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Comic Steve Byrne hits the road with his 'Sullivan & Son' co-stars (interview)

As the third season of TBS’ surprise hit Sullivan & Son ramps up this summer, it’s time for the boys to leave their barstools behind and hit the road for another raucously fun tour. Comedians Steve Byrne, Owen Benjamin, Roy Wood, Jr., and Ahmed Ahmed will grace the stage at The Wilbur on Saturday, August 16 at 7:00 p.m. as the Sullivan & Son Comedy Tour rolls into Boston.

Often seen as a throwback to the golden age of television sitcoms, Sullivan & Son follows Steve Sullivan (portrayed by Byrne) as he returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh to take over his father’s bar, which is filled with colorful regulars, including Sullivan’s best friends. For Byrne, this isn’t too much of a stretch, as the on-screen camaraderie among Byrne, Benjamin, Wood and Ahmed draws from their real-life friendship. The series, whose first season garnered an average of over 2.5 million viewers, shows no signs of slowing down as its viewership continues to grow.

In honor of one of the most stacked lineups to hit Boston this summer, the Boston Comedy Scene Examiner recently sat down with Byrne to chat about the show’s success and the 25-city tour the guys are embarking on.

BCSE: How are you, Steve?

SB: Doing well. Doing well.

BCSE: Excellent. Hey, congratulations on season three.

SB: Thank you very much. Thank you. Believe me, nobody's more shocked than I am that I'm still fortunate enough to get to do this.

BCSE: Yeah, I think that's great. So, do you find that the summer season is more advantageous for you guys in terms of getting ratings?

SB: I don't know. I mean, I know that if we were up against the fall that there's a lot more programming, obviously, that you've got to compete with. There's just so much more going on, obviously. It's a lot more people. It's colder out in much of the country, so a lot more people are inside. It's a prime time to have a lot of programming, but - I don't know. For us, I think the fact that there're so few options in the summer, and now it seems like there's more and more events coming out, and there's other things. But at the end of the day, we're a summer show. I know we're on cable, but, you people have discovered us. They continue to discover us - for example, this season, our numbers keep growing, which is very shocking, to be honest with you. After our premiere, we thought, "Oh, okay. Well, this is where the bar sits. We’ve got to maintain this." Well, we've gone up every week, so it's been a fun ride. I'll tell you that much.

BCSE: That's fantastic, and I’ve got to say, in terms of comedians and nice people who deserve it, you're definitely at the top of that list.

SB: Thank you very much. Well, you and my parents think that, so thank you.

BCSE: [Laughs] Well, your parents are very wise.

SB: [Laughs]

BCSE: So, after three seasons, how have you seen the cast grow?

SB: Well, I think, with the guys - myself included - you know, we're all normal. We're just standup comedians, so none of us really had a steady-happening gig at all. I think maybe one got to do a commercial or something out of the four of us, so the fact that we're still on a show - I feel that, each year, we got stronger with material, stronger as actors. The great thing about the cast in totality is the fact that, from day one until even up until this last week of season three, we've gotten along so great. We have a blast. We laugh the whole time. When I go on a tour and people say, "Wow, it looks like you guys are really having fun on that set," I'm glad that they see that chemistry, because it's actually not forced. We all eat lunch together. We eat dinner together. We hang out on weekends together. It's been something very, very special that I know I should not take for granted every day. We've had guest stars come through, and they've said, "It's never like this. Most sets are never like this." So, we all know we’ve got something special, so we're working hard to make sure we get to keep doing it.

BCSE: That's great. You can't ask for more than that.

SB: No, absolutely not. And a huge barometer of success on our set is when you hear Christine Ebersole just guffaw. She's got such a distinct laugh, and when you hear that laugh, you know, all right. The audience is going to like that joke a lot.

BCSE: [Laughs] Now, have you found that doing the show has influenced your standup style at all?

SB: In terms of me performing, I think delivering the lines has helped me more. But, you know, I'm kind of stepping out of turn here. What I should say first is that working with the writers and being in the writers' room in pre-production has made me a better writer. So, I feel that my material has gotten better. I feel like I've gotten a lot more personal, like, with my live special Champion that's on Netflix now - it's the most personal I've ever gotten with my standup in terms of really laying it all out there and expressing my true opinions about certain subjects. And as an actor, it's definitely helped me convey those lines a little bit better, too. So, the show has absolutely made me a better performer and a better writer.

BCSE: That's wonderful. When you go on your tour, you can just see how much fun you guys have and how well you all click together.

SB: Oh, thank you. Yeah. I mean, look, you know, we're literally joined at the hip for six to seven months a year, five days a week. And then when we go on tour, we're together - you know, for example, this tour, we're doing 25 cities in a month and a half.

BCSE: Wow.

SB: I think we get to go home once or twice; we are together every, single day. It was that way last year and the year before. And every year at the end of the tour, we always say to each other, "Boy," you know, "I could do another two months of this." So, it's a testament when you can take four guys that are used to headlining on their own and used to having their own set ways and being the life of the party - I mean we're all a team now, and I think we all know that. We definitely appreciate being on this team.

BCSE: Yeah, and that's rare in standup comedy; because it's a very, you know, sort of ego-driven skill, so to speak.

SB: Yeah, absolutely. Comedy is a profession of solitude. You're always by yourself. So, the fact that all of a sudden you get to work with three other guys, and three other guys you can get along with and you respect and you appreciate, it's almost made us better comedians, because we all up our game, everybody's always writing, and everybody's always tagging each other's jokes. So, we've definitely become more symbiotic when we go on our tour.

BCSE: That's great. That makes the show for the audience that much better.

SB: Yeah, absolutely. And it makes it easier for us to tour that we all get along. That's for sure.

BCSE: Oh, definitely. Oh, my God. Can you imagine if you hated each other? Ugh.

SB: Oh, God. It would be horrible.

BCSE: [Laughs] It would be a nightmare.

SB: Absolutely a nightmare. But, look, all of us have worked at least 15, 16, 17 years individually to literally do what every comic dreams of. We grew up in a time when comedians were getting sitcoms, and it looked exciting, and it looked like, "That's the goal. Hopefully, we get to do that." And the fact that we get to do it - we're living it out every day of our lives - with such a great cast and such a great crew, it's like, "Let's not botch this up. Let's go for broke. Let's go all in. Let's make this work."

BCSE: Absolutely. And I love that you have such an awareness of how special that is.

SB: Yeah. I've spent the last 15 years of my life packing a suitcase, going to every airport and eating chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks and, you know, after a while…like, when you first start in stand-up comedy, it's exciting. You're making money doing this. This is how you're paying your rent. You're going out. You're the life of the party. You're going to all these new cities that you've never been to. You're meeting girls. You're partying. It's great. And after a while, it gets to be like, "Well, this is just a job now. This isn't as exciting." It's not as romantic as when you were younger, and now you've got a mortgage to pay, and you've got a family. So, as you grow older, the reality of the job starts settling in, and it's a difficult life. It really is, and to get to do a TV show - that's a much better life.

BCSE: Definitely, yeah. That's amazing. Well, that's great. And we are so excited to have you guys back in Boston. It's going to be such a fun show.

SB: Oh, I can't wait.

BCSE: Yeah, and I can't believe how many cities you guys are doing in such a short span of time.

SB: Yeah; but, you know, look, that goes back to what I said earlier. We know we have a limited window to get out there, shake hands, kiss babies.

BCSE: [Laughs]

SB: We’ve always treated our summer tour like we're running for office. We're running for reelection, so we're trying to do as much as we can in a short amount of time while the show is still on the air to just spread awareness and get the word out. We're confident enough that if people tune in, they'll like the show, because people do like it. People keep watching. They keep tuning in. The numbers keep going up. It's kind of this underrated success story which I'm really proud to be a part of.

BCSE: Absolutely. It's a fantastic show. I'm a big fan of it.

SB: Well, thank you.

BCSE: Well, thank you for making such a good show.

Join the fun as the cast of Sullivan & Son take the stage on Saturday, August 16 at Boston’s The Wilbur, and don’t miss Sullivan & Son this summer every Tuesday at 10:00 p.m. on TBS! Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and The Wilbur box office. The Wilbur is located at 246 Tremont Street in the heart of Boston’s historic Theater District.

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