The set of the new TBS sitcom "Sullivan & Son" has been green "from day one," says star Steve Byrne. "We have recycling bins and all the plastic goes in them," he notes, confiding that co-star Owen Benjamin doesn't always comply with the recycling rules. "He leaves his garbage everywhere and we pick up after him." At home, Byrne's wife oversees the recycling, they have Brita water filters on the faucets, and they buy eco-friendly products for their 2-month-old daughter. Byrne drinks an organic smoothie made with organic spinach, kale, celery, apple, banana and blueberries every morning, which pal and series executive producer Vince Vaughn turned him onto.
Byrne, Vaughn and co-executive producer Peter Billingsley (the grown-up star of "A Christmas Story") met and became friends doing the Wild West Comedy Show, and Vaughn encouraged the stand-up comedian to create a sitcom for himself, just as comics Ray Romano, Louis C.K. and George Lopez have successfully done. Byrne had never written anything but jokes, but he got some how-to books and started working on it after his stand-up sets. His original concept was set in a diner, but after Vaughn and Billingsley brought in "Cheers" alumnus Rob Long, now the show runner, it changed to a bar, "and got funnier."
In a prime example of "write what you know," the show stars Byrne as a disillusioned New York corporate lawyer who goes home to take over the Pittsburgh tavern owned by his parents, his Irish father (Dan Lauria) and Korean mother (Jodi Long). Byrne is also Korean-American, from Pittsburgh, and as on the show, his parents met on an Army base during the Korean War — his mom worked as a mess hall waitress. Byrne claims to know very little about mixed drinks and unlike many show business hopefuls has never bartended, but is otherwise "quite similar" to the fictional Steve. He sees his role as being the straight man, "the sane man in an insane world. I'm doing everything I can to throw a fastball straight down the middle so Dan, Jodi, Christine [Ebersole], Brian [Doyle-Murray], and everybody else can hit it out of the park."
He believes that his stand-up background is an advantage because he's "very comfortable performing in front of a live audience," but he doesn't consider himself an actor yet. "I consider myself a stand-up comedian who's on a sitcom doing his best at acting and I hope to do better as we go along. Every show I try to improve. I really take it seriously." Vaughn and Billingsley remain "incredibly involved, so hands on" with the series, attending tapings and helping with the storylines and scripts. Vaughn directed an episode, but film commitments prevented him from playing a part that was written for him at his request. "If we do a good enough job and are fortunate to come back for a second season, I think both of them will end up on the show," Byrne predicts.
Byrne cast stand-up comedy buddies Benjamin, Roy Wood and Ahmed Nassar as his pals on the show, and plans to tour with them this summer. "My true love is stand-up comedy," he says, noting plans to shoot a new stand-up special for Comedy Central — he's done three previously — but it was put on the back burner when the sitcom got picked up. He's hoping that the TV exposure will enable him to play larger venues. "It's every comic's dream to have a big enough following to perform in theaters," he says.
Byrne thinks that "Sullivan & Son's" inclusive and ethnically diverse cast "is reflective of what America is becoming. We've got an Italian playing my Irish father, a Chinese-Japanese woman playing my Korean mother, Roy is black, Ahmed is Egyptian. It's just about a bunch of real people in really crazy situations trying to get along with each other. I hope it resonates."
"Sullivan & Son" premieres with two back-to-back episodes July 19 on TBS.