I was crippled with nerves for years, admits TV funnyman Jason Byrne
He’s arguably one of Ireland’s most accomplished funny men — but his on-stage bravado has often been a mask for the crippling nerves and self-doubt which plagued Jason Byrne for years.
In that sense he is in a long line of comedians, forced to face down their own demons, before they get down to the serious business of making people laugh.
Jason says he is now much better able to cope with pre-performance nerves, compared to his early years on the comedy circuit, when fine-tuning his craft.
But he still relies on a carefully choreographed routine before going on stage: “I like to have all my mates with me. Basically I want to have as many people as possible that I know around me — I don’t much like to be on my own. If I am on my own there’s a chance I might overthink the gig and I certainly don’t want to do that. Therefore I make sure to get as many friends as is possible into my dressing room.”
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, the Dublin-born comedian is brutally frank in describing the often daunting psychological challenges when facing the great unknown that is a live audience.
“I often feel like a soldier going into war. It’s similar to one of those Vietnam movies whereby the guy going in first is really nervous — while the guys who have done it before maybe are not so nervous. They’re able to control their nerves. “I feel it’s the same doing stand-up comedy. I see people who are new to the business pacing up and down beforehand.
“But I’ve been doing it a while — I have learned to control my emotions. It’s more anticipation that I feel these days, but you must always remember that every audience is different.
“Instead of allowing tension and nerves become a negative force in my mind, I make a point of actually trying to enjoy the whole experience.
“I say to myself this will be good fun, so let’s see what happens. But it took years for me to get into this kind of mindset. What comedians do is essentially like bungee jumping; it’s something the body simply doesn’t want to do. Your body can in fact try to shut you down, make you tired, and it can provoke a reaction that makes some performers physically ill.
“This kind of reaction turns some people into a complete mess. Their body is constantly telling them ‘you can’t f**king go out and do this. What you are doing is ridiculous’.”
The 44-year-old is at pains to point out it takes time and experience for the brain to adapt to the coping mechanisms necessary for a comedian to perform a live act.
Asked if there is much personal rivalry in the intensely competitive world of Irish comedy, he replies: “I don’t mix with any other comics; I don’t really know them. When I gig I do solo shows. But overall I think Irish comics are the best in the world. If there was a comedy World Cup we’d win it every year.”
Jason Byrne returns for the new season of Wild Things on Sky 1 tonight at 7pm.