Jason Byrne: Sheep For Feet And Rams For Hands

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

It's an inauspicious start for any comedy show, keeping your audience waiting in the elements for more than half an hour. Then the microphone doesn't work.

But if there's anyone able to make you forget the delays and inconvenience, it's Jason Byrne. Within seconds he's prowling the stage like a dervish, teasing the audience as a bunch of 'mad bastards' and making the world outside is a distant memory.

It's Byrne's amazing unstoppable vigour that makes him such a compelling performer. If we're investigating alternative sources of energy, we ought to look at harnessing the power of demented Irishmen. He whips up tempests of indignity and passion, lets the storm briefly quell, before conjuring it all back up again, metaphorical thunder, lightning and whipping winds lashing at your funnybone.

The Assembly Hall is a large room, but he works it brilliantly well. He has that rare gift of constructing elaborate back stories and running jokes for anyone in the audience unlucky enough to catch his attention, gags which he weaves in and out of his material seamlessly. How he shamelessly embarrasses his prey could, in coarser hands, seem utterly offensive, but with Byrne everyone's in on the joke; the insults are always in jest.

Almost everything he says seems to have just occurred to him ­ obviously not true, but combined with the genuine ad libs, it does make for an exciting air of unpredictability. You are grateful this volatile madman is confined to the stage, rather than marauding through the streets.

Every scenario is acted out with mocking zeal; from women's romantic, Mills & Boon fantasies to the slow, asphyxiating death of his six-year-old son's pet bunny. By rights, that should be a tragic and touching tale ­ yet Byrne somehow finds glee in it, and we don't mind too much that an rabbit was killed in the making of that joke. And animal-lovers won't want to know what happens to the family dog at the sadistic hands of Byrne Jnr, in one of the most hysterical anecdotes in an overwhelming rip-roaring set.

Byrne is a latter-day Basil Fawlty. Driven to the brink of madness by frustration, every inconvenience and minor stupidity is enough to tip him over the edge. His wife's a nag, audience members who move about are conspiring to upset him ­ even the fact he's got a bigger towel than he expects is enough to set him off on a rant of mock indignation and unearthed memories. So when he recount how his stick-in-the-mud dad can be stubbornly stupid, it's is enough to prove a screaming, hellraising blast of frustrated contempt ­ though suspect the apple hasn't fallen far from the Byrne family tree.

Yet on the flipside he can get deliriously happy with equally minor successes, whether it be a practical joke or the willy-waving exuberance of his young son, his emotions are magnified a hundredfold.

The excitement which he brings to every routine is draining to watch, let alone perform. Hs veins pop, his face grimaces into exaggeratedly tortured expressions and his already unkept hair becomes matted by sweat to his forehead. He doesn't make it look easy, but he does make it hilariously funny.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Aug 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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