Comedian Steve Byrne Talks Stand-Up and ‘Sullivan & Son’ [INTERVIEW]
Just a mere 14 years ago, the idea of a career as a stand-up comedian was the paramount dream for Steve Byrne. Fast forward to today and he’s conquered the dream.
He’s appeared on the stages of comedy clubs all across the country and has a reputation for constantly working the road. He’s made appearances on ‘Conan,’ ‘The Tonight Show,’ ‘The Late Late Show,’ ‘Jimmy Kimmel,’ and ‘Just For Laughs.’ He’s had two Comedy Central hour specials and continues to tour.
“Doing stand-up,” Byrne explained, “it’s like training for a marathon. If you don’t do a little bit everyday, then you’re just going to be totally out of shape.”
Just some time ago, at the advice of good friend Vince Vaughn, Steve began writing the pilot for what ultimately would become his TBS sitcom ‘Sullivan & Son‘ in which he stars and co-created with writer/producer Rob Long. Long has a little TV experience, writing and executive producing some show called ‘Cheers.’
‘Sullivan & Son’ (Thursdays at 10PM on TBS) stars Byrne as Steve Sullivan, a corporate attorney who heads home to Pittsburgh and takes over his father’s bar. The show is packed with comedic talents like Owen Benjamin, Roy Wood, Jr. and Ahmed Ahmed as well as Brian Doyle-Murray, Christine Ebersole, Dan Lauria, Valerie Azlynn, Jodi Long and Vivian Bang.
We recently spoke to Steve about stand-up, ‘Sullivan & Son’ and it’s amazing cast.
‘Sullivan and Son’ premiered last week. Were you nervous?
I was, but also, there’s a part that is never able to be like, ‘I’ve crossed the finish line.’ If you write the script you hope the pitch goes well; then you hope they buy the script; then you hope they can make the pilot; then you hope the pilot goes on the air. Where we’re at now, we’re hoping people tune in and we can do a second season. Even though there’s a little lull where you get to enjoy the moment, we’re still thinking of that next thing that’s always kind of scary.
People don’t realize the process of getting a television show on the air.
Yeah, it’s a crazy thing. Also, when you’re making the pilot your whole world is just the pilot. And our cast is so big—we’re servicing nine characters in the pilot in 21 minutes, which is kind of crazy. So you have to find the show. I realized in the aftermath of doing this that the pilot is like the appetizers, the mozzarella sticks to the filet mignon, which I think the other episodes are. I think by the time you get to the sixth or so episode you get into the nitty-gritty of the characters and what the show is.
The cast is currently touring together, correct?
Yeah! Owen Benjamin, Roy Wood Jr. and Ahmed Ahmed, who are in the show; we’re all comedians and great friends, so we’re doing 20 cities in two months. Every time the show is on the air I think we’ll be in a different city.
Does touring help you take your mind off of how the show is doing?
It kind of does. It’s a nice distraction to what I’ve been doing for the past 14 years of my life, which is second nature to me. It’s a complete blast. We’ve been celebrating a lot.
You aren’t just he star, you’re also one of the creators along with Rob Long. How did it come about?
Well, I’ve been friends with Vince Vaughn for so long. He’s always been so supportive of my stand-up. He’d come to shows and have me on his Wild West shows, so this whole thing really begins and ends with him. He talked to me one day; we were hiking up near the Hollywood sign and were talking about how we’ve accomplished everything we’ve wanted to in life. He said I should create a show for myself. I had never written anything before but he said I could do it. So I went out and bought some books and studied for about three, four months. Then I spent about another three months writing the initial pilot and turned it into Vince. He said it was pretty good and we met with writers. Once I met Rob Long I was like, ‘I have to work with this guy.’ He was just awesome and one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met in my life. We instantly hit it off. Actually, the initial premise was a diner in Pittsburgh and Rob was the one who changed it to a bar. I said, ‘hey if you want to make another bar show, let’s do it!’
The show has a very strong comedic base. There’s you and the guys you mentioned who are stand-up comics but also people like Brian Doyle Murray, Christine Ebersole and of course, Dan Lauria. Was the idea to pack it with as much comedy as possible?
I don’t know how it all worked out honestly, though not according to some reviews I’ve read. [laughs] But there was never an attempt to be diverse. I was just writing the people I knew that made me laugh and liked working with. I never thought in a million years that all three of them would be cast. [Owen, Roy and Ahmed] It was kind of crazy. You think about it—the show is multi-generational. There’s established people; there’s some fresh faces. It really just clicked. I think there’s a true chemistry. Everyone hangs out. We have a blast. I hope it resonates.
‘Sullivan and Son’ is set in your hometown of Pittsburgh. What is it about that place?
Being a stand up I live out of a suitcase. I had no personal life, only a professional life. So when I was writing the pilot, that’s kind of the story; this corporate attorney that’s chasing the rat race. And when I’d travel the road I’d always think where would I ideally love to live? And Pittsburgh is such a great city. It’s blue-collar people; it’s warm to me; I enjoy the hardworking mentality that city has. I just think it’s a beautiful city. There’s no pretentiousness or entitlement there. I hope that’s reflected in the show as well.
How are you enjoying being at TBS? The network seems to be really thriving.
I think it kind of reminds me of when FOX was first starting, with ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Married With Children’ and those other shows. I think they’re looking to do more original comedy. Deon Cole, who is a great comic I love, has a show coming out. It seems to be a great template where there’s going to be a lot of great comedies coming out of there.
You have a reputation for the road quite a bit. Now with ‘Sullivan and Son’ do you have to slow it down?
Yeah, I do. You never know what to expect with these shows. Just because I sold the script doesn’t mean you have a show. Just because you have a pilot doesn’t mean you have a show too. So I was continuing on with stand-up and getting ready to film my third hour special. Then the show got bought, so I’ve basically put everything on hold for the last six or seven months. Now I’m getting back on the road. Depending on what happens with the show, I’ll go back to stand-up full time.
Is it a hard transition of doing it for so long, for so many weeks, and just stopping?
There are times that I force myself to go to The Comedy Store or The Improv after a ten-hour day. I’m not just on the show. I’m going into the writer’s room, the editing room. There are days where I’m just wiped out and exhausted but then I think I have to keep my legs fresh. Doing stand-up, it’s like training for a marathon. If you don’t do a little bit everyday then you’re just going to be totally out of shape. So I don’t want to get rusty.
You’re really wearing multiple hats on ‘Sullivan and Son.’ How do you like it?
It’s not difficult when it’s fun. If you love doing something it’s never hard. Sure, there are times when I’m in the writer’s room and we’re there from 11 in the morning to 1 in the morning doing re-writes. Writers in TV are so committed and work so hard and even though I’ve been in the room with them it’s never horrible. It’s fun. I have a blast hanging in the writer’s room. They’re so talented and so damn funny. Being a comedian, I have to say being in our writer’s room is more fun than being in a green room with a bunch of comics. They’re absolutely awesome. We have some real hired guns on the show.
Did you ever plan on doing a TV show or was a successful stand-up always the ultimate goal?
Stand up, to me, is the be all and end all. I love stand up. I always thought in the back of my head that I’d have the opportunity to do other things but it’d always lead back to stand up comedy. No matter what I was doing, it always seemed like a side project because stand up is such a passion for me. Not that this show is side work—it’s a huge focus that I love, but I do love stand up.
So are you still planning on filming your third hour?
Oh yeah! As soon as I can I’m definitely going to hit the road and train for another three months or so and then do it. Once we get the numbers in for the show I’ll have a better idea of if we get back to work on the show or if I’m just that guy that had a show on TBS for a little bit. [laughs]