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An interview with Ed Bryne

Stand-up comedian, Ed Byrne, discusses how he explores grief and loss in his latest comedy show.


  • Comedy

Is there no end to the man’s talents? A staple of panel show Mock the Week, Ed Byrne has also sledded down the side of a volcano for Dara and Ed’s Great Big Adventure, upstaged Martin Sheen and Robert Downey Jr on The Graham Norton Show, and demonstrated his driving skills on Top Gear and The World’s Most Dangerous Road.   

But for all his dalliances with the world of television light entertainment, Ed remains at heart a stand-up comedian. He has honed his craft for a remarkable 30 years now, garnering a hatful of awards and a constant, borderline bewildering stream of five-star reviews along the way. However, while he prepares to take his 14th show, Tragedy Plus Time, to the Edinburgh Fringe and onwards for a comprehensive UK tour, audiences need to ready themselves because Ed Byrne is heading into highly emotional new territory. 

“It’s something of a departure, and I’m slightly worried about that,” he concedes. “I’ve never really had the desire to write a show that had an overly serious element to it. I got a lot of five-star reviews on the last show [2019’s If I’m Honest], but some four-star ones that opined, ‘well it’s funny, but that’s all it is…’ As if that’s not enough these days. Frankly, just being funny is a furrow I’ve been happy to occupy. But this new show features some heart-wrenching, soul-bearing stuff.” 

That much is indisputable. For Tragedy Plus Time, Ed bravely ventures into the world of grief and loss, a decision prompted by the passing of his younger brother Paul, aged just 44, in February 2022. Comedy that takes death as its cue is not unprecedented, but it’s a path that takes considerable creative courage to explore.   

“I was in two minds about whether to do a show of this nature,” Ed explains. “Then I decided this was the subject I was going to tackle but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. But once I started down that road, that was it… Then my main worry was, how funny is it going to be and is it going to work?” 

These were legitimate concerns. Of course, there’s funny and there’s funny. In Tragedy Plus Time, Ed consistently delivers the latter while expertly locating the poignancy that sits at the intersection of sadness and loss. This isn’t gallows humour; this is something else altogether.  

“The first time I performed it,” he continues, “it lasted more than an hour. That surprised me, but it was too long, so I had to decide whether to cut funny jokes or material that’s meaningful. That kind of decision was new to me, and what’s really annoying is that the one person I would have asked for advice on that is the guy the show’s about.” 

“Obviously I don’t want the whole thing to be an onslaught,” he says. “That’s partly because of the digressions, and that’s why they’re there. But they also illustrate how grief works in that you can still have a good time, you can still be happy, you can still have a laugh about other things and be frivolous. But grief is always there waiting for you when you’re done with being silly.”  

Ed candidly admits that mining his family’s bereavement for comedic effect would challenge his performing skills – and emotional bandwidth – in a unique way. Is this a nightly catharsis for the Irish comedian? To an extent, yes. “Death is universal. We will all lose someone. So the best thing to do is laugh at it,” he says.  

Tragedy Plus Time isn’t Ed Byrne deconstructing comedy or going meta. That’s not what he does. Nonetheless, this is a satisfyingly left-field move from one of the undeniable masters of comedy. It is as moving as it is funny, and vice versa.  

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