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A harrowing but hilarious show – Ed Byrne at South Holland Centre, Spalding





When a comedian opens his show by uttering the words ‘this is about my dead brother’, you’d be within your rights to question whether you’ve been conned.

Thankfully, legendary Irish comedian Ed Byrne managed to take the harrowing experience of his younger brother dying and turn it into a night of face-achingly brilliant laughs at Spalding’s South Holland Centre.

Fresh off the back of a highly praised stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Ed’s latest show - Tragedy Plus Time – stems from a quote by Mark Twain that ‘humour is defined as tragedy plus time’.

Ed Byrne at the South Holland Centre in Spalding
Ed Byrne at the South Holland Centre in Spalding

In 2021, Ed’s ‘baby’ brother Paul – a widely respected comedy director who worked with the likes of Andrew Maxwell and Roisin Conaty - died due to liver failure aged 44.

While this caused his family much pain and sorrow, Ed felt it was only right to take this tragedy and turn it into a show.

He was right to do so. As someone who has watched all of Ed’s tours – one way or another – over the years, I can hand-on-heart say this was his finest show to date.

There were cringeworthy moments where you were not sure if you should be laughing quite so hard – including Paul’s odd but apt choice of song ahead of his cremation (Disco Inferno) – and how long it took Paul to die after life support was switched off. Reading that sentence back seems sick, but all 350 people in the audience laughed their awkwardness away together.

There were lighter moments too. From Ed’s takes on Covid-19 deniers and conspiracy theorists to a belly laugh-inducing tale of a customer service nightmare after his car was broken into in Chiswick (of all places!).

He also took a microscope to his relationship with his brother. The pair would argue and spend time not speaking – having shared a bedroom as children they knew exactly how to push one another’s buttons – but deep down they loved each other very much, as shown in private WhatsApp messages Ed on screen.

The pain in his voice was haunting at times.

Ultimately, there was a much deeper meaning behind this show. Yes, we were there for the laughs, but I think we all left thinking about reconciliation, particularly with family members who perhaps we’ve not spoken to in a while.

I get the feeling this was the most cathartic method for Ed to deal with an unthinkably tragic time in his life. And I think Paul Byrne would have been incredibly proud of his big brother.

An honourable mention goes to Sam See, Ed’s support act, who had the audience in the palm of his hand from the beginning. Most of his set was too X-rated for this review section but he did enjoy a lot of friendly banter between Spaldonians and members of the crowd from Crowland. He’d also done his research and mentioned the Spalding Flower Parade’s revival and his new-found love of The Prior’s Oven (a favourite of Ed’s).

I sincerely hope both Ed and Sam return to Spalding soon – and that those who missed out this time eagerly grab their tickets – but in the meantime, you can watch Tragedy Plus Time at Peterborough’s Key Theatre next June.



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