Ed Byrne produced a rather remarkable show, which engages from the moment he steps onto stage until the lights come up at the end. I couldn’t resist the use of the phrase ‘remarkable’ in this review – one of the funniest segments of the show comes from Byrne commenting on what criteria he uses to judge whether people can be his friends. Use of the words ‘remarkable’ or ‘unremarkable’ are serious offenses, using the phrase ‘I was just making conversation’ is unforgivable.
Unusually for a headline act, Byrne came onto the stage straight away to ‘warm up for his warm up act’ and plunged the audience straight into the action of the evening. It proved to be a great idea, as the crowd got a taste of his comedy, which wetted their appetite, yet left them receptive to the opening act, as Byrne introduced him with glowing praise.
Ben Norris is Byrne’s chosen warm up act for this tour and I can see why – their comedy style compliments each other as they talk about varying things from the same perspective, that of the 40 something man who has become rather less tolerant with age. Norris commented to me in the interval how much he was enjoying the tour, and that “it is much better” to be playing the big venues when touring with Ed this time around. The pair previously toured together ten years ago, and Norris’ normal performing grounds are comedy clubs, so a big space like the Guildhall was certainly a step up for the comedian. Norris is a comedian to look out for when he returns on his solo tour next year – his observational comedy was spot on, with comments about football, and visits to the GP being particular highlights of his set. His comments on the variety in age of the crowd, and his horror at the amount of people who were born in the 90’s present without a parent were particular crowd favourites. However, there were a few moments in his set which felt a little jumpy – rather than smoothly running from one anecdote to another through a clever observation or linking phrase it seemed to jump from one unconnected thing to another. One thing that marked Byrne as more professional and practised at these larger venues is how he interacted with the crowd and made hints to material from earlier in the evening – Norris seemed a little reluctant in terms of crowd interaction. The question of whether Southampton was a footballing place was met with stony judgemental silence – even I know that the Saints return to the premier league earlier this year was rather a big deal for Southampton fans. It felt like he didn’t really tailor his material to the crowd, which meant that although it was very funny, it didn’t quite hit the mark as well as Byrne did.
Part of Byrne’s strength as a comedian is how relatable he is – regardless of your age Roaring Forties has something which will be relevant to you. I found it startling how many things I could relate to in Byrne’s set, considering the 20 year age gap – his curmudgeon nature is what he has built this show around, and there were a lot of things that he commented on that I found myself nodding and laughing along to precisely because I do exactly the same thing. His comments on people who don’t want to be doing their jobs and so do them badly had me in stitches precisely because I feel the same way while waiting in a queue. Other highlights include his material about being too lazy for tax avoidance, with the prerequisite subtle jab at Jimmy Carr, as well as his retelling of the consultation he and his wife had with a doctor on the subject of vasectomies kept the momentum, and the jokes rolling throughout the whole show.
As well as the pre prepared material you could also see how adept at improvised comedy Byrne is – his opening lines of the show were about the four empty seats in the front row, and how people must have brought them and not turned up just to spite him as a more hurtful jab than someone shouting obscenities at him had the audience laughing from the moment he stepped onto stage. And as for the closing moments, and his encore, all I can say is – air guitar was never so funny.
Byrne’s Roaring Forties show is not to be missed – the tour continues around the country until December, and if you have the opportunity to go see it I would really recommend it. The show is Byrne at his best, and his shiny purple suit was also quite fabulous as well.