Jason Byrne: Master of Puppets
You're the best-selling act in Fringe history. That's mad, isn't it?
Its totally mad to think that, but it doesn't last long in my head because there's a lot of mad stuff in there anyway, like what I'm thinking right now while typing this... I'm wondering if I could use space hoppers as testicles on stage.
Looking back on your first few years at the Fringe, you arrived at a time when the Irish comedy scene was in amazing shape. What are your memories of that scene?
1996, So You Think You're Funny, myself and a fistful of Irish comics arrive. We are the dogs bollix, its like the Barcelona comedy team have come to town, there were seven heats, four comics won their heats to get into the finals. The final result: Tommy Teirnan first, Jason (me) Byrne second, Patrick Mc Donald third, and John Henderson fourth. We then all got locked.
Why do you think it produced so many great comedians?
All Irish people are funny, they all have a great story, they're used to hiding in bushes telling stories to each other. It's part of our culture to tell stories around the fire, in the pub or at a rock mass. Us comedians just had the balls to do it on stage.
I believe your first run at the Fringe was a doubler with Tommy Tiernan. What was that like? Did you make any terrible mistakes?
We couldn't work out who should go on first on our opening night. So we finally agreed Tommy would go on first, he asked the tech to show him a red light at around twenty minutes in. During Tommy's set, about seven minutes in, the tech used his red light to check something on the desk. Hey presto, Tommy wrapped it up, did about fifteen minutes, introduced me... The max time I had then was about a thirty minute set, so I spent the rest asking people where they were from.
How do you reckon you've become such a fixture at the Fringe? What makes people seek you out in Edinburgh?
The local council have now asked me to appear every year till I die, then they want my body so they can show it in the castle. I think people go to just 'see' me, not even listen; I'm now like the Pyramids of Egypt. Sure you'd have to see them if you arrived there, so it's a must to see me in Edinburgh.
Has there ever been a year where you've walked away from the Fringe, thinking: "That's it, never again"?
Every year. But the fringe in August is like a big bag of smack to me, I have to have it! I have to!
Do you have any regrets about not winning the award (y'know, the one we all still secretly call the Perrier Award)?
Honestly no, I was nominated in 2001, was delighted with that, but then was told I wouldn't be eligible from then on, so you can't win a race if your not in it, Patsy!
People's Puppeteer sounds like it requires the same level of manic energy as previous years. How do you keep it up? Do you have a special Fringe health regime?
I run every day, around The Meadows, around Arthur's Seat, around the flat, up and down the stairs. I also jump on the bed for forty minutes; good for the arse muscles. My diet is simply looking at the happy Scottish faces that pass me by every day up there.
And finally, who else would you recommend in Edinburgh this year?
I can't answer that, I think the best thing is to cut and paste the whole program in, so I don't offend anyone.