When you’re involved in a sitcom set in a bar, inevitably, comparisons will be made to the Boston-based classic “Cheers.”
However, being compared to the hit NBC comedy, which ran for 11 seasons between 1982 and 1993, doesn’t really faze comedian Steve Byrne, creator and star of TBS’ “Sullivan & Son,” which also features a cast of quirky characters that hang out in a pub.
Byrne doesn’t want his show to live in the “Cheers” shadow, but he does hope that “Sullivan & Son” honors the classic series in some way.
“Two of the writers and producers who worked on ‘Cheers’ for many years, they work on our show as well. So, in some small way, we pay homage to ‘Cheers,’” Byrne recently told Boston.com by way of phone from Washington D.C. “It’s two totally different environments, two totally different sets of characters. But at the end of the day, it’s a bar sitcom and people will always make the comparisons.”
Byrne and his fellow cast members have made Boston a go-to destination during their annual “Sullivan & Son” stand-up tour, which comes to the Wilbur Theatre on Saturday night. Coincidentally, the actual Cheers bar, located on Beacon Street, has become a pub away from home for the crew — as well as a bit of a good luck charm.
“Boston, to me, has always been a bright spot on the tour,” Byrne said. “We always head over to Cheers and, the last few times we’ve been in there, they’ve always let us go back and bartend and serve a beer, which is kind of cool. It’s become a good luck tradition for us. I think the last time we were there, that’s when we found out we were getting picked up for a third season, so we made it into a little impromptu celebration.”
While “Sullivan & Son” certainly shares some similarities with “Cheers,” it’s been gaining a cult following of its own since debuting in 2012. The reason is in part due to the fact that it’s one of the few shows on television to prominently feature Asian-American characters, as its based on Byrne’s life growing up in Pittsburgh with an Irish father and a Korean mother.
“The response has been great. The fact that it is so symbolic of some people’s backgrounds growing up,” Byrne said. “When they can say, ‘Oh, my mom’s just like that, I can relate to that’ or ‘That’s my mom,’ and she’s Chinese, Japanese, or whatever, that, to me, has been a big compliment, knowing that we nailed that aspect of the show and the relationship, the dichotomy between me and my mom. Most immigrant mothers just want the best for you.”
The lack of Asian actors on TV was disheartening to Byrne, who wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed with his career before creating “Sullivan & Son.” However, he was prompted to write the series after talking with his friend Vince Vaughn, who’s an executive producer on the show.
“He basically said to me, ‘Being Korean and Irish, your background, I don’t know how many opportunities there will be for you, so why don’t you write something for yourself,’” Byrne said. “I went out and bought a lot of books on script writing and sitcom writing. I spent the next four or five months and treated myself like I was in college. Every day I would read the books, I’d take notes, and, about eight months later, I turned in the script to Vince and he was shocked because he couldn’t believe I did it.”
The hard work has paid off for Byrne — “Sullivan & Son” will wrap up its third season on Sept. 9. The comedian is glad that he’s been able to reach so many people with his show and hopes that it inspires other Asian Americans to forge their own paths in show business.
“I think the trend is changing if folks create vehicles for themselves,” Byrne said. “I can only speak for myself, but for years, you’re thinking, ‘Why aren’t there more chances? Why aren’t there more opportunities?’ But at the end of the day, sometimes, the only way you’re going to get that opportunity is to create it for yourself. So I went ahead and wrote the show and here we are three years later—and hopefully for many more.”