Sweating under the bright lights in front of an expectant crowd, a comic can’t pull punches. That means joking about parents, friends, marriages and dirty laundry that most people would be scared to tell a friend, let alone a room full of strangers.
Stand-up comedian Steve Byrne has done very well by turning his personal problems into comedy ammo. With several comedy specials under his belt, he’s also the star and co-producer of “Sullivan and Son,” a TBS sitcom about a medical student who decides to come home and take over his father Jack’s (Dan Lauria) Irish bar, even though his high-strung, judgmental mother OK Cha (Jodi Long) disapproves.
Now the nationwide “Steve Byrne Featuring the Cast of Sullivan and Son Live Tour” is headed to One-Eyed Jack’s in New Orleans on Saturday.
Byrne and the three other stars of the tour, Roy Wood Jr., Owen Benjamin and Ahmed Ahmed, all had long careers in stand-up comedy before the TV show.
Byrne in particular gained fame as an ambitious young comic who once performed 13 shows in one night as part of a documentary called “13 or Bust.”
“I’ve just always enjoyed stand-up. Especially when I was first starting out in New York City, stand-up was to me like a really hot girl who showed me a little bit of interest ... I just couldn’t stop thinking about her and I just had to be around her,” Byrne said.
Byrne, who had never done television before becoming the star of his own show, has managed to stick to his roots while doing “Sullivan and Son,” and a live tour with his co-stars helps bridge the gap between the two projects.
“My thing is, I was always a stand-up before this, I’ll be a stand-up after this, and I’ll be a stand-up while we’re doing this. But every day I get to work, there is a complete blessing, and I’m enjoying every second of it.”
When Byrne was creating “Sullivan and Son,” he knew he wanted to get his friends involved. After all, who better to make you laugh than your friends?
One of those friends was Egyptian-born American actor and comic Ahmed.
“Steve I’ve known for 15 years now … he was a New York comic who moved out to L.A., where we met in the comedy scene, and we became friends and started touring together. Then he had this idea for a TV show and said, ‘I want to write you in,’ ” Ahmed said.
Unlike Byrne, Ahmed was an actor for many years, snatching up small roles in films like “Swingers” and “Iron Man” before starting a career in stand-up comedy.
He appreciates that “Sullivan and Son” is filmed in front of a live studio audience because it gives him and the other stand-up comedians on the cast more to work with.
“Being on a sitcom is very much like being a stand-up comedian, the only difference being that you’re sharing the stage with nine or 10 other actors,” he said. “But you still get that live reaction from the audience, and that’s key.”
Ahmed, Byrne and the rest do get a little solo time on the live tour in addition to coming onstage together at the end, giving audiences a chance to make up their own minds about who is the funniest.
“Everybody goes up and does 15-20 minutes of solo stand-up, and then we all get together collectively at the end and improve and interact with the audience. It’s a full-rounded stand-up show where you’re going to see a little bit of everything,” Byrne said.
“Sullivan and Son,” like the live tour supporting it, features characters and situations taken from the lives of Byrne and his friends. Heck, even the names are the same. For instance, Steve Byrne plays Steve, and Ahmed plays a guy named Ahmed.
“I think he thought it would just be easier to use our real names, rather than come up with new ones — you know, we’re kind of playing loose versions of ourselves,” Ahmed said. “My character is a hopeless romantic who drives a tow truck. In real life, I’m a hopeless romantic and my dad had a tow truck when we were growing up.”
One painful truth that “Sullivan and Son” explores and pokes fun at is the stereotyping that both Byrne and Ahmed experience. Byrne is Korean and Irish-American, and Ahmed is often selected for “random searches” by airport security.
“You gotta joke about stuff, and when things are tough and out of your control, the only remedy is laughter,” Ahmed said.
Information about “Steve Byrne Featuring the Cast of Sullivan and Son Live Tour” can be found at www.tbs.com/shows/sullivan-and-son/comedy-tour/ and at www.oneeyedjacks.net/event/steve-byrne/. “Sullivan and Son” airs on TBS on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Ahmed’s documentary on comedy in the Middle East, “Just Like Us,” is available on iTunes and Amazon.com.