Comedian Ed Byrne's back on the road with a new show, If I'm Honest. Well, is he?

Taking a long-hard look at himself, the comic and actor considers if he has any traits worth passing on to his children.

Comedian Ed Byrne's If I'm Honest Tour is back on track.

What traits do you have that you would like to pass onto your children? Punctuality, resilience, the ability to land a pop shove it on a skateboard whilst blowing smoke rings? This is the question posed by comedian and writer Ed Byrne in his latest standup show, If I’m Honest… currently back on track after being interrupted by Covid, and coming to Edinburgh next week [20 Nov] with further Scottish dates in the new year as part of his international tour.

His Dublin accent over the phone undimmed by living in North Essex with his wife Claire and two sons, Magnus, nine and Cosmo, ten, Byrne is as affable and easy on the ear as you would expect from one of the nation’s favourite comics, famed for his conversational style.

First off, with reference to his show title, is he honest?

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“In this show, absolutely,” he says. “To a fault.”

Expect to hear plenty of Byrne’s customary self-mockery and anecdotal jokery as he takes a long hard look at himself, a style that has made him a household name since coming to Glasgow to study horticulture at Strathclyde University in the early 1990s. After becoming entertainment convener and starting a comedy club in Glassford Street, his stand up career was born and he headed for London and his star rose, especially after he was nominated for the Perrier Comedy Award at the 1998 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and he’s been touring worldwide ever since.

If you haven’t caught any of the 49-year-old’s stand up shows over the past three decades, you’ll have seen him the TV favourite on panel shows Mock The Week, QI and Have I Got News For You, hosting Live At The Apollo and everything from The Graham Norton Show to the The One Show and Countryfile. He also joined Andy Parsons for an episode of The World’s Most Dangerous Roads,walked the talk on The Pilgrimage and teamed up with friend and fellow comedian Dara Ó Briain on Dara & Ed’s Big Adventure and Dara and Ed’s Road to Mandalay which are among his favourites to date. The keen hillwalker has recently turned his talents to podcasting with Ed Venturing, walks with fellow comedians filmed between lockdowns and posted on his website, featuring Rhod Gilbert in Pembrokeshire, Stuart Maconie in the Lake District, Desiree Burch in The South Downs and Hal Cruttenden in the Peak District, with Zoe Lyons on The South Coast Path and Scottish comedian Daniel Schloss in the Pentlands filmed.

“There’s also one with Jess Stevenson in Wales but the weather was so f***ing awful on that I don't know if I’ll upload it to be honest,” he says. “And I was supposed to do one with Sanjeev Kohli somewhere near Glasgow, but his missus got pinged the day before, so we couldn't do it. I’m going to chase him up on that, definitely.”

The Perrier-nominated comedian is a TV favourite on panel shows Mock The Week, QI and Have I Got News For You, has hosted Live At The Apollo and everything from The Graham Norton Show to the The One Show and Countryfile. He also joined Andy Parsons for an episode of The World’s Most Dangerous Roads,walked the talk on The Pilgrimage and teamed up with friend and fellow comedian Dara Ó Briain on Dara & Ed’s Big Adventure and Dara and Ed’s Road to Mandalay.

If I’m Honest has a protracted history, having been halted by Covid, which Byrne and his wife both caught and saw him cancelling TV work, as well as bringing a halt to the tour. But now Byrne is back on trac, can he give us a hint as to what traits he has that he would like to pass onto his children?

“Well there is very little, very little,” he says. “I know how to tell a story and I seem to have passed that on, but other than that it's really more about my shortcomings, my lack of physical fitness, my strange mental tics - like intrusive thoughts - my lack of ability to find my own property, stuff like that. The list of cons is much longer than the list of pros,” he says.

And have his children shown any of the cons in their behaviour and character so far?

“Oh, God yeah. And that's the thing; you get so angry with them when really, you're angry with yourself. My eldest son Cosmo is more like me, and my younger son more like my wife, so he never knows where any of his belongings are. I get so annoyed with him and I know it's because I'm annoyed with me. And the thing is, when I'm shouting at him ‘what do you mean you don't know where your water bottle is? You just had it, how can you not know where it is?’ he doesn't realise he could just turn around and say, ‘Well, daddy, do you know where your credit card is right now?’ Any minute he's gonna cotton on to that.”

Ed Byrne's show, If I'm Honest, takes a look at the traits we'd like to pass on to our children.

Another theme that Byrne takes for a convivial conversational walk in the show is traits children have that adults would like, and for him, the main one is enthusiasm.

“Children are VERY enthusiastic. They're excited and upbeat, so I do a whole thing of wouldn't it be great, wouldn't we as adults be happier if we could just be 10% as enthusiastic as the kids? But it's hard for us because at the end of the day, kids do like things that are shit. They like rubbish things. Still, that would definitely be the thing I envy, the enthusiasm that life just slowly but surely beats out of you.”

While he might miss the Duracell Bunny energy of childhood, Byrne is adamant he doesn’t miss being young at all.

“Oh, God. I wouldn't be a kid again. I wouldn’t want to go back further than 17 because when you're a kid you’re not allowed to do anything; go anywhere on your own, drive a car, drink. I could never get in anywhere when I was underage, you know? I had a baby face.”

Ed Byrne brings his If I’m Honest tour to Scotland at Edinburgh Queens Hall 20 November with further Scottish dates next year, including Stirling 26th February, Perth 9th March, Motherwell 10th March, Aberdeen 12th March, Inverness 13th March and Dunfermline 25th March. Please visit www.edbyrne.com for full listings.

As for his parenting style, Byrne reckons he’s more the easygoing than military boot camp or helicopter hothousing type.

“I don't think I'm particularly strict,” he says. “I just become exasperated eventually. I'm a ‘if I have to say this to you one more time…’ Then I just find myself going ‘Why am I even saying anything?’ Telling children to be careful, it's like trying to teach a cat to play fetch. You just have to give it up and have a bit more of a zen attitude.”

Because Byrne first did this show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 and was in the middle of touring it in March 2020 when it got shut down, there are updates and adaptations to current events, for example a routine about how far fetched and crazy the film Mad Max Fury Road is became funnier when people actually started fighting over petrol.

“You find new laughs that you just slot in over the course of the tour, jokes will just come and go as you find a way to make it resonate with something that's going on at the time.”

Like comedians everywhere Byrne found his usual timeline of write a show, tour it, then onto the next one, unravelled by the pandemic.

“I wasn't even able to work on the next one in lockdown, because you come up with ideas, sure, but for people that have a conversational style like me, you actually write them by standing on a stage and trying them out. You go to little comedy nights, piece of paper in hand, and there's a workshop atmosphere that allows you to find the funny in your thoughts. That's like the greenhouse and then you pot the plants on in proper comedy clubs and then plant them out,” says Byrne (you can take the man out of horticulture…)

Ed Byrne's If I'm Honest Tour comes to Scotland this month, and again next spring.

“But we’ve been deprived of the greenhouse, to come up with new material. It isn't as simple as ‘I'll just sit on me arse for 18 months and by the end of it there you go, brand new show done.’ But comedians are in a constant state of crisis anyway, every time they need to write the next show.”

As well as the lockdown cancelling the Australian and New Zealand as well as the UK tour, the Byrne household was visited directly by Covid.

“My wife got it first and we were trying to decide what to do ‘cos I had a TV show coming up in a fortnight and we were like ‘OK, why don't I deliberately get COVID from you, or maybe... no, why don't I move out? And she's like, ‘No, because I need you to look after the children while I'm sick’. So I got it five days later, which meant I had to cancel the work.

“Much like the government, our refusal to take decisive action early on just meant we had a more financially ruinous and longer penalty in lockdown due to COVID,” he says and laughs.

Delays aside, surely now’s a good time to be a comedian because the shelves have been pretty empty of laughs lately?

“Talking to other comics, we all thought as soon as we were allowed back into theatres and clubs everything would sell out, people would be dying to get back out. I think that would have been true had we been locked down for say six months, but the fact that theatres have been closed for as long as they have, I think people have gotten used to not going out. They've gone past the point of missing it. So sales have been surprisingly sluggish for everything and that includes the West End and stuff like that. Obviously there's hesitancy about being around people and catching COVID, but I think also it has ceased to become a thing in people's lives. People that used to go out have gotten so used to sitting at home watching box sets that they’re just happy to do it,

“So that's my rather bleak take on how things are just at the moment,” he says, then laughs at his downbeat tone before bouncing back with, “So if anybody wants a nice thing to sort of ease themselves into the whole going out, I reckon my show’s the very thing!”

It’s a nice way for couch potatoes to dip their toe back into the outside world of entertainment?

“Exactly. There's not a complicated plot you need to follow. There’s an interval…”

Far from being nervous after the hiatus, Byrne is loving being back in front of an audience.

“I’m really enjoying being back on stage. I’m more excited than I normally am,” he says. “Even though the route has become a lot more illogical because venues are congested and you take a gig where you can get it, so I’m up and down the country a lot more than normal.”

Fortunately Byrne has always enjoyed the travel element of his job, not only from the point of view of seeing the world, but also because for him comedy is a great insight into other cultures.

“I mean I haven't missed sitting in traffic, but yeah, this job is a wonderful way to not just see the world, but to experience it. If that doesn’t sound too wanky. Because you get to know people, what they like, and get under the skin of a place by trying to perform stand-up comedy to it. You get to learn about the cultural tics and differences in a different way. You can have the best tour guides ever but they won't teach you as much about people as trying to make those people laugh.”

“Like I had a joke that was a deliberately weak joke about my PlayStation, it’d get a little titter and I’d go, ‘Yeah, I know that joke’s not that funny but now I’ve mentioned my PlayStation it makes the purchase of it tax deductible’, which would get a bigger laugh and it was a good enough joke. But in Australia it would f***king destroy, because Australians have that real Ned Kelly, anti- establishment, anti-government streak. They love the idea of sticking it to the man in a way we don't necessarily have so much. Little things like that you learn about a culture.”

Warming to his theme, he talks about a routine that worked everywhere except in the US, about how women are much nicer to each other than men are, particularly when you get introduced to your new partner’s friends. “Introduce your girlfriend to your friends, they can't wait to take the piss out of you - ‘I don't know what you're doing with him’, ‘has that rash he's got cleared up?’ all that kind of shit. Whereas you get introduced to your girlfriend's mates and you get ‘You better be good to her or we’ll be after you!!’, all that. But in the US I did it three, four times and it did not f***ing work. Then I was talking to this woman, a comedian, and she said ‘that is not how we see it. We think of men as being very bros before hos and of women as being more bitchy.’ So you think certain observations about the human condition are universal, but they’re not. Different cultures, different countries, you're always learning, it’s a curious thing.

“Also I think people are less inclined to laugh at a joke that contradicts their political viewpoint than they used to be. When David Cameron was prime minister, you could make jokes about him and Tories in the audience would laugh, or jokes about Ed Miliband, Labour supporters would laugh, but now, make too many jokes about Boris Johnson in some places and the audience start getting the hump, getting arsey with you about it. And with Brexit as well, plus the advent of social media, things have become very polarized, very entrenched and lines have been drawn. In the States, you slag off Joe Biden, that means you're a Trump fan. You know, it's like that kind of attitude now.”

Byrne has played a lot in Scotland, in particular he loves playing Glasgow as that’s where he started out, and so at home does he feel that he vows when he turns 60 he’s going to “adopt a Glaswegian accent and sit in my chair, complaining at the TV and going ‘turn this shite OFF!” I just think it suits me.”

So what are the tics of a Scottish audience, what sets us apart from other countries and cultures?

“Well, people are more than happy for you to take the piss out of Scotland in a way that to be honest, not everywhere is happy for you to do. Like you go to Liverpool, and they all say they’ve got a great sense of humor, but make a joke slagging Liverpool, they don't like it. Unless you're FROM Liverpool, then they love it. Whereas Scottish people will actually very much allow you to make fun of Scotland. And they like you if you can take a slagging yourself.”

Given that his show is predicated on his own long list of shortcomings, the quick-tongued conversationalist is already a step ahead and raring to go. If I’m Honest, I would say he almost has the enthusiasm of a ten year old.

Ed Byrne brings his If I’m Honest tour to Scotland at Edinburgh Queens Hall 20 November with further Scottish dates next year, including Stirling 26th February, Perth 9th March, Motherwell 10th March, Aberdeen 12th March, Inverness 13th March and Dunfermline 25th March. Please visit www.edbyrne.com for full listings.

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