Steve Byrne talks Sullivan & Son

Steve Byrne talks Sullivan & Son series premiere, July 19th, only on TBS

A corporate attorney finds new life behind the bar when he takes over his parents' pub in TBS's new original sitcom Sullivan & Son, which is set to premiere this Thursday night, July 19th, with two back-to-back episodes, including Last, Best, & Final and The Bribe.

We recently caught up with stand-up comedian Steve Byrne, who stars in, and co-created the show with Rob Long (Cheers), to chat about this hilarious new half-hour comedy, and what we can expect in the following weeks.

Here is our conversation.

I open up the press package, and the cover photo looks very Cheers-esque. Then I read through the press notes, and I see that Cheers' Rob Long is your show runner. Am I to take this as the second coming of Cheers?

Steve Byrne: I would hope that no one would put that type of pressure on us. Because that is such an iconic show. Cheers is its own universe, to me. It was my favorite sitcom growing up. I remember watching it with my family. I would hope that people don't think we are going to adhere to the same gold standard as that show. The only correlation I think you can make between that show and this one is that Rob Long is steering the ship. And he was an executive producer on Cheers for many years. Once people tune in, I think they will see that this is nothing like Cheers. It is a completely different world. It's got completely different characters that put themselves in completely different situations. Comparing Cheers to Sullivan and Son is like comparing The Cosby Show to Roseanne. There is a couch in the middle of the living room, but they are in two completely different boats.

Like you said, I remember growing up with Cheers. I remember my parents loving it, and having to watch it every Thursday night. There really hasn't been a show like Cheers on the air in a long time. I think comparisons to that show are a good thing. I think you are going to pull in that audience, who is hungry for a show like this.

Steve Byrne: I think that is right. But the only comparison I would make between the two shows is that there is a warmth amongst the characters. There is a warmth and a care that the characters have for each other. I think that is the connection I would make. But at the end of the day, I think we do walk the line in terms of what we get away with, and what we might get away with, because we are a cable show. We get away with a lot more than, maybe, Cheers...

How are you playing with that line? In recent years, we've seen some shows really push the limit of outrageousness and obscene humor. But I'm also seeing some of these shows that could take it all the way, kind of pulling back, and bringing it back to a more innocent time. How are you riding that time?

Steve Byrne: Coming from a stand-up comedy background, I think there are comedians out there that say stuff just to be shocking. Then there are comics who say things that are shocking, but they stay on point to the message they are delivering. They might find themselves in a shocking situation, and explain that situation, as opposed to just saying a hot button word. I think that is something I have tried to do with this show, along with Rob Long, and Vince Vaughn, and Peter Billingsley. We try to keep everything on point to the story. If something shocking develops within the story, then that services it. Great. But I am not one of these people who says something just to get a reaction out of somebody.

You talked about the differences between Cheers, and Sullivan and Son, and The Cosby Show, and Roseanne. What is the difference between the Steve I'm talking to right now, and the character Steve, who has come in to take over this bar from his dad?

Steve Byrne: I am a character on TV. Some people know my stand-up. I would say that most of America doesn't. I would just say...People that tune, I am Dean Martin, and the rest of the cast is Jerry Lewis. I am the straight man in this show. Which is great. I am a sane man in an insane world. If there is a similarity between Steve Sullivan and Steve Byrne, its that neither one of us would get into the situations that the other characters do. I think I am a pretty even keeled guy. I think there is a correlation. But then, I think there are some differences between me and the guy you see on the tube.

Tell me a little bit more about TV Steve and Melanie. Is this a relationship that is going to be sewn up before the first season plays out? Or is this going to be one of those great, long teases?

Steve Byrne: I think the relationship will run. But what is great, is that we have nine main characters on this show. The pilot is really me getting behind the bar. What we are trying to do is service each character, so that the world gets to meet each and every one of these guys and gals. Melanie and I will definitely take our time in exploring that relationship. This is a girl I grew up with. This is a girl I've loved since I was in middle school. We learn that it is vice versa. But we'll see what happens with it. I think we will get more mileage out of kicking that can down the road.

In terms of Vince Vaughn's involvement, were you a part of that Wild West Comedy Tour that he put together and drove through America? I know you weren't in the movie...

Steve Byrne: I wasn't in the movie. One of the guys got sick afterwards. And they were doing some pick up shows. I got a call because I knew Vince Vaughn...I knew Ahmed Ahmed, who is in the movie. He called me up and asked if I would be interested in doing a show with them in Vegas. I went out, and I just had one of those 'sets of your life'. It just happened to be in front of Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley. Ever since then, we've all been best pals. It's been amazing spirits. I would not be here with you, on this phone, right now, if it weren't for Vince Vaughn planting that seed in my head. "Why don't you stop going on auditions and create a vehicle for yourself?" That's exactly what I did. It was not great. I don't even know if it was good. But it was good enough to take meetings with guys, and Rob Long read it. We tinkered around with it. It has been amazing. I know it says created by Steve Byrne and Rob Long, written by Steve Byrne and Rob Long on the pilot...But trust me, 99% of that is all Rob Long. He is amazing, and he is funnier than most stand-up comedians that I know.

What are Vince and Pete bringing to the table, aside from their name in the credits? Are they bringing you story ideas? Do they both help out creatively with the show?

Steve Byrne: They are hands on! Vince Vaughn has been at all of the tapings. Peter Billingsley actually directed one of the episodes. He is truly an EP on the show. He is steering it in all faucets. Between those three, they are really collectively making sure this is as funny as it can be. And that it stays on story, that everything is tracking with the story. That have all been extremely hands on. Thank god for that!

You guys are shooting the show in front of a live audience, right?

Steve Byrne: Yes, and it has been great. Most of the cast is performers that are used to being in front of a live audience. When that live audience comes in, there is something else that kicks in that is second nature. It has been a blast.

For awhile, it seemed like that shooting style was dead. But now it's coming back strong. Was it because of your background as a stand-up comedian that you wanted to have that live energy in the show?

Steve Byrne: Yeah. Its like you mentioned earlier. You bring up watching Cheers and shows like that when we were younger. That was always the kind of show that I gravitated towards. They are what I like to watch. I like some of the single camera shows. But they have never been my favorite. Just coming from a stand-up background, I decided this is the format that I would like to choose. I'm in front of a live audience every night of my life. The only difference here is that I don't have a Jamison in my hand. I have to work under a different set of rules on a sitcom stage. But it has been great.

The amazing thing is the detail that goes into these sitcom sets now, though. There is a real tangibility to them that wasn't quite present in the 80s.

Steve Byrne: We wanted this to feel like a neighborhood bar. Where you feel comfortable. We want it to feel like your living room, where the bar is your couch. And the characters are all sitting around it. I think there is a real warmth to the set, and it very much feels like a real neighborhood bar. It's definitely a place I would like to hang out. They have a great jukebox on the set, and it's an epic place to have a drink at. It's reminiscent to me of the neighborhood bars in the south of Pittsburg. That is the angle we went for. I hope that it resonates with the rest of America, and they realize that this is a bar that anyone can hang out in. Obviously, on the show, anyone can hang out there. Because this is an island of misfit toys who all collect and gather there. They get to hang out with each other.

There have been a couple of bar shows over the course of the past few years, but the only one that has survived, and has grown an immense fan base is Sunny in Philadelphia. You can't compare the two shows. They are very different. But on that show, they are hardly ever in the bar. It seems like this show is the complete opposite. That most of the things that happen, happen within the bar...

Steve Byrne: Yes. I'd say 90% of it. Again, I guess you could make this correlation with Cheers...It is a play that takes place within a bar. I would say ninety to ninety-five percent of the play takes place in this bar. So, you better get used to the set if you plan on enjoying the show! Because that's where we're going to be.

Thinking back on Cheers, there weren't too many episodes where they went outside the bar. The Thanksgiving dinner. That was a big one...

Steve Byrne: Cliff was on Jeopardy! That's the one I really remember. But they were all in the bar watching. They rarely left the bar.

Let's talk about Dan Lauria. I am such a huge fan of his work. How exciting was it to land him as your dad?

Steve Byrne: Oh, yeah! There is not a day that I come onto this set and appreciate every minute that I am here. Not only with Dan Lauria, but also with Christine Ebersole and Brian Doyle-Murray, and Jodi Long...They are all amazing actors and actresses. They all have amazing resumes. Especially Dan Lauria. He is really the father of the set, too. What you see is what you get. There is an anchor there, there is strength there, there is a lot of warmth. He is a great guy. He actually has the cast over on Sundays, and we watch old classic films. Because he is such a historian of old Hollywood. And he appreciates the art of acting. It makes you appreciate the time you spend on the set even more. In terms of taking the material, even though it is a sitcom, seriously. He has an amazing work ethic, and he resonates that ethic with everyone.