Among the many Jason Byrne performance videos on YouTube, one, from 2009, is particularly telling. Byrne calls a member of the audience, a hapless computer engineer in the front-row, to the stage and persuades him to put on a helmet. He then hugs him, gyrates against him, cups his behind and eventually binds him and a wrestler in cling-wrap only to get them both to roll in a kind of crazy race.
This is what Byrne does best. He mixes up improvisation, audience participation, props and very shouty delivery (sometimes all at the same time) to get you laughing even as you wonder why. The 44-year-old comic is energetic, unabashedly nuts and remarkably always in control of his set. Sometimes he’s making fun of himself – his glass eye, his tall frame, his foreignness overseas – but mostly, he’s making fun of you. And it’s hilarious.
When he brings his new act Jason Byrne Is Propped Up to India this weekend, the comic comes with 20 years of working the crowd. We hope that doesn’t mean clumsy last-minute bits about Delhi traffic, Bollywood, arranged marriages and naan bread – but more of his canny ability to draw the best out of individuals he’s never met. If you’re up for it, sit in the first row and hope for the magic words, “You there, will you come up stage please?”
Excerpts from an interview:
Do you get mistaken for Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) or Jason Byrne, the Las Vegas magician, much?
Yes I get mistaken for Matt Damon a lot. In fact that was me in the The Bourne Ultimatum, Matt wasn’t available. I never get mistaken for the Las Vegas comedian Jason Byrne because I’m not shiny enough.
Propped Up incorporates your famous use of props. How do you make ordinary objects so funny? Do you look at a cling wrap, for instance and say, “Hey, this might bring two men uncomfortably together and get people to laugh…”
Sometimes I buy props because I like the look of them and they sit on the stage every night untouched. Until one night something just happens and then they’re part of the show. I should make a movie about it, Prop Story starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.
How to you manage to make ordinary people part of a show? Do some faces just look naturally more sporting than others?
It’s not just faces, it’s body language. I’m good at reading people. I never pick people who don’t want to be picked. I never make a fool of anyone. There’s only room for one fool on stage.
Indians love their comedy loud, accessible, raunchy, energetic and visual. These are all descriptors for your style as well. What’s the secret to bringing your A game for 20 years?
Hard work, sorry no short cuts kids.
Are you worried at all that someone might react badly to one of your jokes?
It’s the new big thing, isn’t it? Game of Thrones, Pokemon Go and being offended. Some people just want to be offended.
Knowing Jason Byrne
*Often regarded as the king of live comedy in the UK, Jason Byrne has been performing since the 1990s.
*He’s been a performer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for over 20 years and is regularly among the festival’s highlights, with long queues of people trying to get in.
*He’s been nominated for the highly coveted Perrier Newcomer Award and the Perrier Award. He also won the Sony Radio Gold Award for Best Comedy in 2011.
*He’s also been on high profile televised shows such as Live at the Apollo, The Royal Variety Show, Wild Things and Snaptastic.
Details: Jason Byrne Is Propped Up, 7pm, on 18th September at Kamani Auditorium
Tickets are priced at Rs. 500 onwards and can be bought at www.bookmyshow.com