Getting Byrned: Comedian Steve Byrne brings down the house with his new Comedy Central special, The Byrne Identity.
ISSUE: Summer 2010
STORY: Naomi Fujimoto
“We are known for cool things,” quipped Steve Byrne, referring to Asians, in his 2008 Comedy Central special Steve Byrne’s Happy Hour. “Technology. Martial arts. Eating hot dogs.”
But this 35-year-old Korean-Irish American comedian is moving beyond his ethnic background and The Kims of Comedy. His new special, The Byrne Identity, airs on Comedy Central at the end of July. And it covers his take on, well, everyone.
“The basis of it is, who are you? And then, who am I?” he says. “It’s about how I view race. It’s how I view people through music, because you can stereotype people through music. How I view the sexes.”
Byrne doesn’t want to pigeonhole himself by gearing his act toward Asians. “I’d rather be inclusive instead of exclusive,” he says. African Americans, Mexicans, cougars, boy bands, fans of emo — everyone is fair game. In The Byrne Identity, the comedian covers what your favorite music says about you, why women aren’t hunters, and what “I love you” means.
These are broader topics than in his earlier act, which featured plenty of jokes about his Korean mother. “I’ve thrown my mom under the bus so many times that she deserves a break,” he laughs.
Audiences have seen Byrne graduate from five-minute sets to hour-long specials. He has performed on USO tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and recently traveled to Japan and China. His take? “People are just people.” They want to laugh.
If Byrne tends to see the commonalities between people, it’s because he thinks we’re all immigrants to some degree. That means no one is safe from his observations. But that’s all right — because in any culture, he’s funny. — Naomi Fujimoto
Issue: Fall 2010
Dept: The Awful Truth
The Office Grind by Paul Nakayama and Naomi Fujimoto
Is workplace “commingling” a good idea? Guest columnist Naomi Fujimoto says all’s fair in love and work, but Paul Nakayama wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot laser pointer.
Workplace dating is the stuff of great drama. Glee and Grey’s Anatomy — where would they be without it? And what about The Office — the shrugging, the fumbling, the knowing glances? Even on 24, with the fate of the world in question, they still found time for love. All in a day’s work. But enough about TV. I’m real-life proof that you can get your honey where you get your money.
Whether you’re looking at each other over an operating table or a corporate cube, your co-workers see you at your best and your not so best. You see how they deal with stress and relate to other people. And whether they can follow through. In the workplace, people are themselves. Sober. Decent. Good relationship material. (If you’re just looking for a hookup, stay away from your nine-to-five crowd. Sleeping your way to the middle is a bad idea.)
I’m Japanese and an editor, so it won’t be revealing much to say that I love rules. I love that they help me figure out how people will act at work — and, possibly, outside of work. While I can’t say that every girl wants a hero, I like a guy with good problem-solving skills. Responding to an IT “code
blue,” Sean had a confident walk that made him look like he could handle anything. Including me. I had to find out whether he was a MacGyver or a MacGruber.
Our romance started small, tiny even, as workplace entanglements often do. When he stopped by just to say hi or lingered in the hallway, my office mates noticed. One day we went to lunch (Asian fusion, natch). Soon I saw that he could troubleshoot my Mac and share his fries. This unofficial stuff paved the way for our office courtship. Pre-dating can last weeks (if you’re lucky) or years (if you’re me). With all the visits and lunches and hallway conversations, this face time will further your status more than Facebook. Same with those happy hours, where your guy can put his hand on your back to help you throw darts.
Ah, the happy hour. As long as you’re not a boozer or a bimbo, the happy hour is your friend, the one that encourages you and your work buddy to pair off. Enjoy it! But here’s where I’ll come back to the rules again. Keep it rated PG! When you think “workplace grind,” visualize your efforts on a big project, not on the dance floor. (For real. My friend had to see her co-worker dirty dance at the company party. Ew.) Your office friends will be happy for you, but you don’t need to flaunt how in lust you are. Chances are, they noticed the chemistry before you did. They are, after all, people who see you 40-plus hours a week.
Sure, you could meet someone online or in a bar or through a setup. Or you can sit back and see what happens with that guy you always go to lunch with. Maybe it won’t go anywhere. Or maybe it will go somewhere for just a few months, like it did for Sean and me. We broke up recently, and the vibe at lunch has changed. No regrets, though. He was a MacGyver — just not mine.
My awful truth? Workplace dating might seem inexcusable or irresponsible, but it’s also irresistible. If you’re willing to risk a few awkward moments in the elevator, give it a try.
Imagine an adorable bear cub playing with a ball; you can’t help but fawn over it. You approach, unable to stop yourself from petting it. It coos as your hand approaches its face. It is so darn cute! Then suddenly, the cub growls and bares its fangs and mauls your pretty hand into meat strings. You scream and panic, stumbling over your dumb self as you try to escape, but then you realize that you’re locked in a cage. You slap your forehead with what’s left of your hand and curse your own foolishness as that once cuddly bear cub leaps onto your back and takes you down. It’s a horrible tale, I know, and yet so many befall the same fate, except instead of loving a cute but vicious animal,
it’s dating a co-worker.
As my warm little analogy illustrates, dating a co-worker is a dangerous proposition. Think about how many of your exes were brutish, annoying or clingy. You sighed constantly with deep relief when things ended. Now, think about the good ones you’ve had. In an office setting, what are the real odds that you’d meet one of the few good ones and none of the horrible trolls?
Imagine walking to the copy room and running into your ex, the bipolar one who’d refer to himself as “we.” And they’re demanding, “Why did you leave us? Why why why? (And are you done with the copier, skank?)” That would certainly be a good time to run away, but oh, that’s right — you can’t because you work together.
Breakups are manageable when you have space or at least an escape route. Not possible with an office tryst. Or what if it was your heart that was broken? During the Halloween party, you hook up with that longtime crush of yours from accounting, only to discover later he was boofing everyone. Work is miserable enough as it is without having to see some douche bag’s face every five days out of seven. Eventually, you’ll see him hitting on someone new at the office, repeating the same coaxing lines. Your fists will be clenched in anger, and your poor laptop will “accidentally fall down some
stairs.” I can’t even begin to warn you against the dangers of being around the open bar at the company holiday party … you’ll be fondly remembered as the drunken mess that flung cheese at everyone like it was poo, all while sobbing openly like a Bieber groupie.
I get why office romances happen. The fact is, it’s hard meeting people after college, and you spend more time with co-workers than your best friends. Things happen. And there are plenty of examples
of people finding real love in the office. So why not, right? Well, there’s more to lose in an office romance. These things often end poorly, and you’ll only succeed in making your sucky job even suckier. I’ve been in one or two myself that ended in less than desirable ways where the consolation prize is a giant bag of awkward. In this economy, I think it’s better to have a job than a chance at
love, the same chance I could take at my other usual hangouts: the karaoke bar, the 7-Eleven or my parkour club. Because looking for love in the office is a man-eating baby bear that will devour your
heart, and it’s just common sense not to wrestle bears.
In his dressing room at the Orange County Pavilion in Santa Ana, Calif., Steve Byrne is eating an orange and stacking the peels neatly on the table. Dressed in a crisp white shirt, black tie, and black dress pants — part of the suit he’ll wear later for the taping of his new special — he looks more CEO than stand-up comedian.
But you already know he’s funny. And when you watch The Byrne Identity, his newest show premiering on Comedy Central on July 25 (but you can get it now on DVD at Amazon), you’ll see him riff about puppies, Taco Bell and what your musical tastes say about you. Here are a few things you might not have known about Steve Byrne.
1. He owes his start in comedy to his parents.
No, really: When club owners said Byrne could perform on stage only if he brought a couple of people, guess who came to buy the minimum two drinks? For three or four months!
Even when he was scheduled for 11 and instead took the stage at 1 am, his parents would wait. “They’d sit there and watch horrible comedy. I mean, horrible,” he says. “Including mine.”
2. He did five or six shows a night, 365 days a year. For eight years.
Regarding his time in New York, Byrne says, “I never took a day off. That was my life.”
To call his work ethic “Asian” seems like an understatement. Because when’s the last time you did 13 shows in one night? (And no, he didn’t kill at all of them: Check out the DVD Thirteen or Bust.)
He never knew he’d be funny or good at comedy. Instead, he says, “I always wanted to make a living at it.” His work in the last year has been especially meaningful: “There’s still some silly stuff that got me by in my first few years, but this stuff has a lot more weight to it. And I’m more proud of it.”
3. He bombed the night before taping The Byrne Identity.
In comedy, performances are measured in life-or-death extremes: you kill or you bomb.
“Last night I bombed,” Byrne laughs. “I’m working on this material. But there’s pockets where sometimes people don’t know you, they don’t know what you’re about, maybe they don’t appreciate your opinion.”
Five hours before the taping of his new special, he still keeps a level head about his struggles. “Bombing happens,” he says. “As a comedian, you’re going to bomb. It’s like figure skating. Are you gonna fall at some point? You’re gonna fall.”
4. He doesn’t enjoy working out.
Byrne has joked that, in high school, he had a body that would’ve only been attractive to “lonely German businessmen.” But the trim 6-footer grew up playing hockey in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Now, he says, “I’m not a big workout guy. I’m a big ribs, In-N-Out Burger guy.” He may catch a pre-show nap, but Byrne is all energy when he hits the stage — busting a few dance moves, too, in his mockup of a boy band.
As for the running shoes in his dressing room, he explains, “Those are cool-looking shoes, is how I see them. Nobody runs in those.”
And lifting weights? He asks how much I can bench press. “Fifty pounds?” I guess.
“Fifty-one pounds, then, for me,” he declares.
5. You’ve seen his Bruce Lee. He also does a Jackie Chan …
… whom he admires. “There’s like five people I wish I could meet, and he’s definitely one of them. He’s so funny, he’s acrobatic, and he does that thing like all Asians do if you hit your shin, ‘Ooooooh.’” Byrne scrunches up his face and rubs his shin vigorously: “And you start rubbing it, and you shut your eyes. ‘Ooooooh!’”
Only Asians do that? “I think only Asians do that,” he says. “‘Cause Jackie Chan does that every time in one of his movies — ‘Ooooooh!’ And all my relatives always did and it’s always made me laugh.”
The Byrne Identity premieres July 25 on Comedy Central. To keep up with Steve Byrne, visit stevebyrnelive.com.
Story by Naomi Fujimoto.
Naomi Fujimoto is the author of Cool Jewels: Beading Projects for Teens. She also likes to write about relationships — the good, the bad and the unexpected. Her work has appeared in Tennis View, Alimentum, and East West. Check out her blog at cooljewelsnaomi.blogspot.com.