Comedy review: Ed Byrne: Tragedy Plus Time, The Malthouse, MICF 2024

The Irish comic proves that no subject is too dark for humour... if you approach it right.
Image is a red background with a chest-up shot of a middle aged man wearing glasses, suit and tie and looking out at the camera with a neutral expression, behind a sheet of shattered glass.

For one of the best comedy shows I’ve seen in a long, long time, Ed Byrne’s latest doesn’t start very well. A stretch spent complaining about reviewers’ inconsistency with their star-ratings and/or bragging about the number of said stars this show has received, while also bemoaning the fact that his career hasn’t hit the stratospheric heights of the likes of James Corden, Michael McIntyre or Ricky Gervais (but especially James Corden) had this reviewer initially contemplating a measly couple of stars and the adjective “sprightly” liberally scattered throughout…

But then he gets into the actual bones of a show, in which he puts Mark Twain’s much quoted adage that ‘humour is tragedy plus time’ to the test. And the results are simply brilliant. In a superbly constructed hour, Byrne revisits the fairly recent death of his brother and manages to make it not only achingly funny, but also profoundly moving and utterly relatable.

There are several ways to have an outstanding comedy show, but one of them is undoubtedly to have the best material – and material that is not just astutely observed and hilarious, but also talks about the fundamental truths of life and death will win every time. I was reminded of the late, great Lynda Gibson’s magnificent Lynda, It’s Not Nasty – her show about the ovarian cancer that eventually killed her. That’s how good Byrne’s piece is. When a show makes you laugh and cry this hard, but genuine crying, not just crying with laughter, you know you’ve seen something special.

Read: Comedy review: Hannah Gadsby: Woof!, Arts Centre Melbourne, MICF 2024

Tickets: $39.90-$49.90

Ed Byrne, Tragedy Plus Time will be performed in The Beckett at The Malthouse Theatre until Sunday 21 April 2024 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF 2024) and will be touring through Australia until May.

Amended at 3.20pm Saturday 6 April to give correct dates.

Madeleine Swain is ArtsHub’s managing editor. Originally from England where she trained as an actor, she has over 25 years’ experience as a writer, editor and film reviewer in print, television, radio and online. She is also currently Vice Chair of JOY Media.