Jason Byrne: no two of his shows are ever the same
By David Hennessy
After the BAFTA winning success of Mrs Brown’s Boys, another Irish sitcom is coming to the BBC. Again the subject is a dysfunctional family as comedian Jason Byrne’s BBC Radio 2 sitcom Father Figure has been commissioned for an airing on TV. Written by and starring Jason as a disastrous house husband, Father Figure will also star Pauline McLynn, Michael Smiley and Dermot Crowley. On the comedy circuit since 1995, Byrne has been nominated for the Perrier Award and appeared in the massive comedy hit, Father Ted as well as other shows and films
Jason seemed in a little disbelief when the announcement was made in August. Has he got used to it all now? “It’s just kind of: ‘Ah, that’s fantastic’. There are so many people handing stuff into them all the time. At the moment in my life and in my career, I’m in the right place. I’ve got so much experience behind me that the BBC have a certain trust in someone like me: ‘He knows his shit, he can deliver this’.
“Our executive producer is a guy called Stephen McCrum and he’s responsible for the whole explosion of Mrs Brown’s Boys so that’s going to be great to have him in our corner because he’s the golden boy there now. He’s very good at letting acts getting on with whatever they want. Nobody could do what Brendan does, only Brendan. Nobody could tell Brendan how to write his script, especially a posh English man. He just left Brendan to his own devices and pointed him in the right direction. Hopefully that will happen to me.”
Playing Jason’s mother in the show, Pauline McLynn has been heard on the radio version of the same show. Jason is delighted with the cast he has assembled with Michael Smiley, well known from Spaced and Kill List (which he won a British Independent Film Award for), and Dermot Crowley who can be seen in BBC’s Hunted also attached: “She was saying to me the other day: ‘I have to meet your mother, I want to get the hair right’. Dermot Crowley is just exploding in Britain right now. He’s fantastic, he plays my dad and Michael Smiley plays my best mate so that’s fantastic. We still have to cast the wife and two kids but that’s the core cast right there.
“I do stand-up so I’m very good at comedy timing. They’re all really good professional actors and they’ll be basically carrying me along: ‘Don’t do that’. I’m just looking forward to doing something different.”
Although the project has been green lighted, Jason explains it is not gone far enough for it to be cancelled although he will never let this happen: “We read a pilot script for them (BBC bosses) and they said: ‘Right, will you record that?’ They can still change their mind and not do the whole thing. It’s a very complicated situation. There’s a lot of bosses to get through. They’re sort of half saying to us: ‘Go ahead and do the whole thing’. In other words: If the pilot is a load of shite, then it won’t go ahead but that’s just not gonna happen.”
Are the BBC bigwigs an intimidating bunch to pitch to? “They don’t mean to be. It’s not that they’re intimidating, it’s the situation. You say you’re trying to sell a sitcom and they say they’ve been looking at sitcoms all day, and you have got to try and convince them that the sitcom that you’re doing is the one that they need. But that’s what we achieved which is great.”
Mrs Brown’s Boys, Dead Boss, Moone Boy are all Irish penned comedies that have been well received in the UK in recent times and Jason thinks there is a lot more talent where they came from: “The reason why Irish people do so well abroad is because we’re great storytellers. The biggest stand-up comedy farm is Ireland. I think nearly everybody in Ireland could be a stand-up. We’ve all got stories, we’re all very funny people. When you do a show for people in Ireland. they’d be looking at ya like: ‘This better be funnier than my bloody story’ as opposed to English people who just go along to watch a show. They know it’s your job and not their job.”
For the full interview, pick up this week’s Irish World (November 17)