Ed Byrne breaks the five-star rating system to the point where multiples of stars could be added to this review and it will still not be close enough to what he deserves for this show. Tragedy Plus Time plumbs immeasurable depths of darkness as he tests the eponymous Mark Twain theory, culminating in an anecdote about the darkest joke he has ever told. Despite being warned, the only real way to wrap our head around it is through an involuntary verbal reaction. Such is the nature of this show.
Ed Byrne breaks the five-star rating system to the point where he could add stars to this review and it will still not be close enough to what he deserves for this show
It’s a beautifully written and delivered show in a way that carries a lot of emotional weight in its exploration of grief, regret and the intrinsic human behaviour of doubling down when in the wrong, as well as using laughter as a coping mechanism to reflect and navigate between these topics. Watching Byrne perform is like watching the Energiser Bunny do stand-up, as he layers jokes upon each other, ending up in a compounded amalgamation of irony, bouts of sarcasm and acerbic gallows humour. The material gets very dark, in a gradual way that resembles dipping a toe into the water rather than cannonballing in. We’re very much led down a winding path with every tangent serving a purpose to compound a very real and sudden emotional punch. A word like ‘bittersweet’ would be the wrong word to describe Tragedy Plus Time, Byrne's performance and punchlines are more powerful than any adjective could fully do justice, the English language feels limited or ill-equipped to do this show justice. Because of this, the review is somewhat incomplete; the only way to fully understand Tragedy Plus Time is to watch it firsthand. Nobody is performing or writing stand-up comedy like Ed Byrne.
There’s a real craftsmanship involved in every aspect of this show. It takes a lot of talent and strength to be able to find that light in the dark, and Byrne uses his show not only to do exactly that, but show us how to as well. If it is the case that laughter and crying are the two extremes of human emotion, Byrne manages to make us do both within a very short space of time. He makes this show relate to us, and on one hand, we are energised into acting and doing better in our own personal lives. On the other, there is also a distinct ache that comes from the involuntary reflective thoughts that are invited in of times that we might have fallen short or been in the wrong. All of these emotions stem from the fact that Byrne is a masterfully skilled comic who is able to evoke as much pathos as laughter throughout his show. The overall mood doesn’t settle, nor is it constantly upbeat. The jokes vary in tone, moving from poignancy to barely concealed rage, to a kind of hopefulness. And maybe that’s just an additional by-product of Byrne’s experiment or part of the show’s purpose, but its presence is what makes this show remarkable.
Byrne deserves to get a standing ovation every night for Tragedy Plus Time. There’s actionable wisdom here, and yes, we leave feeling like we can do anything and be better people. It also forces us to contemplate on times when we were all too human, to want to be able to admit that we can be wrong and makes it easier to do so.