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Ed Byrne on whining, Winchester audiences and his favourite comedians

PUBLISHED: 15:52 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:58 20 February 2018

Ed Byrne (Photo by Roslyn Gaunt)

Ed Byrne (Photo by Roslyn Gaunt)

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Stand-up comic and TV star Ed Byrne thinks our lives have become somewhat spoilt. Honestly, who needs keyless cars and semi-skimmed milk? Viv Micklefield hears more ahead of a return visit to Hampshire

“I do whine in a lot of my shows,” admits Ed Byrne. “Complaining really about the little things, like lost luggage or visits to the dentist. But then I started to think, maybe life is actually good and maybe, it’s better than it’s ever been.”

For the one-time working-class Dubliner, who by his own admission is now “a fully paid up rural residing member of the middle classes”, it’s certainly provided pause for thought and, naturally, no shortage of material for the forty-five-year-old’s current stand-up show.

“For instance,” Ed says, “The fact that most of us start our car by pressing a button rather than turning a key. Who decided that was a deal breaker and a drudgery we needed to be released from? Then there’s semi-skimmed milk. Just the concept of it - saying ‘milk’s too creamy’ so let’s take the cream out! No, ‘now it’s not creamy enough’. It’s an interesting angle to look at how cushioned our lives have become.

“The other thing I’ve noticed, is how much I spoil my own kids compared with how things were in my childhood. I don’t hold any grudges against my own dad, and I love hanging out with my kids, but when I look at the amount of parenting I’m expected to do, versus the amount of parenting I received, I feel a bit short changed.”

There’s little denying though that fatherhood’s something he relishes, making sure now to keep Sundays gig-free to ensure time can be spent with his two sons, now that they’ve started school. And, weaving stories about them into the routine proves irresistible, particularly when there’s an opportunity to take a gentle dig at social mobility.

“There’s a little joke in the current show for instance about how I’m raising two posh English boys and how that makes me feel when they sound like Little Lord Fauntleroy. So, I’ll say to the audience: ‘No offence to anyone who’s posh, or English, or a mixture of the two…,’ and then I might add: ‘Winchester’, which gets a nice little giggle.”

Hampshire audiences have enjoyed Ed’s observational brand of humour and side swipes for many of his 20 years in the business – “I sell more tickets in Winchester than I do in Birmingham which is just ridiculous”; and with back-to-back sell-out shows at the Theatre Royal already under his belt on the 2017/18 tour, there are two more dates coming up this month.

Reflecting that “as jobs go, it’s quite a nice one” this must surely count as a particularly demanding year, as by June he’ll have clocked-up almost 10 months on the road, including a try-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

So, would he I wonder encourage his own children to follow in his footsteps?

“Sure. The weird thing about going to the Edinburgh Festival and going out with comedian friends who were a bit ahead of me – people like Mark Steele and Kevin Day, is that their kids are now stand-up comics. That’s funny because these guys who’ve been in the business for 30 years are being drawn back into the world of open mic spots and that’s the one thing I wouldn’t envy.

“Getting started as a stand-up now is much harder than it was for me; I don’t think there was a better time in the history of comedy because in the early to mid-90s there were so many comedy clubs. It was a really vibrant scene. And there was a career path set out by the previous generation with the likes of Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton, who’d blazed the trail for us. Now, the club circuit has shrunk, while the touring is bigger because as soon as you’re on TV you’re off touring.”

When not under the spotlights himself, or in front of the cameras for the hit panel shows ‘Mock the Week’, and ‘Have I Got News for You’, Ed admits to being a big fan of fellow comic Lee Mack. And the humour of Bill Bailey and Harry Hill also tickles his funny bones, “because they are completely different to me, so when I watch them I can totally switch-off”.

These days, though there’s another passion in his life, which sees him swapping the trademark sharp suit and tie for a waterproof jacket and hill walking boots.

“I haven’t done the South Downs Way yet, but I’ve a friend who I’ll meet-up with while I’m down there on the tour. Generally, when I’m in Hampshire, I commute to and from the gigs as it’s only a couple of hours to get home again.

“I tend to explore more when I’m staying over in a hotel and living as well as working there; bagging a Munro or two up in Scotland, is always a blast.”

Having recently tried his hand at sledding down the side of a volcano, and tackled bouldering (rock climbing without ropes or harnesses to you or me), are there perhaps more outdoor challenges ahead for this action-man?

“I really fancy paragliding. So far, I’ve had just one lesson and am trying to fit in some more into my life but it’s very hard to do it at home in Essex because it’s so flat! Perhaps I need to pitch the idea for a TV show, where, the goal is to learn to paraglide off Mont Blanc in under a year.”

However, in describing as “absolutely zero” the chances of involving his ‘Big Adventure’ travelling companion and best friend Dara O’Briain in this, it will he says be an experience he’ll most likely face alone.

Ed as we know is no stranger to taking himself out of his comfort zone. Millions watched his ‘I like to Boogie’ dance routine on Red Nose Day a few years ago. And having also joined the ‘Bake Off’ tent in aid of Comic Relief, he’s since taken up cooking.

“I went through a phase of making biscuits. Less so recently but I am now into curries,” continuing: “At one time I only ever bought takeaways, thinking it was some weird alchemy that I could never fathom. Then I thought ‘I’m sure I can follow a recipe’. And you know what? I can. Now I make a pretty good curry.”

It all adds up to a far more domesticated image of a husband and dad than was typical during Ed’s own upbringing. And despite the whining, here’s someone who, on the face of it, appears largely at ease with 21st century living. Although, when there’s a chance to really chill-out and become a couch potato, he’ll happily go the whole hog.

“I’m speaking to you now wearing a pair of check pyjama bottoms and a hoodie. My wife is probably looking at me thinking: what did I do to saddle myself with this?”

Well, maybe even a modern man needs some downtime now and again.

Ed Byrne’s latest stand-up show is touring to venues around the UK until June 2018

• Saturday 10 March, The Anvil, Basingstoke

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