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Ed Byrne: Comic Calling

Ed Byrne was always destined for comedy. “I remember my friends telling me when I was younger that I was funny, I’ve always loved comedy and it’s really the only real career I’ve ever had,” he says as we chat during his epic 148-date national tour, Spoiler Alert. “I look out of the window at my garden and think ‘wow, comedy paid for this’.”

It’s his acknowledgement that he has these kind of pinch-yourself, down-to-earth moments and his sharp observational comedy that has made Ed one of Britain’s best-known and most popular comedians since the late 1990s. Having racked up more appearances on BBC2’s topical comedy show Mock The Week than any other guest, plus a Perrier Award nomination, three successful DVDs Pedantic and Whimsical, Different Class and Crowd Pleaser, sell-out shows and numerous TV appearances to his name (from his ‘breakout’ role in an episode of Father Ted to regular appearances on Have I Got News For You, The Graham Norton Show and even winning All Star Family Fortunes) – Ed is now back on the road, bringing Spoiler Alert to theatres in south west London and Surrey on no less than six occasions between the time the tour kicked off and May this year. He’s already played to packed audiences in our area, taking in Richmond, Guildford, Epsom and Kingston, and next month he plays at the New Wimbledon Theatre, before heading to Dorking in May. Spoiler Alert explores the thin line between righteous complaining and brat-like whining as Ed asks ‘are we right to be fed up or are we spoiled?’. He’ll also take a droll look at the differences in child-rearing today and how it was in the 1970s when he was growing up, as well as tackling his belief that there are many parents today who spoil their kids rotten. Himself dad to two boys, Cosmo and Magnus, he brings their own demand for drinks like elderflower cordial into the comic mix. “But I do joke in the show that I don’t mind my kids asking me for stuff that didn’t exist when I was a kid – like pesto or the elderflower cordial, for example,” he says. “I was never spoiled as a kid and I probably would spoil mine more but they’re still only five and six so they’re not asking me for mobile phones – yet.”

He’s already played to packed audiences in our area, taking in Richmond, Guildford, Epsom and Kingston, and next month he plays at the New Wimbledon Theatre, before heading to Dorking in May. Spoiler Alert explores the thin line between righteous complaining and brat-like whining as Ed asks ‘are we right to be fed up or are we spoiled?’. He’ll also take a droll look at the differences in child-rearing today and how it was in the 1970s when he was growing up, as well as tackling his belief that there are many parents today who spoil their kids rotten.

Himself dad to two boys, Cosmo and Magnus, he brings their own demand for drinks like elderflower cordial into the comic mix. “But I do joke in the show that I don’t mind my kids asking me for stuff that didn’t exist when I was a kid – like pesto or the elderflower cordial, for example,” he says. “I was never spoiled as a kid and I probably would spoil mine more but they’re still only five and six so they’re not asking me for mobile phones – yet.”

Audiences can look forward to Ed’s humorous take on topics such as running out of petrol in awkward places, helping rescue an injured man in the Cairngorms, as well as Brexit in his routine. However, Ed does acknowledge that he doesn’t majorly attack the national referendum but instead comes up with an amusing analogy that he hopes will appeal to both sides, about the time his son was determined to touch an electric fence while his dad was trying to warn him of the dangers. “To sum it up, I cast my son as a Brexiteer and myself as Theresa May,” he chuckles.

Embarking on such a mammoth tour could be a daunting prospect for even such a well-established comedian as Ed, but having launched Spoiler Alert at the Edinburgh Festivals back in August, Ed remains in high spirits about it. “Edinburgh is a great place to hone your show, to get it up to touring length,” he explains. “You arrive with an hour-long show and a support act, you find out which bits work well, expand on those and you get the show ready for tour.”

Considering his tour takes in pretty much the length and breadth of the UK, I’m interested in finding out whether audiences respond differently to his material dependent on location. “It’s not so much the location that affects it, it’s more the days of the week the show’s performed on; let’s just say a Tuesday night crowd is usually a more discerning crowd,” he says, tongue firmly in cheek. Meaning there’s a bit more of a party atmosphere on the Friday and Saturday nights, I suggest, and tell him that, after a quick glance at the list of tour dates, I’m pleased to see he’ll be coming to my nearest venue, New Wimbledon Theatre, on a Saturday. He also keeps a tour diary with him to show where the audiences – and the curries – have been good. Thankfully it seems both have scored well in our corner of the country, with the number of shows he’s playing here. “I know where I’m not going back to though,” he laughs, although I can’t get him to divulge where – probably a sensible move on his part.

While talking about his tour and looking back over his 20-year career our chat turns towards his breaking into comedy and the advice he would give to any young comedians starting out. “Wait until you’re good – and I mean really good – before you try out the bigger comedy clubs in your area,” he says. “One of the shrewdest moves I made was starting in the small places. If you start at a bigger club and die on stage, even if you come back two years later people will remember that’s what happened. Start with small, open mic nights locally first, finding your own style.” What kind of comedy does he enjoy? “There’s a bunch of comedians I really like at the moment, such as Glenn Wool, Nick Doody and Sara Pascoe,” he adds. “And I saw a great piece of work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Elvis Dead by Rob Kemp, that really made me laugh.”

As Ed will be spending more than six months touring the UK, it wouldn’t be surprising if he headed off on holiday or slept for England at the end of the tour. “I simply relax,” he agrees. “I don’t even think about it for another six months.” This downtime is also a good opportunity for Ed to indulge his love of the great outdoors, which has seen him co-host adventure travel show Dara and Ed’s Great Big Adventure with fellow comedian and good friend Dara Ó Briain, citing on his official website that one of his television highlights was sledding down the side of volcano for that show. He’s also filmed outdoor features for The One Show and Countryfile and he’s no stranger to a spot of mountain climbing. He’s a big fan of munro bagging [climbing Scottish mountains more than 3,000 feet] and had just bagged his 84th out of the 282 during a rare day off during the Edinburgh Festivals. Perhaps he’d like to diversify more and do a show about the countryside? “I’m constantly talking about it but it’s terribly time consuming to do a show like that,” he admits. His fans may be surprised that, the great outdoors aside, Ed also enjoys a spot of DIY in his downtime. “Do you see those chainsaws in the tour promotional picture?” he asks, “that’s one of two I own and that’s the smaller one. It was easier to hold up with one hand for the picture.”

So, while we may not see Ed hosting a countryside – or a DIY – show any time soon, for now, his time is devoted to what he loves doing most – comedy.

Catch Ed Byrne: Spoiler Alert at New Wimbledon Theatre (21 April), edbyrne.com; www.atgtickets.com/venues/wimbledon

 Photos © Roslyn Gaunt Photos © Roslyn Gaunt Photos © Roslyn Gaunt Photos © Roslyn Gaunt