Review: Ed Byrne-If I’m Honest
Billingham Forum 10 May 2022
It’s a strange night tonight. The venue is about two thirds full¹, and over the course of the evening it’s clear that this troubles Ed just a bit because it keeps coming up. There are reasons of course, principal of which is the fact actually sitting here tonight has only happened at the fourth time of asking². But sitting here we finally are, and a dark-clad Ed is looking fit, healthy and good to go at last.
Normally, at this point a comic’s opening gambits talk about the room, and the town they find themselves in, mostly as an orientation exercise for them I think. Ed clearly knows us, because while he talks about how nice a space the Forum Theatre is (yes, it very much is), he quite rightly then goes on to talk about what a bleak dystopian nightmare the actual town surrounding it is, and how (quite wisely) he stopped off for a drink in the comparative safety of Stockton instead of here. And we all know he’s right, so we laugh. But these opening salvos also cover the fact that’s it’s taken so many goes to get here, and he’s so glad to just be able to get out and do what he does for a living again ... even in a two thirds full theatre (grins). In fact, this show began life in Edinburgh in 2019, and he was looking forward to getting a full 2020 out of it, as he was enjoying it so much. We all know what happened then.
Another thing he keeps coming back to is as a result of that hiatus. Lots of the stories and thoughts about his life, family and kids come from The Before Times. His stories about his two sons³ are from before the pre-lockdown, homeschooled pause. This is also faintly important for him, as when this show started, Ed was 47 years old. He’s just turned fifty. It doesn’t feel much, but psychologically for him at least, it feels different. He’s not “young” any more, so like any middle aged man with time on his hands, he’s wondering about about this stuff. During lockdown he tried to keep sane and do those basics like exercising. Weights were not for him: “the best I can hope for is the physique of Iggy Pop.” He was hoping to God that Iggy didn’t die because he so liked that line. Ed is a runner, but he really doesn’t like talking about it. Especially to any other runners, especially trialthetes. Smug bastards.
He remembers back to when he and his wife had their sons, with all the worries of new parenthood and wonders what you pass on to your kids, prompted by the memory of the parent groups he and his wife joined back then in that oh-so-middle-class way, but he comes back to that later too. They were asked about what good qualities their partner would pass on the their kids, and it makes him wonder more generally about what your kids get from you as a parent, and how generationally different we are from our kids. It pleases him inordinately that his youngest seems to have developed a gift for the one-liner from dad. Even with the generation gap there are things he and his kids bond over, like Minecraft⁴.
He does worry a bit about the middle-class things seeing as he feels like he’s a bit of an arriviste, having grown up in a working class Irish house, and he shares that a bit conspiratorially with us, a northern audience. That didn’t really work in Hove, but fuck Hove⁵, because they’re miserable. He knows he’s middle class because he’s got a big garden, but not wealthy, partly because the house is on a flight path to Stansted so it’s never going to get sold, and partly because he hasn’t decided to build things in that garden.
But coming back out on the road has made Ed think (^in the obviously completely non solipsistic way comedians think^⁶) about the inside of his own head. Comedians are weird people, he thinks, and in an echo of something Robin Ince talks about in some of his material, he starts to talk about that propensity of imagining the worst thing that can happen, even going to back to childhood and imagining rugby tacking the priest mid-Mass, when he was an altar boy. Most of us get it to some degree, but for a comedian it’s potentially lethal if the need to get out the one liner is mixed in. On recorded TV, saying the one line that could kill your career is not ahuge risk, but live TV is hell for him, not to mention social media. You don’t want to be committing career suicide on Saturday Kitchen now, do you? It’s not much of an epitaph. Still, life is crawling slowly back to something (not not entirely) like it used to be, and Ed is happy to be here. We are too.
I won’t spoil his encore for you, though I will say it does involve Lust for Life.
Ed is someone I’ve wanted to see for a while now, and even here with a not entirely full room, he’s warm, charming, and engaging. Most of all he’s funny in the way that the best performers are. He makes it seem like it’s no effort at all, and he’s good value for the ticket. A good night.
¹ Still better than Scunthrope though. Tickets sales there are apparently not breaking records. And it’s Scunthorpe, for fuck’s sake. It appears that more tickets were sold here than the turnout suggests, so it’s not like Billingham doesn’t like yer man. So, wonders Ed, “how many of you died, then?”.
² We were first supposed to be here on 6 June 2020, then 25 May 2021, but COVID saw to that. The third attempt, on 19 Feb this year, was postponed due to the untimely death of his brother, Paul.
³ His sons are called Cosmo and Magnus. The latter of which got a thunderous ovation when he revealed it at a gig in Iceland.
⁴ Yeah. dad’s down with the youth.
⁵ At first this puzzled him because Brighton, a mere 4 miles away, went down wonderfully, but then he realised Hove was the audience of miserable fucks who couldn’t even be bothered to go to Brighton.
⁶ Yeah, get me with the sarcastrophes