Your show is called ‘Jason Byrne Cycled Here’. What’s that about? Actually the title of the show has nothing to do with what it’s about. But I do have a Riverdance routine at the end, which is fun and I will be getting people up from the audience. I change one of the punters into a ventriloquist’s dummy, a little tiny man. It looks brilliant. And they don’t behave themselves so I put them back into a box.
You are notorious for dragging people out of the audience onto the stage, but not everyone seems to enjoy it. I was reading a blog about comedians and I found this quote from an 18-year-old girl: “Jason Byrne seems like a real prick. The way he yells at the audience and embarrasses them isn’t very amusing…” Haha. I’ve never been called a prick before. I hope to meet that 18-year-old. That would be great craic! I seem to upset women of that age. I used to do a routine about a rabbit suffocating in a shed and I got this woman up, and later she sent me a letter saying she was really upset because she was an animal lover. She thought the rabbit was real, which is frickin’ bizarre – it was me pretending to be a rabbit!
Do you think the Irish are the funniest people in the world? It’s very hard to say we are the funniest people in the world, but we would beat a lot of people in wit. In Ireland it’s very hard to survive without being funny. People sit around in the pubs and hit you with a one-liner and you have to come back with something funny. When you do a gig in Ireland everybody in the room already thinks they’re funny, so you’ve got to prove to them that you’re funnier.
Why do you keep coming back to Australia? Because I love it here. This is my fourth solo show in Australia. When we do the Edinburgh Festival in August that’s highly stressful, with lots of press and that’s where we live and make our money. Basically comics are at their funniest when they’re most relaxed and that’s what’s so great about the Melbourne Comedy Festival – there’s not much pressure on comics out here. And we love the weather!
A lot of British and Irish comedians – like Ross Noble and Jimeoin – have moved to Australia. Would you ever live here? Probably not, I have my wife and kids at home in Dublin, but maybe it’s something I could look at in the future. It is a great place, but the only thing is there’s way more work for comedians in Britain and Ireland, because the circuit is much more lucrative. There’s very little TV you can do here. There’s only about five famous people in Australia.
So how did you get started? The first thing I ever did I was 21 and I MC’d a charity gig in Dublin – it was for two nurses going to Romania to look after the orphans there. My mother came and my neighbours came and there were even nuns in the audience and I’d just seen Billy Connolly talking about women’s bits and men’s bits and I thought that’s what you do to be funny. And it was awful, bloody awful. I was telling jokes about old people being electrocuted in the bath with hair dryers and people were looking at me going, “What? That’s a terrible thing to say.” And I was talking about wanking and the mess men make and oh my God, it was awful. It was only my mother nervously laughing and clapping to encourage me. I didn’t do a gig again for years after that.
There are a lot of open mic nights now… Yeah, there’s way more people trying it now, and the sad thing is they’re just doing it for the money. We started doing it because it was great fun, a bit of craic. Me and people like Jimmy Carr weren’t looking at being on TV or making money. But you have loads of people now trying to get on board, purely for the fame. A lot of kids now – all they want is to be on TV. It’s driven by Big Brother and X-Factor and all these things. A lot of these young comics are awful, but they keep at it.
Is there a reality TV show for comedians? In America there was Last Man Standing. It was bad. Especially with Yanks judging it, because Yanks are fucking awful. A lot of their comics are shit. I went to a gig in New York and there was black comic who literally went “What about all the blacks in the audience?” and everyone went woo-hoo, woo-hoo. They love wuppin’ and shit. And then a Jewish guy went on and he said so how about all the Jewish people in the audience they went “Yeeaaa!” and that was that.
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival runs until 13 April. For info, visit http://www.comedyfestival.com.au