In preparation for our interview with Ed Byrne we decided to ask our Twitter followers if they had any questions for the Irish stand-up. It was a futile exercise, of course, with responses generally ranging from ‘What do you think of the rebooted Star Trek franchise?’ to ‘Did you enjoy the ending of Lost?’ But at least one of our followers [@Coynan] provided some useful information; that Byrne’s recent appearance at Sunderland Empire was ‘like a Carling Cup tie’ – a decent spectacle but, well, no-one was there.
@AndrewDipper sat down with Byrne to find out what happened on Wearside, whether TV has made him a better stand-up…and what he thinks of your Twitter questions.
AD: Hiya Ed. I heard your show at Sunderland Empire a few weeks back was, er, sparsely populated. What happened?
EB: Oh, it was empty. It was good, but it was empty. I think we sold about 500 tickets for a 2000 seater venue – it filled the stalls and that was it. I actually said to the crowd, ‘From where you’re sitting all you can see is me. But all I can see is three empty tiers above you!’
It’s a strange one, though. There are some places you’ll visit and you’ll always get a crowd – like Cardiff – but others you really have to work at it, you know; do all the interviews and stuff like that. Grimsby – that’s a dead spot.
AD: I was at your DVD recording in Newcastle earlier in the year and it looked pretty much sold out. You obviously do well on Tyneside…
EB: Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s one of the reasons why we chose to do the DVD filming there – it was probably the best date on my last tour [Different Class]. That and the fact it was a date at the start of my new tour, so it’s easier for the producers to get the DVD all polished in time for Christmas.
I try and leave it as late as possible to do any filming because the tour invariably continues to improve as it goes along. I don’t want to go back and watch the DVD and say, ‘This bit is so much funnier now.’
AD: I know you do a lot of TV work so I was quite interested to get your opinion on an article we received a few weeks back entitled, ‘TV comedy isn’t funny anymore.’
EB: I think it’s far too massive a thing now to simply write off as not funny. I do think stand-up on TV has started to become safer. It’s more heavily edited – you can’t say ‘fuck’ on Live At The Apollo, despite the fact it’s post-watershed. Which is kind of a shame. There’s so much different stuff out there though, from Mock The Week to The Inbetweeners. People have different tastes.
Certainly for TV you have to change your stuff and water it down, but I think if you’re a half-decent comic you should be able to re-write your material for TV. Or you’re Stewart Lee and you bide your time until your given your own slot.
People assume TV is well paid, but more and more so it’s just a thing you do for people to come and see you live. When I was first on the scene I’d do various bits of TV and it would just be another gig on the circuit. The two industries are so symbiotic now.
There’s a lot on offer on TV, but certainly with stand-up you really need to see it live.
AD: Do you think TV work has made you a better stand-up?
EB: No, I don’t. Doing TV makes you better at TV but the only way you get better at stand-up is going out there and doing it in that environment. When I was starting out I’d try and write very punchy, one-liner type routines that would be ideal for use on the TV, but now my stuff is more anecdotal, it’s longer and it works better in a live situation. I’m writing less with an eye on television – which makes it harder for me to do the likes of Mock The Week.
AD: You talk about your family a lot in your new show – is that a direction you’re looking to take in future?
EB: With me I tend to just talk about things that are going on in my life at that time. In the last show [Different Class] I mentioned getting married – and all the problems that ensue – and in Crowd Pleaser I talk for a bit about becoming a dad and all that. As I say, the family stuff isn’t a particular direction I’m heading, rather something I felt like talking about.
AD: I heard from a friend of mine you used to live with Ross Noble in London – is that true?
EB: I did. We shared a flat – well, three different flats – over two and a half years. We don’t keep in touch much now, but when we see each other it’s like we’ve never been apart! Obviously he lived in Australia for a while and is married; now he’s living in Kent and I’m in Essex so it’s opposite sides of London, really. We both have families too so it’s difficult.
I’m trying to think of the last time I saw him, actually – I think it was the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. As I say, though, when we get to together we’re just like old friends.
There are without doubt more interesting things to ask Ed Byrne, but we closed this interview by asking your (daft) questions. So it’s your fault if you think this article is below-par.
Ed on…the rebooted Star Trek franchise: The first film left something to be desired and I wasn’t happy with the amount of convenient coincidences woven into the plot. I thought the parallel universe idea was really nice – and it worked very well – but the whole Spock meeting Spock thing was dreadful. There were just a few bits I was disappointed in.
Hearing Simon Pegg talking about it – because I know him – is funny because I think, ‘If you weren’t in that film, Simon, you’d be complaining about the exact same things you’re defending!’
Ed on…Star Trek or Star Wars?: Such a tricky one, but I’m going to go with Star Trek because they produced five good films and Star Wars only had three. The last three Star Wars films just destroyed the franchise. I kept getting drawn in, though. Episode I was terrible but I had friends whispering in my ear, ‘Oh, the second one’s dead good.’ So I watched the second one, and that was terrible. And the third one – yep, that was shit too. They were muck.
You read interviews with George Lucas and he just doesn’t give a shit! Empire magazine asked him about criticism over the dialogue and his answer to that was: ‘Well, I’ve never been very good at writing dialogue. I’ve always just seen it as a way of moving the plot forward.’
Get someone else to write the fucking dialogue then, George! That’s not good enough. When you create something as amazing as Star Wars you can’t then just milk it years later. It’s just rude.
I could go out on stage and do the same routines as the last tour, but no-one would come and see me on the next one.
Ed on…games: Computer games don’t take up as much space in my life as they used to – that’s the problem with touring and having children. I’ve got a bunch of games still in their boxes, like Portal 2 and Halo: Reach. There’s a few. Eventually I’ll get round to them but by the time I do something more exciting will be out.
Ed on…the ending of Lost: What the fuck happened? Ludicrous. Pointless. It could’ve been so good but instead it was, ‘Jack is dead and we’re in heaven.’ Are we to believe the Scottish guy [Desmond] was fired into the afterlife by Charles Widmore’s machine to remind them of who they used to be on the island? Is that what was supposed to be happening?
It just didn’t tally for me. An increasingly irritating thing about TV is producers who cannot end shows – or, like with Lost, don’t know how to end shows. I think it’s short-changing the audience not having a plan; it happened with Heroes and it even happened with The X-Files.
Ed on…whether he’ll return to Twitter: Obviously I left Twitter because of the thing with Keith Chegwin [@thekeithchegwin], but I’ve always said that Twitter’s is a bit like the 69 position – it could be fantastic, but it’s ruined by arseholes.
Ed Byrne is touring the United Kingdom until December 7th. His DVD, which was filmed at Newcastle City Hall, is released on November 28th. More information can be found on his website.