Q&A: Steve Byrne of 'Sullivan & Son'
Comedian and actor brings unique brand of humor to new TBS sitcom
Comedian Steve Byrne has a subtle confidence.
Perhaps it's because he knows his brand of comedy and perspective -- a Pittsburgh guy who is half Korean and half Irish -- is unparalleled in Hollywood. Byrne's uniqueness will become even more noticeable and appreciated when his new sitcom "Sullivan & Son" debuts on TBS tonight.
The show follows Steve (Byrne), a successful corporate attorney in New York, who decides to leave the rat race behind and return to his hometown of Pittsburgh to take over his dad's bar. Comedic superstar Vince Vaughn is one of the executive producers behind "Sullivan & Son" along with Peter Billingsley ("A Christmas Story").
Comparisons to "Cheers" are inevitable especially because the sitcom's show-runner, Rob Long, was an executive producer and writer on -- you guessed it -- "Cheers."
But Byrne, 37, said viewers will see the differences between the two shows with every week and added that "Sullivan & Son" is more of a 10-episode, buddy comedy that happens to be set in a bar. Byrne even casted his real-life buddies, fellow comedians Roy Wood Jr., Ahmed Ahmed and Owen Benjamin. "Sullivan & Son" also stars Dan Lauria ("The Wonder Years"), Jodi Long ("Beginners" and "All-American Girl") and Brian Doyle-Murray ("Groundhog Day").
Byrne recently chatted with MSN TV about his show, discussing everything from casting to Margaret Cho.
MSN TV: Your show is incredibly inclusive and diverse. Can you talk about that and why that was important to you?
Steve Byrne: The point of my stand-up comedy has always been inclusive. Being Korean and Irish, I never wanted to be an "Asian comedian" or just cater to one segment of the audience. The basis of my last hour special was about being an American. I don't look at myself as Korean or Irish. I've never been to Korea and I went to Ireland to get hammered on St. Patrick's Day and I don't really know much about (Ireland). The point of my standup has always been to be inclusive to everyone and not exclusive to anybody in particular and I think it's the same with the show. My show is diverse without ever being about diversity. Nowadays, you turn on the TV and you're kind of hammered with diversity. Every beer commercial's got three white guys and one black guy. It's crazy to me. This is actually a group of guys who are my real friends -- Owen, Ahmed and Roy. We all met each other doing standup comedy so when I was writing the script with Rob Long, I wrote these characters based on Owen, Ahmed and Roy and I never in a million years thought they would get cast. But it happens to be that way. And then you take into consideration we've got my friends, there's a family aspect and then you have a few folks who are older that chime in with their crazy thoughts as well. So, it really is a diverse cast and it skews all demographics in this country but it is also reflective of what you would see in a neighborhood bar. You see people of all ages, of all racial backgrounds hanging out collectively in a place that just happens to be an Island of Misfit Toys. The characters all get along really well and they're all trying to help each other get through life and some really crazy scenarios and situations.
Right. How do you make that feel natural?
You write about what you know. That's what I've always heard. So, I wrote my mom (played by Jodi Long) like my real mom in real life. She's really money conscious. My dad is a great guy, he's got a bartender's ear. He likes popping open beers and telling stories and he's very outgoing. And the guys are the guys in the show. They're just awesome. Everyday I walk on the set, I feel very blessed and fortunate that this is work for me. It's not work. It's great.
Were you a fan of "Cheers" and what do you think about the comparisons?
I think the comparisons are inevitable because if people see a bar, they're going to think "Cheers." But that tells you how iconic of a show that was that the correlation is still there and it's been almost 20 years since that show went off the air. No show has taken that helm since. People also compare "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" to "Cheers" because it's another bar show. Once they see the advertisements, they're going to think that but once they see an actual episode of "Sullivan & Son," they're not going to think that at all. It's so different. The characters are completely different and the situations are completely different. And our bar is more blue collar and beat up and those are the kinds of bars I prefer. People in Pittsburgh and other Midwest cities like Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland -- all the places that are not New York and Los Angeles -- will appreciate this show. This is where we are as a country and this is where we're headed. We have a black president. Things are not as segregated as they once were.
This is the first sitcom with a Korean-American star since Margaret Cho's "All-American Girl," and that went off the air back in 1995. I'm sure that wasn't part of the conversation when you pitched the show but is that something that crosses your mind?
I've thought about it. I used to do a tour with Bobby Lee and Ken Jeong (called the "Kims of Comedy") and Margaret Cho is an idol of ours. When we were growing up, she had a show. Even though it was just one season, and the show wasn't successful, what was successful was seeing an Asian on television that didn't have an accent and wasn't doing Kung Fu. She spoke English. It was cool. And for that, we all look up to her. We all owe her. I hope to service the community but at the end of the day, I'm not making this a show for Asians. I'm making this a show for all of America. It gets better and better and funnier and funnier with every week.
"Sullivan & Son" premieres Thursday, July 19, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TBS.