Face2Face with Steve Byrne
Los Angeles-based comedian shares tale of rising up from painful beginnings
By Joe Nguyen, AsiaXpress.com
March 13, 2009
Steve Byrne at the Improv
8246 E. 49th Ave. #1400
Denver, CO 80238
Thursday, March 19 – 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 20 – 8 and 10:15 p.m.
Saturday, March 21 – 7 and 9:15 p.m.
Sunday, March 22 – 7 p.m.
$12 on Thursday and Sunday, $15 on Friday and Saturday
For more information, go to www.symfonee.com/improv/denver/home/Index.aspx.
Steve Byrne has experienced many highs and lows in the 12 years he’s been a stand-up comic.
But sometimes the lows are really low.
“I’ve had shows where I had a bar stool thrown at me that I got 12 staples in the back of my head from,” Byrne said. “I got chased by a football team when I was doing a college in South Carolina.
“I literally had to run to my car as soon as the show was over because I was insulting them.”
However, these experiences have been blessings in disguise, providing important lessons that he said has helped him get to where he is today.
“For every awesome show that you do that you think, ‘Wow, I’m the king of the world,’ there’s one right around the corner waiting to smack you back down to reality,” the 34-year-old comedian said.
It’s this grounded thinking that keeps the comedian hungry and motivated to work diligently at his craft. His effort has paid off over the few years, evident with appearances on a number of different late-night talk shows and having his own hour-long special on Comedy Central called “Steve Byrne: Happy Hour” that premiered last March with another special slated for this fall. But it’s his live stand-up performances that he said he’s worked incredibly hard at building, something Denver fans will get to see when he comes to town March 19-22 at the Improv.
“I can honestly say that anybody who’s never seen my show, you will have one of the best experiences you will ever have because I worked very hard at creating a really, really great live show,” he said. “And I don’t want to sound cocky, but I just want to sound like someone’s who worked really hard at it.”
Growing up, Byrne said he was a class clown, but it wasn’t until after finishing college that he began his career in comedy. As soon as he graduated, he moved into his parents’ home in New York City in order to save up money.
“The first day I got there I said I’m not coming back until I got a job,” he said. “So I went up and down Broadway and I ended up walking into Carolines [on Broadway] comedy club.”
The club’s manager fired someone 15 minutes earlier and gave Byrne the job, he said. After answering phones and sweeping the floors for four months, he said he went out and tried stand-up for the first time on Sept. 30, 1997.
“It was a lot like the first time I had sex – It was quick,” he said. “There was some laughter and I cried afterwards.
“But I knew I wanted to do it again right away.”
Early in his career, Byrne addressed his mix of Irish and Korean heritage by making most of his material about being Asian, he said. But as the years went on, he has tried to move away from it.
“I saw a lot of guys milking the fact that they were Asian or mixed race or whatever,” he said. “Right now there’s a lot of comics that have a background like myself and just choose a side and exploit it for the sake of their own insecurities or building an audience.
“I never wanted to go that way. ... If I had a joke about my mom or my dad then I would do it, but I wasn’t going to do it for the sake of doing it.”
Being on the road all the time has been difficult, he said, adding that he wants nothing more than to just spend a week at home. But the thrill of performing keeps him going.
“It’s just non-stop using three-ounce bars of soap, chicken fingers,” he said. “It’s pretty brutal, man. I’m not going to lie.
“You do it all for the hour you’re on stage and that’s when everything’s worth it.”
That love of the stage helped land him an opportunity for a special a few years ago. He said a producer he knew had produced many one-hour comedy specials and had two shows left that needed to be filled. The problem for Byrne, however, was that he didn’t have enough material at that point.
“Ken (Jeong) and I didn’t have an hour between us at the time, so you know, there were the ‘Kings of Comedy,’ the ‘Latin Kings of Comedy’ and he said, ‘let’s put this show together,’” he said.
So Byrne teamed up with Jeong and fellow Asian-American comedians Kevin Shea and Bobby Lee to form “The Kims of Comedy.”
“We all had so much fun at the taping, we’re like, ‘well, let’s go out on the road — the four of us,’” Byrne said.
The group continued to perform together over the years. Byrne said he’s planning on pitching a television show to major networks with Jeong and Shea in the coming months. But television is only the first of many plans for him.
“In another year or two, get a TV show. In five years, be in film. Along the way, have a wife and kids,” he said. “Make a string of good movies then make a string of bad movies. Get hooked on drugs. Have a mid-life crisis, dump my wife for a college girl, have a quickie marriage. Realize what an awful mistake that was, go back to my wife. She gets me sober. And then do a ‘Behind the Music’ or ‘True Hollywood Story.’
“And then I get on the rebound and I do a ‘Karate Kid’ movie like Mickey Rourke and people welcome me back.”