Ed Byrne: ‘That Blind Date snub is still very raw in the memory’

Picture: Roslyn Gaunt
Picture: Roslyn Gaunt
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He’s probably not about to invite a glossy mag to do an ‘exclusive’ on his home life. But comic Ed Byrne is currently on the road with his most personal show to date.

Outside Looking In will keep the 43-year-old on the road until May, taking in 78 shows, including our own New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth on January 23.

Since being nominated for the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1998, Ed has become a TV staple, alongside his regular tours, writing and ‘straight’ acting.

His brand of observational humour has proved a winner, earning him legions of fans.

Describing the new show, he says: ‘There’s a lot of stuff about being a comic, funnily enough – talking about life on the road and what it is to be a comic. The opening story is about a couple of bad gigs, a couple of deaths (on stage). It’s one of those things people are interested in, a good death.’

He explains how, for him, the gigging experience can be a bit like going on a date, including a story about ‘a girl who kicked me in the balls’.

He adds: ‘It’s kind of a perverse way to open the show, by telling the audience about previous shows going badly.’

On the subject of dying on stage, a couple of days before we spoke, Ed had told his Twitter followers how he’d dropped in on The Walnut Tree in Maidstone: ‘A notorious gig. Any other comics out there wish to share their Walnut Tree memories? I heard of one who left via the toilet window.’

Is it really that bad there? ‘That kicked off a big trip down memory lane for a lot of people, didn’t it?

‘It wasn’t that I found it a massively tough gig, but it’s one of those ones where you do it on your own, it’s about £100 cash for 45 minutes, that was the thing about it, so it felt like a very lonely gig.

‘To go to Maidstone for £100 for 45 minutes is something you’d only do fairly early on in your career, you know, you’d reach a point where you wouldn’t necessarily need to go there.

‘No-one paid to get in and it was this weird L-shaped room.

‘I did gigs there and I remember always being relieved afterwards that it had gone better than I thought it was going to.’

Happily married and with two sons, aged three and five, Byrne has previously spoken about keeping his family out of the spotlight. But in the new show he does talk about one of his boys for a particularly emotional segment,

‘The final story in the show is quite a heartfelt one about my son wanting to wear pink shoes and getting grief at nursery for them.

‘It’s a story that’s quite uplifting I think. I’ve had some feedback from people, where they’ve said they’ve been laughing while also wiping away a tear, which has been quite nice.

‘The point of the tale is that these things become issues earlier than you might expect them to be.

‘I think it’s something you expect to happen further down the line, maybe six or seven, you know – that’s a “boy thing” or that’s a “girl thing” – you don’t really expect it to happen when they’re four.

‘At this age it doesn’t really matter what you wear, what colour you wear, what hobbies you have, but it does seem very early on that people like to programme.’

Labelling and gender issues are clearly something that have been exercising Ed of late. Another big theme in the show is transgenderism, an issue that has recently found itself in the mainstream thanks to TV shows like Transparent, Boy Meets Girl, as well as Caitlyn Jenner – who as Bruce Jenner was an Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete and more latterly, the ex of Kim Kardashian’s mother, Kris Jenner.

‘It’s a really, really tricky issue, it seems to have come out of nowhere,’ he corrects himself: ‘Well, not out of nowhere, but it seems that all of a sudden everyone has had to reassess how they think about something.

‘We’re all of a sudden being told that what you thought about something, you were wrong.

‘No matter how cool and understanding you thought you were being, it turned out you were still wrong.

‘If you say they used to be a man and they turned out to be a woman, you’re not supposed to say that, that’s wrong, they were always a woman.

‘It seems no-one wants to be on the wrong side of history here and use the wrong nomenclature, but there’s still such an emerging argument within the trans community and within the feminist community.

‘And this is where it’s very much on the outside looking in, me saying: “Tell me what to think!” And I’ll go with that.

‘I’m happy for anybody to do whatever they want, I admit to not knowing enough about it, but I feel like people who know more about it than I do are arguing about it among themselves at the moment.

‘I need to be told as a straight white cis man, what exactly am I supposed to say.’

But Ed has yet to hear from anyone in the trans community as to what they think of his take on the subject: ‘At the moment I’m doing the show with a support act who I won’t have in the second leg, so I had dropped the bit on trans politics, which I will be bringing back in for this leg.’

It transpires, though, that it was that most-modern of things, social media, that had sparked Ed’s interest in the issue.

‘The whole thing was that it’s more to do with Twitter being a source of ire than it ever used to be – and that’s not to do with people slagging me off on it. I find myself getting involved in arguments about things that I don’t actually know or care about.

‘And with the transgender thing, it was about Caitlyn Jenner and that hashtag, #Imacallhimbruce, that thing about people going out of their way to be unpleasant.

‘This person has asked you to call them Caitlyn, so to go out of your way to call them Bruce seems unnecessarily mean.

‘I literally did not know who Caitlyn Jenner was until she became Caitlyn Jenner, I didn’t know who Bruce Jenner was. I don’t follow Kardashian things, I’m not a sports fan.

‘I didn’t know who (hip-hop star) Drake was until he started up with #Imacallhimbruce.’

In a neat encapsulation of a significant amount of interaction on social media, Ed adds: ‘So I was getting annoyed with a hip-hop star I’ve never heard of and what he’s saying about a sports star I’ve never heard of.’

Away from the show, Ed’s working on a new sitcom, which he says is currently at the first draft stage, ‘but that’s more of a hobby than anything at the moment.’

There are also plans for another run of the popular BBC2 show, Dara and Ed’s Great Big Adventure – last year’s outing saw the Irish comics travel 4,000 miles on the Pan-American Highway. However, he is ‘not at liberty to divulge any more information about that that yet.’

Ed and fellow stand-up Dara O’Briain are genuinely close off-screen – they were even best men at each other’s weddings. After meeting at a gig, where Dara supported him, Ed says: ‘We got on very well very quickly. Mainly I think through bitching about other comedians.’

Things are certainly looking better for Ed than the time he was on Blind Date and got snubbed: ‘She chose Gavin the stripper from King’s Lynn.’ He pauses: ‘It still hurts. It’s still very raw.’

Somehow, you don’t quite believe him.

n Ed Byrne: Outside Looking In is at The New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth on Saturday, January 23. from 8pm to 10pm. Tickets £20. Go to newtheatreroyal.com