With his Melbourne season starting tomorrow, Irish comedian Jason Byrne tells us about turning 40, what type of dog his audience is and why he can’t wait to work on his red tan.
Hi Jason. Welcome back to Oz. It feels like it’s almost your second home now?
Well, I’ve worked for eight years setting up the whole structure in Australia. I do the TV, I do the radio, I do everything, so to turn around one year and say I won’t go [to Melbourne] would be stupid. The thing to do is to get bigger crowds and play bigger venues. It’s your job you know, it would be like a builder turning down a contract.
And so what can we expect from your new show, People’s Puppeteer?
Ha, I love that question! Well, talk drivel! Basically I like the circus outfit I wore last year so I wanted to keep that look and the puppeteer thing came out of the crowd being my puppets.
I hear you just turned 40. How’s that treating you?
The only thing I didn’t like was the birthday cards, seeing 40 written all over them. It doesn’t even fit on the card. They all had the four just off the card. That and the way that everybody tends to go, “oooh 40”. I’m not bothered about it all, it’s just the way everyone starts drilling it into you that it’s really old. But then of course they back off by going, “ah, you don’t look 40”. Of course a lot of people who are 40 are walking around dressed like fucking 60-years-olds and look fucked, with the beer bellies and the striped shirts. They’re letting down people like me who look after themselves.
You’re famed for involving the crowd in your shows. You must get a special breed of audience member who chooses to sit up the front?
They’re like dogs I suppose, ha. You know how they say every dog has its own personality, well the crowd are like that. You can work out by their reactions what they’re going to do. You have one that keeps looking up at you, thinking “pick me, pick me”. They’re like the rottweiler, they’ll rip you apart. And then you have the people who keep looking sideways, anything to avoid getting on stage. They’re too shy. The ones I always pick are like labradors, the ones who are pretty normal, down the middle. When I make eye contact, they’re not waving at me or anything but they might give me a wry smile or something. It’s just body language really.
Ever regret your choice of who you called up on stage?
I’ve only got it wrong probably twice. It wasn’t that bad, it’s just that they were more drunk than I thought. They just got up and then when I was stood next to them I realised, oh fuck this guy’s had about 10 pints. He was falling all over the place.
The last time I interviewed you, you were cruising down the Great Ocean Road in a convertible with Des Bishop. Any adventures planned for this time?
Irish people are so predictable! We find something we like and we do it all the time. So going down the Great Ocean Road, I’ve been doing that for like six years. We only have the day, a few hours really, so we don’t have time to search. So that’s the usual trip, go to Lorne. When I get to Adelaide I’ll probably hit the wineries and shit like that.
Maybe work on a good Irish tan?
Ha yeah, red is the colour of a tan isn’t it? To be honest I’m a redhead and I never tan. I was in Adelaide once on the beach. I had my top off, it was fucking boiling, I had loads of cream on and this 80-year-old Norwegian Australian came up to me and said: “Put your top back on, you’re dying.”
Does playing bigger venues change your show at all?
None of the venues are massive, I think the biggest is the Enmore, but that doesn’t feel big, it’s really weird. And the one in Melbourne is big but it’s three levels so it feels small. You just learn how to play the different venues to keep the crowd. It’s just different shit happens.
So would you play arenas?
I’d say, no, I wouldn’t play an arena, it’s just not good for comedy. However, of course, as I’m saying this, a guy walks in with all the money and puts it on the table. I’d be like, “sorry did I say that, I meant yes!” I’ve never even been to an arena gig to be honest so I’m not sure how it would work out. I would personally prefer to play like five 2,000 seat nights, rather than one 10,000 seat night. Unless I fancied a week off!
Jason Byrne is playing shows at the 2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival (Mar 27-Apr 22) and then in Sydney (Apr 28).