Viv Hardwick finds that Jason Byrne is ready to put his three brains to the comedy test on tour... even if two don’t really exist

WITH Jason Byrne’s permission, it’s probably best to leave the F-word out of an interview... it’s not as if he needs any added expletives now that the Irishman has discovered he’s the proud possessor of three brains.

“It’s a new concept I’ve come up with. It’s got nothing to do with comedy. I’ve just realised I’ve got three brains like an octopus has three hearts. I’d just thought I’d tell the world,” replies the comedian who will bringing his Man With Three Brains show to Harrogate, Durham, Stockton and Newcastle in the autumn.

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“Look, a scientist is going to be furious because they will say, ‘You only have one brain, but lots of streams of consciousness. Is that what you mean Jason?’ And I would go, ‘Yes, but I’m not going to put that on a poster because no one is going to come along to my shows... a Man With Three Consciousnesses sounds like a play that these Oxford children will bring up to Edinburgh and sit you in a hot room for an hour. The Man With Three Brains is exciting and something that plays well. What I’m really trying to get across is that the whole show is chaotic and it’s me saying, ‘Can you imagine trying to be inside my head? It’s not just one style of comedy I’m doing.

“It’s not just my stand-up. I’m doing stunts where people get up on stage and physically do stuff with me and, between all that, I have to cement it together with improv and that makes the performance personable to that whole audience.

“It’s my own fault. A friend of mine called Nazeem Hussain, an Australian comic, came to see me in Edinburgh and said, ‘Every time I watch one of your shows I feel so guilty. I feel I should do so much more’. But I told him, ‘No, don’t because I’m stuck in this rut now, where the audience demand all the ingredients of the cake and I’d rather sometimes go out like Dave Allen and just sit on a chair with a whiskey and tell a few stories. But I know my audience would be furious with that.”

Byrne reckons that the three brains just cover the chunky bits of his stage show and there’s just so many other things happening as well.

“What I’d love to do is have an experiment with some probes attached to my head and just see how much is firing when I’m talking. I don’t use parts when I’m off stage. I can’t get in there. I think if I did a Mensa test while I was on stage, the percentage would be a vast improvement on the zero I’d score normally,” he jokes.

Byrne has been a regular at the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival for two decades and gained a reputation as the event’s top-selling comic.

“There are usually around 800 people attending, and the lowest I think I’ve done is 600, so I average around 16,500 to 17,000 ticket-buyers per festival. I’ve been coming here for 21 years and I’ve always said that I’ll keep coming up here until they want me to keep coming. I thought, maybe, ten years ago, that would happen. The Scottish audiences are a little bit like a stray dog. They will not go away. So, if they won’t go way, then I won’t go away. We are all in agreement that we’ll hang out with each other until it’s decided that is definitely it. I feel that ten of my years here have been at the top level, in the big rooms,” he says.

Does he feel like the Usain Bolt of stand-ups? “Well, Usain Bolt was always first, first, first and now he’s third. Now, he’s said, ‘Good luck, I’m knackered’, but my crowd won’t let me come third. ‘Can’t I just skip a year?’ The answer has been, ‘No Jason, we want you to be first’. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if when I’m beaten by Dara O’Briain or Frankie Boyle, they find out the pair have been on giggle juice and they’ll be stripped of their shows because they were joke cheats,” Byrne says.

He reckons he’s not a happy, clappy, chappie off-stage at all. “If I was like that all the time I’d have been dead ages ago, and divorced. If I met my stage self on the street I probably wouldn’t talk to him because I’d find him incredibly annoying. Calling someone larger-than-life is another way of saying they’re an idiot,” he jokes.

His forthcoming tour is like an enormous family reunion with some theatre-goers booking the same seats each time. “I even suggest they do that,” Byrne says.

A rare low point for him was a recent Durham show where a drunken heckler was finally thrown out “and then returned to say he’d lost his wallet. Later, I told the audience, ‘Quick, find his wallet’ and they did and there was £500 in it. We were discussing how to split the £500, but one of the ushers took the wallet away”.

Byrne is looking forward to October because he relaxes by finding running routes near each venue. “I’ve done marathons... well I pluralised that because I’ve done one. I’ve done loads of marathons once in New York. I’ve always run since I was a child, but I do have to say that a running club is the most boring club in the world. You turn up at some hall, run in the freezing cold around a housing estate and then you put your clothes on and go home,” Byrne says.

His current fear is that no one is going to watch his new October TV comedy series for Dave even though “it’s likely to be repeated forever. So, I’m 45 now and when I’m 65 this show will still be on,” he says of Don’t Show It, Bring It, where contestants have to find things that Byrne requests... without being able to ask for help.

“People can’t say the answer and have to get it back to me within three minutes. The only downside of giving cash away in the street is that people are going to come up to me on tour and want me to ask them a question for cash.”

n Tour dates: Weds, Oct 4, Harrogate Theatre. Friday, Oct 6, Durham Gala. Saturday, Oct 7, Stockton Arc. Sunday, Oct 8, Newcastle Stand and Saturday, Oct 28, Newcastle Stand.