Irish comedian Jason Byrne is coming back to Brisbane, and he needs your help.
You see, Byrne — the undisputed king of audience participation — hasn’t quite thought of a name for his show yet. But that’s okay, because he’s got a secret weapon, an ace in the hole. You.
In You Name The Show!, the beloved comedian is giving you the chance to, well, name the show. You can also win a sweet cash prize in the process.
We caught up with the biggest selling act in the history of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to talk about his latest stunt, his marathon training regime, how he convinces crowds to commit petty larceny for him, and what sets Brisbane audiences apart from the rest.
You just wrapped your 19th run at The Fringe. How intense are those four weeks?
That’s a great question, because basically, it’s like Vietnam. It’s like Vietnam in four weeks. You come back home when you’re finished and you go, ‘Holy s**t, what the f**k just happened? Why did I say I’d do that?’
What it is, for me, is it’s like a necessary drug each year. I do it every year, and yes, you do have to gig every night, but not only are you gigging every night, but you’re also doing radio interviews and press interviews every day to make sure your venue’s full each night. My venue was an 800-seater, so we had to just keep going, keep pushing it. Then you also do extra late night shows, like ‘Best of the Fest’ and all these cabaret shows, and you’re just… you’re fu**ed, you know what I mean?
When we normally gig, like in Australia, I’ll do two nights and then have a break and travel to the next town, you know? That helps a lot, to have those nights off. But when you’re gigging non-stop in the same venue, it gets a bit Groundhog Day.
So what I wanted to do this year — and it was my favourite show I’ve ever done, and it’s the one I’m bringing to Australia — was make a big spinning wheel and put my setlist on it. So I put about six or seven categories on the wheel, and then I added another six or seven spots for stunts for people in the audience to do. So I had the stand-up and the stunts and my improv all mixed together on this wheel, and some nights I wouldn’t even get to half of it, you know?
And then I gave three members of the audience whiteboards, and then they had to name the show during the show. At the very end of the show, I would call out the three names and the audience would cheer and we’d pick the name they liked best and it would go up on a board. There’s 25 names, if you look at my Facebook or Twitter page, up on a board. I’ve got to pick one of them pretty soon. It’s hard, because some of them are very f**kin’ funny, you know?
Are there a few names that you’re leaning towards?
Well, there’s one called Steed, and the guy who came up with that name for the show, his wife gave him that nickname because he’s great in bed. So he came out with that, and then all 800 people in the room, every time I looked at him or said anything, they all went, Steeeeeeeeeeeed. So that was good, and then he goes and tweets me… I said to people, ‘If you’re at the show, tweet me your picture with the title that you wrote, so I’ll remember them by face’. In the show, I swing out on stage on a wrecking ball like Miley Cyrus in my underpants. He’s replicated this, you can see this on my Twitter, he’s up a ladder with a little ball between his legs, and he’s got a jumper on with nothing on underneath. He’s just holding a sign that says Steed. So he’s up there.
But there were other names that were just funny, like Bend Over ET, Ketamin is for Whores and Barry Needs a Blowjob. They’re shocking, but some of them are absolutely hilarious. One night I had two rows of really posh kids at the show, and the name of the show that night was Daddy, I Want Another Pony.
To me, they’re all winners. There’s a 500 quid prize for the winner, but I’m actually thinking of splitting it over two or three winners. They don’t really care, you know? They don’t care. They don’t think they’re actually going to get the money. Maybe I’ll give Steed 100 quid, and the posh kids 100 quid, and… have you ever heard of another comedian called Ed Byrne?
Well, one night one guy called the show We Thought It Was Ed Byrne. Gutted. So they should get 100 quid, too. I think I’ll split it between them. There might be someone who says, ‘That’s not the rules!’, but there are no fu**in’ rules, you know what I mean? It’s a comedy show. I just have to give away 500 quid, so I think if I spread it around, it’ll be better.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Whenever people talk about your shows, they always talk about the audience participation. Has that always come naturally to you? When you first got into comedy, were you a little reluctant to engage the audience?
Oh, when I started I never spoke to them. I was terrified. I was just trying to get the fu**ing gig done, you know what I mean? One night, when I was doing a 20-minute spot, I forgot what was coming up next. So I just spoke to some guy, and I was just naturally good at it. I was able to make up s**t. Over the years, I’ve just gotten faster and quicker at doing it, just by training my brain.
On one spoke of the spinning wheel, it says an audience member has to go and rob some stuff. I’ve never met the audience member, I don’t know who he is or who she is, I haven’t talked to them before. That’s where the improv comes in. And then people think, ‘Oh my god, that came up on the wheel, he couldn’t even have known he was going to talk to the audience member about that!’ So the wheel shows off my stand-up routines and my improv and my ability to talk to complete fu**ing strangers. I should’ve worked for the UN!
When you call on people to do this stuff, do they just do it without question? You say, ‘Hey, go rob something’, and they just… rob it, no questions asked?
Yeah. If they hesitate for even a second, the rest of the audience goes, ‘F**k off! Rob something! Rob something!’
The best time was when the wheel landed on ‘Go rob something’ three times in a row. It says ‘Go rob something’ and it has a seat number, and it came up three times in a row. To put that in perspective, some nights it doesn’t come up at all! So this guy from the audience had to rob three things. First of all, he robbed a PS3 from an office in the venue somewhere. Then it came up again and he said, ‘No way’, and I said, ‘Man, sorry, you’re going to have to go and rob something’, so he robbed vodka from the bar. Then it came up a third time and I said, ‘Man, you’re going to have to come up with something spectacular’.
So he was gone for a while, he was gone for a good 10 minutes, and then the two doors opened and he came in with a double bass on his shoulders. Yeah. He put it on the stage, looked at me and said, ‘I’m not fu**ing robbing anything else’. So we pulled the sign off the wheel.
So it’s an unbelievable night of people joining in and just enjoying it, and we got great feedback. People loved it. If I could have played another four weeks in Edinburgh, I would probably have sold it out, because there were people coming back seven times, because it’s different every night.
That’s how it’ll work in Australia. It’s just going to be fu**ing nuts. And we’ll put Australian stuff up there on the wheel. It might say ‘Go put a shrimp on the barbie’…
You’re a very regular visitor to our shores. Have you been here often enough now that you can spot the differences between a Sydney audience and a Brisbane audience and a Melbourne audience?
Yeah, every show is different. I’m doing shows in Geelong and Frankston, and they’re both very different to Melbourne, you know? And Adelaide is very different to Melbourne. And Brisbane and Sydney, oh yeah, they’re very different. Sydney’s huge, you know? It’s huge and it’s got every nationality. Whereas Brisbane’s big, but it’s not as big as the big cities, so it still has a lot of people from Brisbane. In Sydney you’d have Africans and Romanians and Irish and Polish and loads of nationalities. In Brisbane? There’s a lot of people from Brisbane. And then a couple of Irish.
When I was there last, though, the venue was fantastic. It’s a brilliant venue, The Tivoli. What a great comedy venue. It’s like a comedy club, but it’s not – it’s a music venue. But it has a small balcony and a bottom level, and it’s just perfect. It’s the best craic ever.
But Australians, across the board, are like the Irish and like the British. They’ll join in. They love joining in. So they’ll have no problem with the show. They’ll definitely rob s**t.
Well, it’s kind of part of our culture, our history.
Off stage, you’re training for the New York Marathon at the moment. Are you one of those people who gets a high out of running?
Whenever I used to train, before I trained for the marathon, I did do it to get rid of stress and get a high. It was fantastic. But now it’s got much more serious! I’m doing it for charity and I’ve raised loads of money and now there are loads of people to let down. And it’s going to be in New York!
So while I’m in Australia, I’ll be there for three weeks, and each week I’ll have to run a long run of 15 miles, and a short run of about six miles. And then go do a gig! So I don’t know how the f**k I’m going to do that. I’ll do the big runs on my days off, so I can just collapse afterwards.
Well, good luck with that. We can’t wait to see you out here.
Yeah, it was great last year, so I’m sure it’ll be the same. Thanks a million, man, I really appreciate it.
Jason Byrne plays The Tivoli on Tuesday 16 September. For more info, visit our event guide.
For your chance to win $1000 cash, look for the Jason Byrne program ad, postcards and posters around your city, write your show name suggestion in the blank word balloon space, and upload your pic to facebook.com/LiveNationComedy. The national winner will be announced onstage at the final show of the tour.