10 Questions with Steve Byrne

00000000000000000000byrne - 10 Questions with Steve Byrne

by Ryan Meehan

Steve Byrne has risen through the ranks of the comedy world to become one of the industry’s most innovative and sought-after performers. He has evolved throughout the years into an extremely versatile entertainer that delivers on a day-to-day basis. Hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, Steve Byrne was born to a Korean mother and an Irish father. His unique background has given him the base comedic material for his first television show Sullivan & Son on TBS. He recently released his third one-hour standup comedy special, Champion, on Netflix in May 2014. In 2006, after winning TBS’ cutthroat competition, the “Standup or Sitdown Comedy Challenge”, Byrne was hurtled into a brilliant television and film career.  As his popularity began to expand, Byrne was featured in his very own half-hour Comedy Central Presents which was soon voted as one of the best specials of all time in the Comedy Central Standup Showdown. His hilarious standup has been seen on TBS’s Conan, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, CBS’s The Late Late Show, BET’s Comic View and he has appeared on NBC’s The Tonight Show a total of 10 times.  In 2008, Byrne’s first one-hour special, Steve Byrne’s Happy Hour, premiered on Comedy Central and further cemented his star status. Packing an impressively wide range of appeal, Byrne’s comedy soon landed him on the The History of the Joke on the History Channel and Discovery Channel’s, The Science of Laughter.  He has since appeared on some of TV’s hottest shows including ABC’s The Middle, Chappelle’s Show, The Howard Stern Show, The Very Funny Show and was a series regular on NBC’s The Real Wedding Crashers. His last special,The Byrne Identity, premiered on Comedy Central to rave reviews.  A true international comedian, Byrne has performed to sold-out crowds around the world.  He has been a featured comic at the Just for Laughs Festival (in Montreal, Toronto and Chicago), HBO’s US Comedy Arts Festival in Las Vegas and the CanWest Comedy Fest in Vancouver.  He has been part of several national comedy tours including The Jameson Comedy Tour, Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Tour, The Kims of Comedy, The Camel Cigarettes Sin City Tour, and his own national Myspace Comedy tour.  Byrne even had the honor of opening for esteemed musical acts such as Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Modest Mouse, Puddle of Mudd, Spoon, Rev. Horton Heat and many more.  As a big supporter of the US troops, Steve also headlined several USO tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan and Guam.  Byrne has appeared in the hit comedies The Dilemma, Couples Retreat, Four Christmases and The Goods: The Don Ready Story.  His 2006 documentary, 13 or Bust, chronicles the attempt to perform 13 comedy shows in Manhattan in one night.  Byrne’s lack of ego and outstanding work ethic has helped him become one of today’s most respected comedians, and I am delighted to have him as my guest today in 10 questions.  

RM:  Growing up, what was it about Dean Martin as an entertainer that led to him becoming your favorite performer?

He epitomizes cool.  Elvis looked up to him.  That tells you everything you need to know about Dean Martin!

RM:  What was the first stand-up comedy special that your remember watching from start to finish; and how old were you?  What was it about the art form of stand-up that was so intriguing to the point where you could envision yourself on stage?

SB:  Robin Williams Live from The Met.  I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen.  The manic energy, the voices, all of it.  Loved it.  As I grew older I realized there was a true talent there and some cocaine.  A lot of cocaine, but that was the first stand up special I remember seeing.  After working at a comedy club with no desire to be a comic, I saw how fun it looked and wanted to see if I could give it a crack.  It’s been 17 years now…

RM:  Which is your favorite bit on “Champion”; and how long did it take you to prepare the material for that special?  How satisfied were you with the results; and what aspect of your performances do you tend to be the most critical of and why?

SB:  I’m damn proud of Champion.  I feel like I’m slowly getting more and more personal and the layers are falling by the wayside.  I’m getting to my true comedic voice, slowly but surely.  It took me about 2 years to craft the material and I still feel there’s a good 10 minutes in I wish I ditched but that’s hindsight.  I’m very happy with the hour as a whole.  Every hour to me, is an album.  You want 3 good hits on it and hope the rest is good enough as well.  When all is said and done, folks can pick up those 3 bits from this one, 3 from that one and you’ve got a greatest hits album.  Done.  Life work, body of material that should speak for itself.

RM:  Other than being able to say things that even a cable network would censor, what is the most significant advantage of being on stage doing comedy as opposed to being on a television show?

SB:  The biggest advantage is that you, as a performer, are not beholden to a sponsor, a corporate entity.  You are free to say what you wish and hope it touches a nerve without the responsibility of ratings, which in turn just means, we’re selling soap here.

RM:  You received an outpouring of support from the comedy community after “Sullivan & Son” was cancelled…What was the most encouraging thing that was said to you after you heard the news?  Why was that particular comment so encouraging to you?

SB:  Well, your friends call you when there’s something to celebrate and your true friends call you when it all goes to hell.  Fortunately, I have a great group of friends and I felt very secure in what we accomplished in 3 seasons.  I got to work with an incredible group of actors, writers and crew.  Some of which I grew very close with and appreciate sharing that experience in that moment of time with them.  Ultimately, it all comes down to Vince Vaughn.  He believed in me and the show and without him, I’m not writing about the experience.  Peter Billingsley was also very instrumental in the success of the show.  He was a true pillar to the foundation of making that show work.  I love ‘em.

RM:  Instead of writing a scathing blog or attacking the network, you did the classy thing and write a long Facebook post about all of the great memories that you had working on the set of the show.  Was that something that you had planned in the event that the show got cancelled, or something that you thought about compiling only after the emotions of that had set in?

SB:  Haha!  I didn’t want to post something immediately.  I wanted to gather my thoughts, take a few days and keep things on the up.  At the end of the day, I just wanted to be honest and sincere.  I truly cherished every second I had working on that show and looking back, those 3 years flew by.  It’s as though it never happened but it did.  And I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity.

RM:  “Sullivan and Son” was set at a bar, and I’ve always maintained that “Cheers” is probably the best sitcom in the history of television…When you and your writing team were developing plot twists and material for new episodes, did you ever worry about whether or not certain ideas may have already been used on that show or similar sitcoms?

SB:  I really just put faith into our showrunner Rob Long, who worked on Cheers for about 8 years.  He helped me form the foundation of the show and couldn’t have asked for a better partner.  I never worried about similarities because Cheers is iconic and we were a summer show on cable.  We just wanted to have fun.  We knew we aren’t going to get an Emmy, so let’s have a blast making a show that’s a bit racy, loud, diverse and funny.  It’s set in a bar but the characters are so vastly different, the family dynamic sets it apart and it had much different story lines.   It’s as much Cheers as The Cosby show is Married with Children.  Takes place in living room but two different shows because of the characters.

RM:  When it comes to second guessing yourself, how would you best describe your problem solving skills in pushing through and getting to a finished product?

SB:   I’ve always been a goal setter.  Tell me the goal and I’ll do whatever it takes to get there.  I trust my abilities to work my ass off to make it happen.  I’ve known from the minute I got into this business that’s what it takes to make it.  I will never hate on anyone’s success because I respect that person for working their butts off to get the opportunity they have.  No one, NO ONE, gets some recognition without busting their hump.

RM:  Your career in television and comedy set aside, what are some of the personal goals that you have set for yourself; and what are you currently doing to ensure that those goals will be reached?

SB:  I honestly have enjoyed my professional career very much and accomplished some great things but at the end of the day, a resume is never going to love you back.  A movie poster or a box set of DVD’s will never give you a hug.  I just want to be the best husband and father I can be.  I truly want to be as happy personally, if not more than whatever it is I do professionally.  When things go great, it’s nice to celebrate with them and when things go bad, it’s nice to know they’re there for me and I for them.

RM:  What’s up next for you in 2015 and beyond?  Anything big in the works that we should know about?

SB:  Working hard on 3 TV pitches and a film I wrote a year ago.  I learned a lot from Sullivan and I’m looking to apply my education in TV into these next few projects.  Hoping for the best, doing all I can from the ground up.  Learned throughout the last few years, no one is going to give you anything.  Anything.  You’ve got to earn it.  I look forward to the day, when the dust settles and all can see the dirt underneath my fingernails and folks can say, “He worked his ass off for everything he got”.

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