The Dead Dad show has almost become a cliché, thanks to the number of comedians who have done shows on that theme in recent years. In his 2023 Fringe show, Ed Byrne is reinventing the genre and stepping down a generation with the dead brother show. It’s what he would have wanted, as Byrne pretty much says when he talks about his younger brother Paul who died last year.
Paul had been a comedy producer who had turned 45 minutes of disconnected stand up into hour-long fringe shows for many big comedians over the years. He wouldn’t have wanted Byrne to miss the opportunity to make a show out of his passing.
Delivered in Byrne’s trademark style where fast speech allows him to make jokes and remarks that he might not be able to get away with in a slower paced, more reflective show, he manages to make dying and death very funny without ever being offensive or making people feel uncomfortable.
That a large part of this show consists of things he said or thought during the last 18 months of his brother’s life shows that Byrne’s stage persona is similar if not identical to who he is in real life.
He does not try and make his brother out to be a hero, and he also doesn’t make himself out to be a martyr, as he speaks about how his brother had a role to play in the liver failure that killed him and how him not being a great uncle has at least meant that his early death has not traumatised Byrne’s own children as much as it might have done.
His own frustrations with the events that led up to his brother’s death merge in with comedy as he talks about his final hours and the inappropriate choices of music played then and at his funeral.
Byrne is acutely aware of the time it takes before a tragedy can be the source of comedy, but also aware that his default position of speaking off the cuff means that this doesn’t always stop him from saying things way before the time is ready for them.
Alongside the comedy, there is also a genuine sense of the love and affection he had for his brother and the sense of loss he feels now. The section of the show about his brother’s last moments switch from dark humour to tear jerking observations as he talks about him and his mother being there and watching him die. But he avoids ending on a downbeat note, and steers clear of the self pity that dead dad shows are often accused of wallowing in.
There is a positive message at the end and a feeling that his brother would be proud of the show that his death has resulted in. And if he wasn’t, well, he’s not around to complain about it, is he?
Assembly Rooms, George Square until 27 August