Actor and comedian Steve Byrne currently calls Chicago home, but grew up in Pittsburgh which is the setting for his new show Sullivan and Son, premiering on TBS tonight (2 episodes starting at 9 PM central). Byrne has two Comedy Central hour specials under his belt including "Steve Byrne's Happy Hour" and "the Byrne Identity." He has also appeared on the Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Conan, and many other shows.
One of the elements that makes Steve's act unique is the exploration of who he is, and being of Korean and Irish decent, he has had plenty to talk about. When he's in Chicago, Byrne can sometimes be spotted at the United Center as he's a die hard hockey fan and friends with such Hawks players as Dave Bolland. I was able to speak with Steve Wednesday about his love triangle with the Blackhawks and Penguins, getting an apology from Dane Cook, doing stand up for seven years in New York, his new TBS show, and much more.
You're a Blackhawks fan but are from Pittsburgh, who do you root for first?
I'm a huge Penguins fan, I love the Penguins, but moving to Chicago and getting to know people like Dave Bolland, Dave is one of my best pals, then it's different. You root for a team differently because you have a personal relationship with somebody. Personally, you're rooting for your friend now, so it's kind of crazy. My nightmare scenario is if the Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks meet for the Stanley Cup Finals. I hope it doesn't happen, but fortunately, I can go Pens in the East and Hawks in the West.
Did you start doing stand up in Pittsburgh?
No, I started in New York City. I finished college at Kent State in Ohio and I just walked up and down Broadway looking to get a crack job to make ends meet. The last place I walked in to apply was Caroline's Comedy Club. Somebody had just gotten fired and I was sweeping the floors and answering the phones, and I saw all these great stand up comedians perform. I got to see Dave Chappelle before he was Dave Chappelle, Margaret Cho, Colin Quinn, Jimmy Fallon, all of them were coming into Caroline's all the time and I said, "That looks like a lot of fun." So I finally got into stand up.
You did 13 sets in one night in New York, what do you learn from doing that much stand up with so many different audiences?
I think I just learned over the course of the seven years I was in New York city, even though I went to college, to me being a stand up for seven years in New York was being in college again. I just started from scratch, I had never done it before, I just hit the ground running, and it's one of those things where I just loved doing it so much that every night once it was eight o'clock I would go from eight till two in the morning, and just try to do as many sets as I could. It's almost like when you meet a girl for the first time you can't stop thinking about, you just want to call her all the time, you want to hang out with her all the time.
You sat down with Conan Tuesday night, was that your first panel?
Yeah, my first time doing panel. I've done morning shows, like Good Morning San Diego, touring as a comic, but late night, I've just done a lot of spots, I've never done panel.
Do you get more nervous doing panel?
No, during the panel I felt so relaxed. When you do stand up, even though I've done stand up a million times in a comedy club, there's still a nervous energy that you feel because now it's being recorded and this set is it. People will be able to see it for years to come and it will be on the internet, plus there's a studio audience so there's lots of pressure. You obviously want it to go well. At a comedy club sometimes you just have an off night. Stand up, I've always wanted to do well on late night shows, I've had some good sets and I've had some okay sets. Panel is a little bit easier because it's just strictly conversational, so you're just kind of feeling each other out and if you're comfortable with something you just go with it, and I felt very comfortable. Two minutes in I'm jumping on the couch. It was a blast.
Being a fan and a friend of a Hawks player do you get to do anything cool with the team?
Bolland and I will go up to the practice rink sometimes, we'll get to shoot the puck around. I play on a team with their girlfriends and wives in a rec league that I got asked to play in, and I started playing with them and it's a lot of fun. It's kind of cool, guys try to mess up these girls, but the girls give it right back to them. Their play is reflective of their boyfriends' and husbands,' it's kind of funny.
On Marc Maron's podcast, it came out that Dane Cook accused Steve of stealing his "essence" a few years ago and that he may have gotten Steve's manager who represented both comics to drop Byrne over the accusation, as well as having him black-balled from a couple Hollywood clubs.
What happened after you told your side of the whole Dane Cook thing on Maron's podcast?
The good thing about Dane is that he had heard that podcast and we were at the Improv (in Hollywood) maybe a month after it aired and he pulled me aside and said, "Hey, I just wanted to say I was sorry. I hope you can accept my apology," and I just thought, "Jesus, that's awesome." The slight bit of resentment I had that had burned off over the last few years was all just gone. Now we actually communicate. We see each other and we're like, "Hey, how are you doing," we catch up. He actually came and skated with us a few times. Bill Burr and I were at an ice rink in Burbank and Dane came and skated with us, he's actually a pretty damn good hockey player.
Is racial humor still a big part of your act?
It's stuff I've worked on the last year and a half and I think after I did the Byrne Identity, I realized I could get away with so much more after I filmed it. So then I really started pushing the envelope with the racial jokes. I think that maybe this next special that I put on will be a third on racial stuff and how things are kind of ridiculous and the rest will be whatever I'm thinking about at the present time. I think it will be the last special where I touch on racial stuff because I don't want to be known as just a racial comic.
How do you feel about the Daniel Tosh Controversy?
I know him on a personal level. Daniel is one of the coolest guys, he's super nice, he's obviously one of the most talented comics out there and I think if you watch his show and know his act, you kind of know where it's going to go. No comic is surprised by it, and I don't think any audience members should be suprised by it. It's just some girl who's probably never been to a comedy club that's a blogger, so now we have to take her word for it. It's a reflection of people who are willing to hear a trigger word and be insulted right away, when at the end of the day it isn't something somebody said to you at your workplace, this is something somebody said at a comedy club, the guy is a comedian, he's joking. I know Daniel, he doesn't have a mean bone in his body, he's one of the nicest guys in the world. So when I saw that I thought it was one of the most ridiculous things I've read in a long time. I have nothing but high regard for him.
What can you tell us about Sullivan and Son?
I think it's just a kick ass comedy show. I think it's reflective of shows that I grew up with, a modern version of shows I grew up with. It's not a modern version of Cheers by any means, I think it's just a bar show. There's a great bunch of characters, there's an incredible bunch of actors that service the jokes. We always try to maintain a good, solid story where there's some real tension to it. It's going to be reflective of a lot of the country because it's multi-generational, it's multi-ethnic, it's very diverse, but we're not trying to be diverse for diversity's sake. We're not like a beer commercial where you have to have a black guy in it and pretend that black and white people get along, these are just really my friends in real life. I love Roy Wood, I love Owen (Benjamin), and Ahmed (Ahmed). When I was writing it I wrote their names in because I thought these are three guys I'd want to hang out with for ten hours a day if I'm working on a set. I never thought we'd go three for three with casting, but we did.
You can catch Sullivan and Son on TBS Thursdays at 9 PM Central.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @stevebyrnelive
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Tags: Ahmed Ahmed, Bill Burr, Broadway, Caroline's Comedy Club, Cheers, Chicago Blackhawks, Colin Quinn, Comedy Central, Conan, Dane Cook, Daniel Tosh, Dave Bolland, Dave Chappelle, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Marc Maron, Margaret Cho, Owen Benjamin, Pittsburgh Penguins, Roy Wood Jr., Steve Byrne, Sullivan and Son, TBS, the Byrne Identity, the Tonight Show, Vince Vaughn, WTF