Sullivan & Son's Steve Byrne on Handling Hecklers, Cheers, and Opening for Mariah Carey
The American sitcom is as old a tradition as a pie to the face. Year after year television producers churn out show after show about family men who hate their families, single guys who are afraid to grow up, doctors who sleep with nurses, neurotics that talk to stuffed animals, or eclectic groups of people thrown together in the strangest of situations -- all for the sake of a good belly laugh.
Recently, TBS rolled out its latest attempt at the popular medium, Sullivan & Son, adding some fresh content to a nighttime comedic lineup featuring reruns of CBS's syndicated sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
Sullivan & Son is the brainchild of standup comedian Steve Byrne. Byrne gained notoriety through his edgy stage routine, like comparing stirring a bowl of mac 'n' cheese to the sounds of a woman masturbating, plus a series of bit parts in film. But now in Sullivan & Son, Byrne is getting a chance to be the lead man, and he's making the best of it.
The show draws a lot on Byrne's own personal life, in particularly a multicultural family and growing up with Pittsburgh's blue collar attitude. Of course, the show's twist is its heavy use of lowbrow humor, plus prominently featuring Christine Ebersol, who plays Byrne's mother, a heavily accented, dirty-talking Korean mother. Think of Amy Hill in Margaret Cho's All-American Girl.
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Byrne and other cast members of Sullivan & Son, including Ahmed Ahmed, Owen Benjamin, and Roy Wood Jr., will be spending their weekend on the Miami Improv stage.
Cultist got a chance to ask some Byrne some questions regarding the show, his standup, and his relationship with executive producer Vince Vaughn.
Cultist: Your new show on TBS is called Sullivan & Son. Are you trying to pay some sort of homage to Red Foxx? And are what other sitcoms give you inspiration for Sullivan & Son?
Byrne: I would never try to duplicate anything as awesome as Sanford and Son. Single handedly one of the funniest shows, ever. I just named the bar Sullivan and Son because it reminds me of neighborhood bars you would see in blue collar cities. Those are exactly the bars I enjoy hanging in and that's truly the inspiration for the show. Other shows that inspired Sullivan and Son would be all the great traditional sitcoms I watched growing up: Rosanne, Drew Carey, Home Improvement, The Cosby Show, and obviously Cheers. We never wanted to be Cheers -- we have our own set of characters that have totally different voices -- but we did refer to it in terms of what made them so darn successful.
You must've made some funny jokes on the set of Couples Retreat for Vince Vaughn to want to produce Sullivan & Son.
I've been friends with Vince for many years now, and he has always been so supportive of me. I'm doing this interview right now because of him. He's the one that gave me the inkling that I could sit down and write a show for myself. I never thought to, but he encouraged me to do it and here we are! It's been an unreal ride and I owe some of the biggest successes in my career to Vince. Simply put, he's an incredible friend.
Dingy club or big arena?
Dingy club. I love the intimacy of stand up. Stand up is best with a low ceiling and the crowd right there, just waiting for you to make 'em laugh. I love that challenge.
Do you have any effective rules for how to deal with hecklers?
Sell your insults with a smile, buy 'em a shot and let them know you want them to have fun. That's what its all about. Fourteen years of stand up and I've heard it all; you can't shake me
I can't imagine the amount of material you must be sitting on because of this, but can you share one hilarious happening from opening for Kanye West or Mariah Carey?
I opened for Mariah in Red Rocks in Colorado. 15,000 people. The lights dim, the crowd goes nuts. The announcer says,"ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Mariah Carey's Charm Bracelet Tour." The crowd goes crazier. He then says," and now, Steve Byrne." Silence. They had no idea who I was. They never knew I was a comedian. To hear 15,000 psyched to see a star and then hear absolute silence is always humbling.
The show hasn't gotten exactly the best reception. Do you stick it out or try to tweak?
The show has gotten a great reception. We're always in the Top 10 cable shows on Thursdays and we are very happy with the show we made. I'm proud of it and we've found our audience. The only reception that matters are the ratings, and for us, the ratings have been great.
I just wanted to thank you for writing f'ed up lines for an older lady to deliver. Seriously underutilized part of comedic writing. Well, except for when it comes to Betty White.
To have Christine Ebersole on our show is an absolute blessing. She's one of my favorite people in the world and the complete opposite of Carol. I adore her. I almost feel bad making her say her lines but she sells it and kills it. A true pro.
Catch Byrne and his castmates at the Miami Improv nightly, tonight through Sunday, Sept. 2. Visit miamiimprov.com.
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