Ed Byrne brings his show Tragedy Plus Time to the New York stage after a sold-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe, where the show was voted best stand-up comedy act last year. Interrogating the adage “humor is tragedy plus time,” this piece tells the story of Byrne’s brother’s recent passing and is a moving tribute to his life cut sadly short.
Byrne is clearly a seasoned performer who feels at home onstage. He starts the show with some banter about New York, the run of the piece and the performance tonight. He even discusses the reviews the show has garnered over its life and jokes about the discrepancies in reviewers’ ratings and responses. Even in the moments of improv, Byrne lands successful jokes and strengthens his relationship with the audience. Over the course of the show, he occasionally invites audience participation and further engages people this way. He is able to find quick, witty moments in these improvisations that point to his off-the-cuff comedy prowess.
The show is structured around Byrne telling “the darkest joke” he has ever told. He gives context that leads up to the jokes; he tells the story of his brother’s bout with alcoholism and mental health struggles and the way COVID-19 compounded both. He explains his brother’s career as a stand-up comedy director and his appreciation for dark humor, assuring the audience his brother would love this darkly comedic tribute of a show. Even while exploring incredibly sad experiences, Byrne finds the humor and keeps the mood light-hearted. He explains how, shortly before his brother’s passing, the two fought and didn’t speak for a while before patching things up. This regret over lost time spent holding a grudge shapes the show. By the time we reach the darkest joke Byrne has ever told, he informs us that is not truly what the show is about. While he started out making the show with the intention of framing around this joke, as the show formed and the performances started, Byrne realized the true message of the show. He wraps the performance up by urging the audience to make amends with any family member they may not currently be speaking to. He extolls the importance of forgiveness and reminds us that we never know how long we have with the people we love.
I appreciated the spectrum of jokes utilized throughout the show. Byrne acknowledges there are bits not everyone will find funny but that everyone will find one bit or another amusing. In this, he was certainly correct. While some of the jokes didn’t land with me as much, some had me laughing hard and stuck with me afterward. Byrne’s comedy is smart and wide-ranging, even adjusting some of his jokes for an American audience and directing certain jokes at members he learns are Irish like him.
The moral of the show at the end, while earnest, is a little cliched. And in Byrn’s directly speaking as a call to action, the tone of the show shifts at the end. If I were to change anything about this show, I would make this message a little more indirect and less outrightly stated, weaving it into the narrative rather than stating it plainly at the end.
This show is powerful and funny, emotional and silly. The writing is clever and engaging and the story is well told and impactful. This show is surely deserving of all the accolades it has received and I am glad to add another good review to the mix.
"Tragedy Plus Time"
Written and Performed by Ed Byrne
November 4- 12
Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam Street, NYC)
Carmen! is a trans-multimedia artist specializing in playwriting, acting and crochet. Originally from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, they are currently based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, returning to their Atlantic Oceanic roots. Their play Taking the Plunge has been performed at the Tank and the Chain off-Broadway and in the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival slated this June. Carmen has also worked in front-of-house and technical positions for prominent theater organizations including New Dramatists, Portland Playhouse, Emursive and Future Proof. Carmen’s mission is to use play to create meaningful representation by and for underrepresented communities. For more information on Carmen! Follow them on socials @carmenacetosociety or check out www.carmenburbridge.info