'Sullivan & Son' stars visit Pittsburgh

Wednesday, 22 August 2012 09:40 AM Written by 


Former Pittsburgher Steve Byrne brings his “Sullivan & Son” comedy tour to the Pittsburgh Improv at the Waterfront this weekend – and co-stars from his TV series are with him.

Byrne, who grew up in Hampton and is a 1992 graduate of Hampton High School, set TBS’s “Sullivan & Son” (10 p.m. Thursdays) in a Pittsburgh bar. And when it came time to cast the show, he looked to populate the bar with characters based on three stand-up comedian friends.

“When I was writing the pilot, I wrote their names in as guys I’d want on the show, those types of guys,” Byrne said in a phone interview from near Dallas, Tex., last week. “I never thought in a million years I’d get to hire and cast these guys as the characters named after them. That’s a testament to TBS and how great a partnership we’ve had with them. They’ve been so supportive.”

Byrne is joined by stand-ups Owen Benjamin, Roy Wood Jr. and Ahmed Ahmed on the “Sullivan & Son” comedy tour that pulls into Pittsburgh for the weekend.

Read a Q&A with Byrne about the status of “Sullivan & Son” ratings-wise and what Pittsburghers can expect from the comedy tour after the jump. ...

image001Q: What’s the biggest lesson you learned working on season one of “Sullivan & Son”?

A: Oh, God, the whole thing was a huge lesson. In terms of acting, I put too much pressure on myself and I had to learn to relax as the season went on. At the start I had so much weight on my shoulders. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t let anybody down standing next to Dan Lauria, Christine Ebersole, Jodi Long and Brian Doyle Murray. I wanted to keep up with the veterans.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is I’ve never felt comfortable. People are like, ‘”Isn’t this exciting, isn’t this fun?” But every single week there’s a new benchmark you have to achieve or hope for especially in terms of the ratings. It’s a lot of work to get a show and keep a show on the air is what I’ve been learning. I’ve been doing four-to-five hours of press every Wednesday, doing as much as I can in terms of radio so people know about the show and we can get people to tune in. It’s been so much fun and never once has it felt like work.”

Q: How’s it looking for the prospect of a second season for ‘Sullivan & Son”?

A: I think we look pretty healthy; things are looking good. We premiered in the dead of summer on cable to 2.5 million and the second week we almost matched our premiere, which hardly ever happens. And then we had the Olympics and everybody took a hit but we still held a pretty healthy number. From what I’m hearing we did pretty well last night [Aug. 16] and almost matched our week two number, which is crazy to me. It’s really flattering. It’s surprising but at the same time there’s always a positive and negative to every [ratings] number but you have to try to stay focused on the things that look good.

Q: How do you describe your style of comedy for those who only know you from the sitcom?

A: I’m reintroducing myself to a lot more people. Some people don’t even know I’m a stand-up comedian. On the show I’m definitely the straight man of the show. When I’m doing stand-up, I get to do my own thing. I think I provide a little everything: improv, interaction with the audience, observational humor, some physical humor. I really try to do my best to entertain. The great thing about this tour is it’s four national headliners on one show. It’s one of the best shows I’ve ever been a part of. All of us have upped our game and we’re all inspired by each other.

Q: How would you describe the style of comedy of the other guys on the tour?

A: Gary Cannon is our emcee and he does audience warm-up for our [TV] show and he’s on the road with us, too. He’s an awesome guy to work with. He gets the audience riled up, a great icebreaker.

A lot of Ahmed’s act is based on his experience as an Egyptian in this country, as a Muslim. Granted, his name is Ahmed and he’s a practicing Muslim but he’s also as American as anybody else. It’s like me being Korean and Irish, he’s a mixed bag.

Roy Wood Jr. is one of the best stand-ups out there. He’s flown under the radar for a while. I think it’s tough for most black comics because they get pigeonholed in that whole Def Jam, ‘90s stand-up comedy boom and he’s not any of that at all. He’s a lot like me. He’s not exclusive to one group. He includes everybody. The great thing about his standup, they think it will be black-white, black-white but it’s not. Every observation is really smart and there may be some stuff on race but other things aren’t. He’s an everyman.

Owen is just talented out the wazoo. He’s a classically trained pianist and I’d say half his act is about that and the other half is observational humor. He’s just really animated and physical and extremely likeable on stage. People enjoy listening to him and being around him.

That’s why I wrote these guys in because I knew these are guys America would want to hang out with at a bar for half and hour and now you get to do it in certain cities [where we’re touring].

The toughest part is traveling through airports with a guy named Ahmed Ahmed. We’re like, “Hey bud, see you at the gate. Hope you make it.”

Q: Has the crowd reaction been different this time on tour than before “Sullivan & Son”?

A: There’s excitability among the people who come. They’ve seen you on television and they’re more inclined to get in a car and go out and make a night of it. There’s an excitement now when you’re introduced. People are excited to see us and that’s the most fun part because we have some notoriety as opposed to people showing at a comedy show not going to see any person in particular.

Q: What are you looking forward to showing the other guys around your hometown? What will you take them to see?

A: We’re on tour and people think we’re going from city to city and it’s one long party everyday but we’re up at 6 or 7 doing phone interviews, radio interviews so people get to know about it. Some cities we haven’t blown off steam because we’re working so hard but we’re close to the finish line so we’re definitely going to blow it out, rent a car service and booze it up and enjoy the city. I’ll take them to the South Side to see some bars like what we’re in on the show. Go to Oakland and hit up the Original Hot Dog. We’re definitely going to Primanti Bros. I’m such a huge Penguins fan and I haven’t been in the Consol Energy Center yet so I’ll pop in there to see what it’s like and hopefully we’ll see a Pirates game as well. I’m looking forward to showing them around the city and hopefully they’ll understand why I made Pittsburgh the backbone of the show.

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