Kent State grad working his way to comedy climax

Alex Hayes

Kent State graduate Steve Byrne has slowly made his way to the comedic top. Byrne, seen in Times Square, has spent a lot of time in New York City.

Credit: Beth Rankin

At a comedy club in New York City a couple years ago, a heckler got out of hand and tossed a chair at comedian Steve Byrne. At the time, Byrne had his back turned to the crowd. The chair slammed into the back of Byrne’s head, leaving him with a gouge that required eight staples.

Since then, the 1997 Kent State graduate has gone on to have a couple of whirlwind years. He has worked the same clubs as Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, while performing night after night in the Big Apple.

Byrne took to the stage for his first stand-up performance at the Stand-Up NY Comedy Club on Sept. 30, 1997, a date he remembers precisely.

“It was absolutely horrifying,” Byrne said. “I spent three days in the bathroom going over the set in front of the mirror. It was like the first time having sex; it was comical, awful and there was a lot of laughing.”

In the end, the performance went well, and Byrne was performing full-time a year later.

In 2003, Byrne was named one of the “Top 10 Comedians to Watch” by Variety magazine. He has appeared on “Last Call with Carson Daly,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the “Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn” and “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn,” among others. He taped a sketch for “Chappelle’s Show” and has appeared on HBO, VH1, Comedy Central and the Discovery Channel.

Byrne said he wouldn’t have guessed that he would become a comedian after graduating from Kent State with a B.A. in theater.

But now Byrne is set to return to the scene of a series of unlikely events.

In August 2003, Byrne was in Cleveland performing at the Cleveland Improvisation Comedy Club and Restaurant. Next door at the Scene Pavilion, Mariah Carey was getting ready to perform a concert on her Charmbracelet tour. The opening act wasn’t able to make the show, and Carey’s managers ran over to the Improv, looking for an opening act.

Byrne ended up opening the Cleveland show for Carey, as well as other dates on her Charmbracelet tour.

“It’s not something a guy would necessarily brag about,” Byrne said about opening for Carey, “but it was a great experience to perform shows in front of 15,000 people.”

Hatem Gadr is manager of the Comedy Cellar in New York, a place that has hosted comedians such as Rock, Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld.

Gadr said Byrne is the kind of comedian others have a hard time following.

“Certain comedians don’t have the energy to carry a room, but Steve has the energy,” Gadr said.

“He can be dirty or clean, using the same material, and he doesn’t lose a thing,” Gadr said.

Byrne said he looks to his life and the lives of his friends and parents for material.

He can be animated or physical during his shows, or he can put the microphone in the stand and tell jokes.

“I’m a little bit of everything; I mix it up with the crowd,” Byrne said.

The Cleveland Improv has set up a special deal for students to attend Byrne’s show this week. His performance will be free for students 21 and over who present a valid Kent State ID tonight through Thursday and on Sunday. Students can buy two tickets for the price of one on Friday and Saturday.

Ryan Dalton, also a Kent State graduate, and Sam Tripoli will be performing on the same card as Byrne.

Byrne said a lot of his comedian friends made fun of him for the chair-throwing incident. He was called “chairman of the board” by some.

Byrne said he has spent the last two years trying to forget about the chair-throwing night, but he certainly won’t forget everywhere the last couple of years has taken his career.

Contact features reporter Alex Hayes at [email protected].