What’s the show about?
I’m knocking it into shape — the exciting part. I’ve got jokes I don’t know where to put and things I want to say I haven’t made funny yet. It’s called Spoiler Alert. I ask if we’re becoming more spoiled and talk about spoiling my own children.
How do you spoil your kids?
We took them to Lapland to see Santa Claus. We spent the price of a skiing holiday to see a man who doesn’t exist. I can never make fun of people going to Lourdes again. I said, ‘Wasn’t that great?’ and the kids said, ‘Yes, but we saw him in Westfield last year.’ Then you try to explain that man was actually an imposter…
Has child-rearing changed much from when you were little?
Without a doubt. In the 1970s, I remember eating crisps in the car outside the pub while my dad was inside getting hammered before driving us home. Now it’s all car seats and cotton wool.
Will spoiling kids have a negative effect on them?
Probably. If you do hand everything to your kids whenever they want it, will they grow up completely maladjusted? Will they throw tantrums their whole life, even as adults, when they don’t get their own way? And what will that prepare them for, other than being president of the United States?
How many times have you done the Edinburgh Festival and how has it changed?
This will be my 12th one-man show. The biggest change has been with the ‘free Fringe’. People do their show in rooms in pubs and shake a bucket at the end. So you have less outlay and don’t need to do PR and marketing, and you don’t need a promoter. Promoters used to hit people with a big bill at the end. You don’t get as many people on the low to mid-level going up there and losing a load of money. There’s a way to go there and break even now. In the 1990s and 2000s, people went and came back with college-level debts.
Is that good for having a more diverse array of acts?
Yes, but then it hits the people who aren’t doing the free fringe. If you slog your guts out writing a show, I feel you have a right to charge people to come and see it. It goes hand in hand with download culture and the theme of my show — people expect everything for free.
Which Edinburgh had the biggest impact on your career?
I went as a punter in 1993 and to a BBC panel about writing comedy. Then, in ’94, I entered the So You Think You’re Funny? competition and didn’t get into the final. In ’95, I was part of a package show, then ’96 was my first one-man show. I got spotted in ’95 and did the Melbourne Fringe, then was asked to do the Aspen Comedy Festival in ’97. So they all broadened my horizons.
Any tips on how to stand out at Edinburgh?
Just concentrate on being as funny as you can — ‘funny’ will out. Comedy is a very meritocratic industry. If you’re funnier than everyone else, you’ll go further than everyone else. At the higher levels, other things come into it, such as how telegenic you are. But ultimately, if you are funny it will happen.
What’s been your worst gig?
Corporate gigs. People aren’t there to see comedy, let alone you, and you’re more constrained in what you can say. I once died on my a*** in front of a bunch of investment bankers. I still do them — they pay really well.
If it’s going badly, do you cut your act short?
I very rarely bow out — I’ve only done it twice. It has to be going so badly you decide it’s only going to get worse. You have to leave before the lack of interest turns into hostility.
What career ambitions do you have left?
To write something for me to act in — a sitcom or a play. But whenever I write a sitcom, one comes out in the exact same setting.
Maybe you could play a murderer. Lots of comedians go a bit dark when they start acting…
Yes. Look at Mark Billingham. He was a frothy, jolly, crowd-pleasing comic who is now a best-selling author of crime thrillers — and all the characters have surnames from the comedy circuit. The Byrne character was a witness who got bumped off in his first book.
Byrne is at Edinburgh Festival Aug 2-27 and then touring nationwide, edbyrne.com