Ed Byrne: I'm ruthless about my friendships
Why turning 40 has made the Irish comedian re-evaluate his life, for better or worse
Would you like to be friends with Dublin-born comedian Ed Byrne? Well, the unfortunate truth is he doesn't want to be friends with you; nor anyone else for that matter.
Byrne recently entered his forties, a happening that he "fully embraced" and even chose to make the subject of his new live stand-up tour The Roaring Forties, which calls in at Belfast's Waterfront Hall tonight. However, middle-age has also brought about a re-evaluation period for Byrne, and first on the agenda is his social circle.
"There are seven billion people on earth, and I only have the time to be friends with about 20 of them," he laughs. "So as far as I'm concerned, if you don't indicate when you're on a roundabout, our friendship is over. I'm very ruthless."
The bespectacled, shaggy-haired Irishman, best known for his regular appearances on BBC comedy panel programme Mock the Week, claims to be enjoying fresh challenges like balancing work with spending time with his new family (he makes it home to see his wife and two young children regularly during a tour which, with breaks, carries on this time until next May) but some aspects of getting older are less than appealing to him, and he includes them in his current routine.
"One of the main anecdotes of the new show is about going on a driver awareness course, another is about having a vasectomy, and another is about developing a hernia," Byrne reveals. "Some of it is just about me getting older and acting like a d**k."
Comedy lovers of all backgrounds and ages are apparently flocking to The Roaring Forties at the moment. It's common, says Byrne, for him to see families at his gigs; perhaps understandably given that the comedian claims to "have advice for younger siblings, being a third child myself, and also a knowledge of being on the other side, being a parent".
He adds: "Some of the nastier things I say about having kids are more aimed at parents, because they understand it. Whereas the young people in the crowd are thinking: 'Oh my God, does my mother think that way about me?' But then, as I often joke, there's nothing less cool than being a parent."
With his broad accent, it's hard not to think of Byrne as quintessentially Irish. However, as the comedian points out,he hasn't lived in Ireland for 23 years.
"That's actually the slightly tricky thing about playing Dublin nowadays," he ponders. "I went to Glasgow at 18 and when I used to go back to Dublin to film the TV show The Panel, I had to read up on what was actually happening in the news.
"Obviously I have to keep up with the news for Mock the Week, but I don't watch RTE news so I'm a bit behind on that front. I feel like I've lost touch to an extent, and it felt quite fake to fly over from England and talk about Irish politics. So I stopped doing The Panel. It's weird to be Irish and not know anything about what's going on over there."
Byrne is still a popular panellist on Mock the Week, though, a programme which earns top viewer ratings yet seems to divide the public. Fellow comic Stewart Lee recently told Out There of his belief that fewer women appear on the show because they're worried about being "shouted over" by their male counterparts.
Byrne feels that Mock the Week is singled out in this respect because it purely features stand-up comedians and, as he points out, "the ratio of females to males in comedy is still very low". Fundamentally though, Byrne disagrees with Lee: "I don't think that's the case anymore; maybe in the past it was. I think everyone is given time and space to breathe on the programme now."
Byrne speaks genially of his past gigs at Belfast's Empire, and is looking forward to making the step up to Waterfront Hall on Friday.
While this thoughtful, charming presence is unwilling to make any more friends, he'll surely continue to pick up new admirers.
Ed Byrne plays at Waterfront Hall, Belfast, tonight. For details, visit www.waterfront.co.uk.