It was 5 am and Jason Byrne, after a long flight, staggered into a hotel in Mumbai where a young woman holding a plate offered him grains of uncooked rice. He immediately popped it into his mouth. “She seemed furious. She struck my forehead with her thumb and threw some more rice at me. Turned out, she was giving me the traditional welcome with a teeka. I was crying-laughing that I first thought she was punishing me for eating the rice,” he says. Laughing at himself is Byrne’s hallmark and one of the reasons he has become one of Ireland’s funniest exports to the world.
The comedian, 44, is in India to perform his act, Jason Byrne is Propped Up, in Mumbai on September 17 and in Delhi the next day.
“What happens when I play in a new country is that I research its culture. I found India and Ireland are alike. We have a lot of religion. The Irish can laugh at the Irish, the Indians can laugh at Indians and we can all laugh at the Americans,” he says. During private shows in Mumbai and Delhi earlier this week, Byrne chatted with the audience, asked naive questions about the country only a foreigner can (“Aren’t Bombay and Mumbai two different cities?”), used props such as a skipping rope and had people come up on stage and perform with him.
Unlike most stand-ups, he doesn’t pick on audiences, especially the front rows, or get offensive. Religion, politics and children don’t enter his trick sheet.
He has been a finalist on So, You Think You’re Funny, a long-running contest for comics, and won the 2004 Forth One Fringe Award at the Edinburgh Festival. This summer, he made his 21st appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe, considered the litmus test for stand-up from across the world.
A television show in the UK is in the works and Byrne is getting ready for a tour of Britain that will go on all the way till December. “There was only one week free on my calendar when I was offered a trip to India. I knew I had to do this because, like everybody in the world, I wanted to come to India,” he says.
Jason Byrne is Propped Up will be staged at NCPA in Mumbai on September 17 and at Kamani auditorium on September 18. Entry: Rs 750-Rs 2,000. Tickets available on Bookmyshow