On tour promoting his new TV show, Sullivan & Son, Byrne took a few minutes to chat with us about the new show, his comedic aspirations, and what makes stereotypes so
You may be familiar with comic Steve Byrne‘s material such as, “Hey Steve, You’re a Chink,” “Finger-blasting,” or the “Angry Pirate” from his Comedy Central second special, The Byrne Identity. From small clubs to The Tonight Show to opening up for bands like Spoon, Modest Mouse, and Rev. Horton Heat, Byrne’s been keeping audiences in hysterics since the late ’90s. Spanning a decade, Byrne has gained sincere notoriety as one of America’s funniest comics.
On tour promoting his new TV show, Sullivan & Son, Byrne took a few minutes out of touring to chat with us about the new show, his comedic aspirations, and what makes stereotypes so damn funny.
Your new TV show Sullivan & Son is doing well it appears, and I’m sure this tour is going to help greatly.
Yeah. Thank you so much for anyone that’s watching the show. It’s done great in ratings. Hopefully we get another season down the line. But the tour itself, it’s four headliners (Byrne + Owen Benjamin, Ahmed Ahmed and Roy Wood Jr.) and we’ve all been touring together for a long time.
I honestly will stand by this and say it’s probably one of the best stand up shows you’ll see. I really enjoy being with these guys.
You opened up for some rock bands in the beginning. What was it like touring with that scene?
It’s not like its my forte or anything, but definitely over the course of 15 years you just take whatever gig you can that will pay the rent. That’s kind of how that happens. It’s never fun opening for a band because everybody is there to see the band and not you at all. The worst is knowing that they now have to pay attention and be quiet. It’s never a fun gig.
I first saw you on The Tonight Show years ago. Seems like it’s on its last leg. It’s been a springboard for comics.
Any time a comic gets to a late night talk show, its more than an honor. It takes a lot of elbow grease to make those things happen, but it’s not the springboard that it used to be in the ’70s or ’80s. Especially in the ’80s.
You know, The Tonight Show, that was it. Everyone watched The Tonight Show. It was one showcase that you could have on a national level where America gets to know you. At that time it was really, really something special to be a salmon swimming upstream, and get the opportunity.
Now, with entertainment so fractured, all these different programs—six to eight late night talk show programs—it’s not as meaningful.
It’s tougher these days to be a successful comic.
I do think what is popular right now with comedy—it seems to be—that Hollywood likes to cater more to comedians who are clever than they are funny.
It seems more applicable for someone of ethnicity to tell racial jokes than it does for an angry white guy.
Yeah, I think there is a problem there. Anybody can be fair game though.
It’s always coming from a fun place. I remember Sammy Davis Jr. saying, ” If they don’t make fun of you it means that they don’t like you.” I kind of agree with that. If you speak openly about things and you address those things, and make fun of them, people can definitely tell between hatred and if you’re just speaking your mind.
I don’t have a mean bone in my body, so that has always been my foundation.
Do you feel, then, that comic value of stereotypes is a gateway to making people laugh and not to take themselves so seriously?
It’s so easy to say Asians are good at math and Asians are bad drivers. But, when you peel back the layers and go beyond the hack stereotype it can be fun. I think there are reasons why certain races and cultural stereotypes exist. That’s the fun of the comedy. The danger in that is when you say something, people hear a word- a trigger, and think you’re making fun of that. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think you are making fun of something from a hateful place.
In my second special, I was talking about the incredible influence of the Holocaust movies Hollywood has made. At the time I did the special, they had 12 holocaust movies in the course of one year. My point was never making fun of the Holocaust; there’s nothing funny about the Holocaust. It was a horrible event. My joke was, making fun at the fact Hollywood continues to turn out these incredibly depressing movies when there are other significant stories and events throughout the course of history that can be showcased as well.
As a joke, they basically think you’re making fun of it. You’ve got to just listen to the bit, please, because you just listen to one word, and now I pissed you off because you’re sensitive to it. That is just one example of how some people are these days.
THE SULLIVAN & SON TOUR
THE WILBUR THEATRE
246 TREMONT ST.