He's one of the funniest comics around, but even when he's training, and pushing his body to its limits, Jason Byrne can still see the lighter side of life. Being a stand-up comedian means that he often has to work at night, and he says he is quite happy to join in with the all-female morning class, The Little Black Dress Club, at Stringer Fitness in Ashbourne, Co Meath.
"My name is Colette when I'm there," he jokes. "It's a tough class but great craic. John Lally is the trainer, and the girls will sometimes ask questions about diet or whatever, hoping he'll stop for a minute to give them a rest. He'll answer and then cop that time is ticking away, so he'll go, 'right, 10 burpees!'
"Exercise definitely makes you feel great, though. My wife Brenda is so happy all the time, as are all the girls in the class. I always say to the lads that if their wives want to go and do something like that, just let them and don't be going, 'Ah here, I'm not minding the kids'!"
Jason chose Stringer Fitness as Brenda was already a member. She does TRX and their two sons, Devin (14) and Daniel (7), also attend classes. While Daniel does the children's movement classes, Devin would like a six-pack, which Jason says seems to be the aim of most of the teenage boys he encounters.
"All of the kids want six-packs now, as opposed to the six packs of Guinness that we wanted when we were teenagers," he laughs. "We eat pretty well at home, because my wife is a brilliant cook, although I'm still trying to get off sugar. I'm from the 1970s, so I'm addicted to hard-boiled sweets and dolly mixtures.
"I have to get special vitamins into me because of my knee. It went one day while I was having a s**t. I sat down on the jacks too quickly and ripped the cartilage, and then another day, I wrecked it again on stage. I collapsed in pain on the ground and the audience thought it was gas, because they presumed it was part of the routine."
Jason Byrne at Stringer Fitness in Ashbourne, Co Meath. Jason is due to run the New York Marathon for Temple Street Children's Hospital. Picture: El Keegan
Jason had surgery on his knee, and has built up his fitness with John over the past three years. He runs five miles twice per week and does TRX sessions, strength and conditioning work and also joins the girlie classes.
While he loves training, burpees – aka squat thrusts – rate among Jason's least favourite exercises, along with the dreaded chin thrusts. "They're the worst, because John makes you lock out your arms and lift your whole body weight," he grimaces.
As a child growing up in Ballinteer, Co Dublin, Jason was always running around, to the point where his mother thought there was actually something wrong with him and brought him to the doctor. He took up running for a while as he got older, but fell by the wayside, and only got back into fitness when he was asked to take part in an Irish dancing stunt on the ITV programme Born To Shine.
"The girl who was teaching me to dance said that I was too unfit to do it, so she told me to go off and get fit and then come back to her," he says. "I started running again, but the problem was that the weight started flying off me and I got too skinny. I joined the gym, as I wanted to bulk up a bit, and did some personal training sessions with John."
Jason travels all over the world touring and performing at comedy festivals, which means that he has to try to fit training in while travelling. While it's exhausting being on the road, he finds he is less tired and better able to cope with the rigours of touring since he became fitter.
When he's in Ireland, he and John go running, and while Jason had vowed that he would never do a marathon, John persuaded him to do the New York City Marathon in November.
He is running it in aid of his favourite charity, Temple Street Children's Hospital, and says that now he has children himself, and has seen first-hand the great work done in the hospital, it was a no-brainer to get involved.
"When you're in there, you see the pain that some of the kids go through, while we're there moaning about a niggle," he says.
Just after we met, Jason was set to embark on a six-week tour of Australia. It will be autumn there, so even though it will be warm, the heat won't be unbearable. He plans to go running while he's there, and luckily has a running buddy on tour with him in the shape of fellow comedian Des Bishop. Mind you, Des loves going running late at night after gigs, so Jason can see himself persuading him to go out earlier in the day.