How We Met: Ed Byrne & Andrew Maxwell

'We were exotic strangers competing for notches on the bedpost'

Ed Byrne, 39

After earning acclaim on the Dublin stand-up circuit in the early 1990s, Byrne successfully crossed over to the UK market, selling out three tours. He has also become a panel-show regular. He lives in Essex with his wife and young son.

We met at an awful talent competition, the Hackney Empire All-Comers Talent Quest, in 1994. We were the only two comedians; the others included an eight-year-old doing a rap and a five-year-old doing "Baggy Trousers". I won; Maxwell came fourth, with an impression of a didgeridoo. It was early in our careers, we were both broke and we bonded.

I didn't hugely rate his comedy back then. It seemed like he was just gassing, but he went through a spell in the early 2000s where he clicked: he even won an award as the most-underrated comedian.

Maxwell has a swagger on stage that I've never been one to adopt. I'm very pacy and I talk at a fast rate – I don't like silences – while Maxwell just stands there and goes: "Ugghh... [pause] Jesus..."

Our early friendship was competitive. Once we were both up for an audition for a TV-presenting role and he said to me, "Hope you don't get it!" That year we toured the circuit in Australia, and that competitiveness raged on through our skills with women – two single Irishmen, suddenly seen as exotic strangers – and we competed for notches on the bedpost.

Back then we were both utterly useless as grown-ups; we both knew that if we weren't comedians, god knows how either of us would make a living.

When you have an argument with Maxwell, what's most annoying is that he won't listen. As soon as you speak, he'll relentlessly badger you with his point. Yesterday we were arguing about Koran-burning: we agreed it was a bad move for Americans to burn Korans, but my point was that people were putting too much store in symbols – but he was far too interested in making his point about American imperialism to listen to me.

Maxwell is still friends with people from when he was a kid in Dublin, while I left home when I was 18 and all my friends are comics. Yet he thinks that any friends you have in showbusiness are not real. He'll talk at length about how he's going on a stag do with his electrician mate. Yes, well done, Maxwell, you are friends with someone who has a real job.

Andrew Maxwell, 37

An Irish comedian known for his political stand-up, Maxwell is also co-founder of the Austrian comedy/music festival Altitude. He lives in London.

What amazes me about Ed is how he's alive right now at all. When we first met he used to be a chain-smoker, he never ate fruit or veg and all I ever saw him eat was pork ribs, like some old jazz singer.

I was first aware of Ed when he started on the Irish alternative-comedy scene, in Dublin. We used to call him Wonderboy, as he came out the box ready-made, while a lot of other acts, such as Eddie Izzard, were terrible for a long time.

We met at a talent competition in London in 1994. He had that sensational long hair, those glasses, and looked like a very dashing, moody young lesbian. He subsequently had a meteoric rise, while I bubbled along the bottom for a very long time. Though I now have my own comedy fest in the Alps, and he's having to promote my comedy festival. Ha!

We first bonded over a mutual love of comedy and debate – from my side – and petulant argument from his. He is the world's greatest alcohol-fuelled pedant and you'll see it in his stand-up. When I'm drunk I speak with an uncontrolled scatter-gun effect; a smorgasbord of argument, opinion and impression; while Ed has to see a golden thread of logic running through a conversation, and if I try to drag him into a different conversation, it infuriates him.

He almost ruined our Sunday lunch the other day by being so ardent about sticking to the topic of Koran burning. I said, "You're not taking any of the cultural perspective about this." I had to go for a piss to end the conversation, as he was starting to raise his voice about Koran burning, in a restaurant.

Ed's thing in stand-up is taking apart logical flaws in things; he's like a bloody Vulcan. Mine is more like a Jackson Pollock; I throw everything at you; some shouting, some opinion and impressions.

He can be an annoying super-logical stick monster, but he's also a doting man, and Ed's been an incredible benefactor to his fellow comedians. He's always had an open-door policy to let people stay at his house – including me for several years. You might remember those animated Carphone Warehouse ads he did the voiceovers for a few years ago. Well [his money from] those ads kept me afloat through [difficult] years, when I was staying with Ed, and it kept me in the drink, too. But don't get me wrong, I still took the piss out of him for doing them.

Ed Byrne and Andrew Maxwell will be performing at the Altitude Comedy Festival from 26 to 31 March in Mayrhofen, Austria (altitudefestival.com)

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