He’s conquered the stand-up circuit and now Jason Byrne’s bringing his comedy capers to the small screen, with his first TV sitcom. The funny man tells Sophie Herdman why he’s a big bag of nerves
“You know, you’ll never see a male Supernanny,” says Jason Byrne, looking casual in a pair of jeans, glasses and a blue T-shirt.
“Supernanny tells you to get your eyes level with the child, explain what’s going on and put them on the naughty step. A man would just stick the telly on, let the kids run around and when the wife’s coming home, have a quick tidy up.”
So what makes Byrne such an expert in parenting styles?
Well to start with, the 41-year-old and his wife Brenda have two sons, aged 6 and 13.
On top of that, though, the Irish comedian has been spending a lot of time analysing family dynamics for his new TV show, Father Figure.
Adapted from Byrne’s BBC radio show, the sitcom centres around the Whyte family.
Tom Whyte, played by Byrne, is a stay-at-home dad who, like the comedian, has two sons.
“I suppose a lot of men will relate to him because he’s trying to run a household but he doesn’t do it very well,” says the funny man.
“When his wife, Elaine, leaves the house, Tom isn’t the kids’ dad any more, he’s their big brother, and they have little or no respect for him - which is what happens in most households when the mother goes out.”
Having said that, Tom tries his very best to make things run smoothly, which might land Byrne in trouble at home.
“When my wife sees this she’ll be like, ‘Gosh, in the show you’re quite a good husband and father, maybe you could be like that in your real house’,” he says, laughing.
Playing Tom’s Irish mother and father, Mary and Pat, are Father Ted’s Pauline McLynn and Dermot Crowley.
“Pat’s quite laid-back and cool, but Tom’s mother is like him - a blabbermouth who’s always getting stuck into stuff and makes a mess of things.”
He admits that the characters are very much based on his real mum and dad.
“They could easily play those parts. They could walk onto the set and just talk and people would think, ‘That’s very well written’, and I’d have to explain that’s just the way they speak.”
Elaine, however, played by comedienne Karen Taylor, is based on an amalgamation of Brenda and another woman.
Added to this eclectic ensemble is Roddy, Tom’s divorced friend who runs a pub and secretly wishes he was a Whyte.
Then there are the neighbours - on one side is his arch nemesis Tim (played by Tim Downie, who sports what Byrne insists is the best moustache he’s ever seen on screen), and on the other side, Helen and Brendan, who like to keep themselves to themselves - something that Irish Tom can’t quite get his head around.
“In Ireland, socialising and knowing your neighbours are very important, but it’s not such a big thing here, so that causes a little bit of conflict,” Byrne explains.Despite having written the script and playing Tom in the radio series, Byrne wasn’t fussed about taking on the part for the small screen initially.
“I just said, ‘Oh, let someone else do it, I don’t care’, but everyone said I had to,” he says. “Playing Tom is very natural for me - I’m pretty much just talking to my real mother and father and reacting to my two real sons.”
He never really meant to get into acting. In fact, he didn’t exactly set off for a career in stand-up, either.
After growing up in Dublin, one of four children, after leaving school he worked in an electrical warehouse. It wasn’t until he won a joke competition, aged 25, that he was offered some open stand-up spots, and his comedy career began.
The turning point was 1996, when he finished second in the So You Think You’re Funny? contest at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Byrne’s now done the festival 17 years in a row and is its top-selling comedian.
“I always call Edinburgh the comedy gym - you flex your muscles, workout and it’s exhausting,” he says.
“It takes a lot of energy doing TV, but it’s a slower release. It’s different with stand-up.”
While filming, when Byrne found himself dying to let off some steam, he snuck into town to do some gigs. “It was brilliant,” he says, grinning widely.
He might be confident in his stand-up, but admits to being slightly nervous about Father Figure airing: “I’ll be sitting at home going, ‘Oh my God, it’s on the telly’,”