an iTunes season pass. I could just modify headers on Firefox, but I download, and pay for, The Daily Show. I stack them up and watch them on tour.

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Where did the material about fence sitting and agnosticism come from in the gig? What fuelled that?It came from an argument I had with a comedian called Glen Wall. And he’s not a Christian, but he’s one of those, ‘I don’t know, you honestly can’t say there’s no God’. So I said to him, you tell me. What would convince you that there is a God. What are you waiting for to happen? I called him on his agnosticism, and I realised that there might be something in that.

It’s like, early on, when I was doing stuff, when I was a smoker. Bill Hicks would stand there, he’d slag off non-smokers. And I didn’t want to go there, because it had already been done. So instead I went for part-time smokers.

Aetheists slagging off Christians has been done now. It’s a very easy thing to take the piss out of religion, because religion by its nature is weird, silly and illogical. I set myself a bit more of an interesting target. Why don’t I go after the agnostics? Because who could have a problem with agnostics? I can!

I don’t really have a problem with them, I just thought it was a bit more of a challenge.

You did a 20-gig warm-up tour for this. The material that you’re doing is hardly easy stuff, and that’s quite a long warm-up tour. So just how much changed? There’s really strong material in your show, and yet, on paper, you’d wonder if that was the stuff you weren’t expecting to get through the filtering system?Well, to be honest with you, on the Scottish leg, I dropped the thing about interplanetary trash talk, for instance. It wasn’t working. And then, when I started going back to the more metropolitan centres, I put it back in again, and found that it worked. So, it could be that it was just the way I was setting it up.

A friend of a friend said to me after a show, ‘I enjoyed the show, but I’d never heard of CERN and don’t know what CERN is. So I didn’t really enjoy that bit’. So you’ve got to be aware that not everybody is into what you’re into.

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I’d never heard the story before of Prince having a video of you removed from YouTube…

Prince had everything removed from YouTube! Anything that anybody had put up of him. He does release things for free on the Internet, but he has this thing now that it has to go through him. He has his people do a regular YouTube purge. It wasn’t me in particular, he just took everything of himself off YouTube, basically.

So what’s coming up for you? Are you tempted to do a bit more acting yourself, as you’ve dabbled with it a little?Yeah. I’m the receipient of probably the most obscure acting award in showbusiness.

Which is?I won Best Supporting Actor at the Monaco International Festival Of Non-Violent Film.

They build mantelpieces just to hold awards like that! What was it for?

It was for a film called Are You Ready For Love, which is not a good film.

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Do you have interest in making films?

Yeah, I do. I love film, which is why I ended up being a supporting actor in crap ones, it’s something I do love, absolutely.

Are you tempted to try and write one?

Yes, of course, and of course I have screenwriting books and things like that. It’s another one of those things. But I keep getting fat on stand-up comedy! I’m determined that 2012 will be the year that I write my movie.

Have you seen the episode of Family Guy where Stewie starts slagging Brian. It’s one of those ones where anyone who has ever harboured any aspirations to write movies goes, oh god. So, working on that script? Working on it for a while now. Got a good protagonist? Friends become enemies and enemies become friends?

What other plans do you have for 2012, then? You’ve done two tours pretty much on top of one another, and had a child in the midst of that. That’s got to be fairly exhausting.Yeah. I’ve been touring all year, basically. Next year, there are some fun away trips, working holidays, basically. I’ve got a few gigs in New Zealand, there’s a little festival in Scotland in February, a snow sports festival, with some comedy. Then there’s the Altitude Festival in Austria, a skiing festival with comedy in it. And then I’m going to go to Norway and do some gigs there. So, the first half of next year is working holidays, basically.

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And the second half is writing your film?

Yeah. And then I also have to write whatever stand-up show I tour in 2013.

Are you looking to stick to the two year cycle for tours?

I’m hoping the next tour will be the last for a while.

Is that down to family and exhaustion?

Yeah. And I think you do start running out of things to stay!

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Ed Byrne, thank you very much! Cloud Pleaser is out on DVD and audio CD now. Check out his excellent Different Class disc if you haven’t already, too…

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