Interview: Ed Byrne roars into his 40s

Comedian Ed Byrne will bring his show the "Roaring Forties" to Preston on Friday, February 21st.

Comedian Ed Byrne will bring his show the "Roaring Forties" to Preston on Friday, February 21st.

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Ed Byrne’s first major UK tour since hitting 40 is heading Harrogate’s way shortly. Weekend Editor GRAHAM CHALMERS talked to this popular Irish comedian and asked whether he’s crying or roaring into middle age.

Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction but sometimes it’s funnier, too. If you had to hazard a guess, who do you reckon would be Mock the Week star Ed Byrne’s best man at his wedding?

And who do you think this popular comic would be best man for in return?

“I was best man for Dara O Briain and he was my best man,” Ed tells me on the eve of his new UK tour, Roaring Forties.

“Dara’s speech was very funny but a couple of years later my wife and I were at another wedding where the best man was a lawyer. He did a very good speech, not surprisingly being a lawyer.

“My wife Claire turned to me and said “isn’t it great having a lawyer as your best man.” I said “yes, or maybe a stand-up comic, don’t you think?”

It has to be said, Dublin-born Ed sounds a litle tired on the other end of the phone.

How’s fatherhood going, I ask him; he and Claire have two youngsters aged three and one-and-a-half.

“Oh, it’s going swimmingly,” he jests, “it’s a house of laughter.”

Having rose to fame at the Edinburgh Fringe at the tail-end of the Britpop era, Ed finds himself at the ripe old age of 41 at the peak of success as a comedian, actor, presenter and writer.

As well as enjoying sellout tours at home and, increasingly, abroad, this charming man is a long-time regular on the BBC’s hugely popular panel comedy show Mock the Week, hosted by his fellow Irishman Dara O Briain.

Such is the likability of the acerbic but mild-mannered Ed, his trademark spectacles, floppy hair and broad, toothy smile will be seen presenting an episode of a celebrity edition of The Great British Bake Off on BBC 2 later this week.

How times have changed for this self-confessed “miserable old git.”

He’s no longer at the foothills of fame putting his comic neck on the line on stage at the 13th Note while a young student in Glasgow in the early 90s.

In fact, there are precious few career mountains left for Ed to climb.

He’s married and a family man and a fortysomething, hence the name of his forthcoming tour, Roaring Forties, which swings into the Royal Hall in Harrogate on Friday, February 14.

I ask him if the title suggests he had found crashing through the 40 barrier a painful experience.

In reply this cheerfully gloomy man tells me it was just the opposite.

“It’s not been a trauma at all. I’ve been a miserable old bastard all my life but being in my forties means I’m finally allowed to be.

“People expect you to be a bit silly when you’re young. I’m finally just at the right age to be myself.”

Never someone to be at a loose end, I ask him how on earth he found himself where he is now from the starting position of being a horticultural student at Strathclyde University.

He laughs. “In the early days one of the first big TV shows I appeared on was called It’s Only TV But I Like It. The presenter was Jonathan Ross and when he found out I’d been studying horticulture he said “you silly sod, if you’d stuck with it you’d be famous already; you’d have your own gardening show on TV.”

Now a familiar voice as well as face (he contributes to shows on BBC Radios 2, 4, 4 Extra and 6 Music, it wasn’t always that way.

On the way up people tend to do anything and everything in showbiz. It’s not something they always like to be reminded of later.

The young Ed appeared on an episode of Cilla Black’s Blind Date and, more impressively, Father Ted in a Christmas episode where he played a teenager heckling Father Ted himself on a phone chat line.

Was it the best sitcom ever, I ask him.

“It’s definitely in the top ten. It’s up there with Black Adder and Fawlty Towers.

“In almost all successful sitcoms the main character is the straight man. It’s harder to do when the main character is the weird one.

“The Office carried it off but I can’t think of another one except Father Ted.”

I tell Ed how great the Royal Hall in Harrogate is as a building and a venue and how he’s really going to enjoy it.

As man who recorded his first live DVD, Pedantic and Whimsical, in his pre-spectacles days at the almost as splendid City Varieties in Leeds, he knows what I mean and seems genuinely excited at the prospect.

Not that any show is ever a sure thing in advance, he adds.

“There’s no predicting how an audience will react. You can go back to somewhere you’d done well before and they will be lacklustre.

“I used to go down better in the north than the south but that’s changed now. For some reason Tunbridge Wells has been a particularly good one for the last two years.

“It can be down to the day of the week. Audiences are usually a joy on a Saturday night but can be a bit tired on a Friday if they’ve gone straight to the pub from work and then come straight from there to the show.

Ed may be a seasoned performer now but he learned his craft in the bars of Glasgow.

Not that that was as much of a rites of passage as it might sound.

“It’s unfair to push it as a tough place to play where the audience shows up just to heckle you. Glasgow is consistently the best gig on the tour.

“It’s reputation goes back to the old days of the Empire and variety shows. It’s really not like that anymore.

“I suppose if I was posh and English it might be different but I love the place.”

The man who says he roared into his forties will turn 42 on April 16.

I tell him being 40 is better than being 50 and he replies he thought he had been talking to a much younger man - the shameless flatterer!

It looks like his touring schedule might be kind for his birthday. On that day, a Wednesday, Ed will be on a short break from the southern leg of his tour, possibly somewhere between Hastings and Winchester.

I mention I’d noticed he‘s written articles for The Great Outdoors, the UK’s leading monthly hillwalking magazine.

Silly me, I hadn’t realised how seriously he takes this pursuit.

In fact, he’s climbed Mount Blanc twice and bagged 75 ‘Munros’ so far in the Highlands. Even his passions have a funny side, however.

“I love hill walking but you do feel like a dick walking up a hill with a back pack with someone in lycra walking past you. I can’t understand why people do fell running, though. It’s like Mark Twain once said about golf. It’s a good walk spoilt.”

l Ed Byrne plays the Royal Hall, Harrogate on Friday, February 14.

l For tickets, call 01423 502116 or book online at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk