Rocky road trip for Dara and Ed
Stopping for a refreshing drink after a long day driving in sweltering El Salvador, old pals Dara O Briain and Ed Byrne were jolted 0by a truly gruesome discovery.
There, by the side of the road, was the body of a 37-year-old gang member who’d been shot dead that day.
The comedians are seasoned travellers, but the grim encounter, filmed for their new BBC Two series Dara And Ed’s Great Big Adventure, was a stark reminder of the dangers of life for those living day to day in gang-run territory.
“We went there to see about gang culture,” explains O Briain of the series, which was inspired by the 1940 journey Sullivan Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth Van Hee undertook, in an attempt to become the first group to drive from North to South America.
“This was in no way contrived, because we hadn’t heard about the shooting, but just as we pulled up, the assistant producer spotted this body,” he adds.
It was a bit of a wake-up call for the funnymen, who’ve worked together numerous times and were best men at each other’s weddings.
“They have these little coconut stalls selling drinks, so we’re standing there with a straw in a coconut looking at a guy being put into a body bag at the other side of the road,” recalls Byrne (42), shaking his head.
“If I say ‘body bag’, you’d have an image of that thing being zipped up, but it was like a large bin bag and then he was put in the back of a pick-up truck,” chips in O Briain.
The 43-year-old presenter has been on many holidays with Byrne over the years but this one was the most eventful.
In fact the body bag incident wasn’t the end of their narrow escapes.
On another occasion, they promptly “backed away” from an area patrolled by rival gangs.
This occurred after their local guide was told the person who set up their interview with a gang member didn’t have permission to do so, which could have caused considerable trouble in the ranks.
And then there were the roads. Considerably more sophisticated than the ones their road trip predecessors – dubbed ‘three damn fools’ in
the press at the time – would have driven on, they were nevertheless tricky to navigate. “I was driving in Mexico City and one of the local crew guys goes, ‘I see you indicating when you change lanes. Don’t do that’,” explains Byrne.
“If you let someone know that’s your plan, they’ll go, ‘I don’t think so!’
“Driving there was like taking a holiday from what I’m normally like, because I am not a road rage guy. I don’t drive an SUV and suddenly, we’re in this big thing and I’m really glad we are, because Mexico City is the worst place in the world for driving.”
In fact, driving was the only thing the pals squabbled over. Or as Byrne puts it: “We had one flat tyre the whole time and it was because he drove it into a pot hole...
“There were a lot of pot holes!” comes the high-pitched retort from O Briain, who claims to be an “excellent driver”.
The rest of the time, they found comfort in having a good old moan together about other people.
“When you’re on holiday, the only other people you can complain about are your loved ones,” explains O Briain, who says he’s happy to travel but doesn’t enjoy the “circus” of filming a series abroad.
“But we could complain about the crew, the director,” he adds.
“So the car [we’re in] becomes this tiny little enclave of, ‘I hate that guy’, and, ‘If he shoots me that close at that time in the morning, I’ll never work with that cameraman again!’
“I found on Three Men In A Boat, all we wanted to do was get back in the little boat, the three of us, and just bitch about everyone else,” he adds, referencing the series he made with Rory McGrath and Griff Rhys Jones a few years ago.
With Dara And Ed’s Great Big Adventure, one of their main moaning points was how the series was shot.
“We had a director and a director of photography, and the director of photography was obsessed with volcanoes,” Byrne reveals, laughing as he does.
“The volcano had to be in the back of every shot.”
Volcanoes were such a big feature in their journey that the two friends had a running joke.
“Every new country we’d go to, we’d say, ‘We’re now in so and so, land of volcanoes and civil war...’” says O Briain, chuckling.
“Every country could justifiably be described as a land of contrasts. It was one of those cliches we did every time, like ‘land of civil war’ because there was always a civil war, and ‘land of volcanoes’ because there was always a volcano.”
Thankfully, spending so much time in one another’s company didn’t make the old friends erupt with frustration all that often.
“There are very few people I would like to do this trip with, because you would get on each others’ nerves,” says O Briain. “But we’ve [already] done that!”
Dara And Ed’s Great Big Adventure starts on BBC Two on Tuesday, March 24