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
Contributing writer Naomi Fujimoto caught up with Steve Byrne before one of his shows recently and you can read all about it (and his antics) here. (He’s also featured in our summer issue — get it soon before it’s off the shelves to make room for our upcoming Fall 2010 issue, out in early September!)
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* Comedian Steve Byrne
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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.