Let’s start with some gentle racism: the Irish are affable, always ‘up for the craic’, charming tellers of tales, foul-mouthed poets with a talent for the surreal. I dare you, name an Irish comic who doesn’t fit that mould*: from Dave Allen to Dara O Briain, Spike Milligan to Mrs. Brown, Irish comedians have a major advantage before they even step on the stage. Tonight, Ed Byrne bounces on stage (in a red lame jacket).
He is cute, self-depreciating, charming. He doesn’t pick on the audience but quickly makes friends with us. He talks fast – hecklers wouldn’t find a gap between lines. But then no one wants to heckle. Why would we, when we’re so comfortable?
At the start of this show, If I’m Honest, Byrne says he deliberately chose not to do anything about Brexit or Trump, in favour of something more universal. Instead he talks about getting older, fatherhood, being a bread-winner. I’m not sure how ‘honest’ all this is – Byrne’s self-deprecating observations on his own career feel contrived – but as a personal stocktake it is nicely observed, chuckle-generating stuff. He doesn’t get a big laugh until he unexpectedly drops the C-bomb.
It’s this sudden burst of edginess that reminds one of how good he can be. As a regular on Mock The Week he regularly fires out brilliant, off the cuff one-liners, skewering politics, politicians and his fellow panelists with ease. Perhaps it’s because he’s angry when dealing with these topics. Or maybe, beneath the blarney, he’s not as nice as he seems.
21 years ago at the Fringe, Byrne was nominated for a Perrier Award. These days he can fill the Assembly Rooms at nearly £20 a head, so perhaps I was naive to expect him to take too many risks. No doubt If I’m Honest will sharpen up after these Fringe gigs and as he takes it around the UK, but tonight’s show was altogether too safe, too charming. Too affable. I prefer him angry.
(* ok, so Dylan Moran isn’t ‘affable’, but the rest fits).
You can see Ed Byrne: If Im Honestl at Assembly Rooms – Music Hall until 25th August at 21:00. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com