Jason Byrne set to bring his Ironic Bionic Man tour to Alnwick Playhouse
and live on Freeview channel 276
But the reasons behind his many medical interventions are less extreme than that, even if, in some cases, they sound more ridiculous.
“I’m full of fecking gadgets,” laughs the 51-year-old, explaining the name of his new live stand-up show, The Ironic Bionic Man which calls in at Alnwick Playhouse on November 11.
“Now, at this stage in my life, I have ironically become bionic. I have six stents in my heart, I’ve got a wonky eye (it used to turn in when I was a kid so they fixed it and my dad used to call it my bionic eye), and had cartilage taken out of my knee because I ripped it on the toilet.”
“My left arm was dislocated fully in Australia. I’ve got staples on my lungs and my balls don’t work anymore because I got the snip as well.”
But the most recent – and significant – episode concerns Byrne’s heart. He’s always been very fit and active, but in the middle of training, just after lockdown, he felt a little pain in his chest.
Following several inconclusive tests, an invasive angiogram revealed three semi-blocked branch arteries (known as “widowmakers”), caused by hereditary cholesterol issues.
“When I was told I had a 90% blockage of the artery I thought they’d operate on me immediately, but the doctor said no,” he recalls. “I asked him why and he said: ‘I’m going golfing.’ And I said: ‘Am I dying?’ And he goes: ‘Yeah, we’re all dying, Jason.’ These surgeons are so funny and dry. They should do stand-up.”
Byrne was given blood thinners and beta blockers and the pain dissipated. Then came the stents – put into three arteries in his wrist, all while he was awake – and the promise of six-monthly check-ups, plus quite a lot to think about.
It’s natural to wonder how all this will affect his stage performance, given that he’s not exactly known for being calm.
“What really does your chest in is shouting,” says Byrne. “Now I make sure the microphone’s really loud. I don’t do much running on stage nowadays anyway.”
It’s not just the dialling-back on physicality that’ll make The Ironic Bionic Man a bit different for Byrne: it’s also his most personal stand-up show to date. This is partly down to all the material about his own health and mortality, but it’s also because he talks about his beloved father, Paddy, who died just before the pandemic.
His father had been a great source of comedic inspiration. True to form, there was more laughing than crying at the old fellow’s wake – an event he’ll be telling lots of funny stories about in this show, which he insists is not going to be miserable.
Byrne grew up in Dublin and got his first experience of showbusiness through his mother, who was a ballroom dancer, and even followed in her footsteps for a few years.
He had his mind blown by Billy Connolly at 16. Before long he was doing it himself, and hit the ground running, thanks to a natural gift of the gab and a wealth of stories from which to draw.