KSU alumnus takes over Comedy Central Friday

Ben Plassard

Kent State alumnus Steve Byrne demonstrates his comedic prowess on “Comedy Central Presents” tomorrow night. Byrne graduated from the university in 1997. COURTESY OF STEVE BYRNE

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Being a stand-up comedian is not all it is cracked up to be.

Just ask Steve Byrne.

Byrne, a 1997 Kent State graduate, has enjoyed what he considers moderate success in his nine year stand-up career.

This success has taken Byrne on tours across the world and has landed him various television spots, including his appearance on “Comedy Central Presents” at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

But the journey Byrne has taken in his career is one that most people would not be able to endure. Byrne calls it “the most (screwed up) profession in the world.

“This job is filled with alcoholics, recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, guys that are insecure and people that never got laid in high school,” Byrne said. “All are awkward personalities, all coming together, the one basic theme is that they all get through their problems or adversities in life through humor.”

For every Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, there are thousands of struggling comedians just waiting for their big break. Breaks that Byrne said are hard to come by.

“There is no clear cut way to make it in stand-up,” Byrne said. “When you first start out, it is so difficult. People are ripping you off and people take advantage of you. You have to really want it.”

Byrne knows all about the hard life of a stand-up comedian. His comedy career unexpectedly began after his graduation. With his theater degree from Kent State in tow, he moved to New York City to live with his father, not sure of what he wanted or what he was looking for.

As he walked the streets of the Big Apple looking for opportunity, he applied for a job at Caroline’s Comedy Club. He was hired to answer phones and sweep floors.

In a short three months, Byrne was writing and rehearsing an act. On Sept. 30, 1997, with no prior experience, Byrne made his stage debut at Stand Up New York.

The performance was well received and thus began Byrne’s comedy career. He said he spent his first several years living out of his car, driving from club to club searching for that all-so-valuable stage time.

“The first two to three years are the most difficult,” he said. “These years are what weeds out the people who really want it and those who don’t. There is no quick rise in stand-up.”

Byrne began to make friends with other comedians in New York, many of them influencing his act. He credits comedians such as Jim Norton and Colin Quinn as being models for his act and his work ethic. He also credits Drew Carey as being a positive influence in not only his work but his life. Byrne accompanied Carey on a USO tour of Afghanistan, an experience he said he will never forget.

“He is a complete class act, always shaking hands and taking pictures,” Byrne said of Carey. “I realized from Drew (Carey) how you should treat people in life.”

Byrne has not enjoyed the same success Carey has, but he feels that he is not far off. He has made numerous television appearances, including “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Last Call with Carson Daly,” “BET Comic View” and “The Late Late Show.” Byrne insists this exposure is great, but not as meaningful as it was back in the days of Johnny Carson. Byrne said since there is now cable and Internet, it is harder to be seen, and he feels his big break is still yet to come.

Byrne is currently auditioning for television and film roles, taking acting classes and touring comedy clubs around the country. His show on Comedy Central tomorrow will coincide with a March airing of an MTV “True Life” documentary in which the music channel follows Byrne in his preparations for his half-hour show. Byrne also made a documentary titled 13 or Bust in which he attempts to break comedian Dave Attell’s record of 12 performances in one night.

Byrne is now concentrating on writing new material, something he said is becoming more frequent. This is a good thing, Byrne said, because people are becoming more familiar with his material.

Even though he graduated in 1997, many people at Kent State still remember Steve Byrne.

“He worked hard and enjoyed acting,” said Marya Bednerik, professor of playwriting and directing. “We are very happy for him and his success.”

Byrne has apparently come a long way from his days working at Ray’s Place as well. Owner Charlie Thomas remembers Byrne as a nice and quiet hard worker who didn’t leave much of an impression.

Through all of his travels and triumphs, Byrne still has fond memories of Kent State and the Daily Kent Stater.

“Kent has a lot of fun people and I look back on it very fondly,” Byrne said. “Everyone is just so friendly and laid back. I enjoyed working at Ray’s Place, and I remember reading the Stater while sitting in class.”

Byrne also offers this advice for anyone attempting stand-up comedy.

“Write and perform, that is how you get better,” Byrne said. “Comedy is about finding your own voice and finding your own opinion and relating that to everyone.”

Contact off-campus entertainment reporter Ben Plassard at [email protected]