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Edinburgh Festival 99 Friday, 13 August, 1999, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
They're making it up....
Jason Byrne: Promises he is still as manic as ever
BBC News Online's Edinburgh Festival correspondent Matt Grant talks to Johnny Vegas and Jason Byrne - two stand-up comedians famous for their madcap approach and on-stage improvisation.

The biggest disappointment for any comedy fan is paying to see a live stand-up show and finding it is exactly the same as a routine already shown on TV.

Some of the best known performers get away with this year after year. Jack Dee in particular is so consistent even his facial movements appear to be scripted by a team of writers.

Edinburgh Festival 1999
The opposite to the planned comedy approach is, of course, ad libbing - talking to the audience and letting the routine flow into the tangents as they come up. In other words, making it up.

The danger, of course, is that the results will not be funny. For this reason, comedians refer to the unscripted school of stand-up as "taking risks". Among practitioners, the boast is always that no two shows will ever be the same.

Slash and Byrne

One of the biggest risk-takers at this year's Fringe is Ireland's Jason Byrne, who achieved a sell-out run last year and was a runner-up for the Perrier best newcomer award. Byrne is noted for his manic delivery, bizarre props and engagement with his audience.

"There's two types of comedians," he says. "There's gags where you have start, middle and end and they're tried and tested loads of times on people and they can't fail, which is fair enough.

"But I just love comedians that give the audience a bit more of a spark and the audience are always on the edge of their seat.

"I don't mean taking too many risks. I would never try an improv a whole show. That's madness, that's not risk-taking. But I do a bit of whatever comes in to my head and if it doesn't work I just go back."

Byrne promises festival-goers a completely new show this year. He insists the passing of a year in his life and his impending marriage have not slowed him down in any way.

"The audience are mad as usual and I haven't calmed down at all. I'm still as manic and as hyped as ever," he says.

"The first night a girl had an epileptic fit in my show, so I can only put that down to me just running around, because I don't use a strobe light. I had to stop the show and then one of the tech crew carried her out and we were able to start again. The audience were nice about it, though."

Byrne also continues to use his weird and wonderful props to keep his show going. This year they include a fireplace and an assortment of legs on stick and heads on crates. He admits he would even use his family to get a laugh.

"I don't have any kids yet, but if I have kids I'll have them in the show, which will be great. I won't have kids I'll have little props.

"So, if my wife gets pregnant, I'll say what type of prop will it be?"

Vegas contemplates death

The stand-up Byrne most admires for his risk taking is Johnny Vegas, the overweight pottery fanatic and part-time Butlins entertainer created by Michael Pennington.

Johnny Vegas: Self-proclaimed fat bloke with a perm
Vegas too is back with a new show at this year's Fringe. Titled Happy Days Are Here Again it sees him contemplate his early death. The pottery wheel at the centre of Vegas' early shows remains, but is no longer used to mould clay during the performance.

"I've got the wheel, but actually it's quite a sad thing because I'm only using it to build an urn. I'm actually contemplating that with the kind of lifestyle I'm living, alternative comedy is killing me.

"The real theme is, I'm looking for the replacement, it's time for me to hang up the flares and just slip quietly off into the night."

So, is it really the end for Johnny Vegas? "He'd like to thing he's retired, but he'll probably turn up and start heckling his replacement," he says.

Dealing with hecklers is one of the reasons Vegas is so loved by audiences and respected by his peers. As ever, he puts himself down if this is suggested to him.

"I think the thing is, I haven't got the talent to do it any other way," he says.

"I think there's some acts who could sit down and write a proper gag and then push it in a dangerous way - all I can do is push it because I can't write gags.

"You've got to have an act, because you don't want to get too much to the point where it's obvious that you haven't prepared anything. You can get a bit lost up your own backside.

"But it's always great to ditch the material and go off on a tangent when you get the chance. All my best stuff has come from messing around on stage and not sitting in a room and trying to pre-empt how people are going to react."

Improv online

Vegas now plans what could be a real challenge - transferring his live spark into a regularly updated Website. Despite being a technophobe, he has taken on the project because he dislikes using the Internet solely as an advertising medium to promote his shows.

"What I'll actually be doing is doing a site that I actually update once a week, rather than just having a tour posted up, which is a bit dull. That's under development.

"I don't have a computer, but I think if it's a service that's going to be there then rather than just using it as a thing for selling yourself you should actually be interactive with it.

"I've kind of got the bug for it now. I was proud of my computer illiteracy but I'm going to master it."

See also:

13 Aug 99 | Edinburgh Festival 99
13 Aug 99 | Edinburgh Festival 99
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