It was a happy upbringing Byrne says, for the most part free happily free of any major racial harassment or any of the other teenage pitfalls that can haunt you afterwards.
“For me it (being Irish and Korean) was always fun and it was always a plus. I never looked at it as a hindrance or a negative,” Byrne says.
“I mean, when kids are young they’re mean and they’ll say things, but I was always really proud of my mom and my dad. I enjoyed my upbringing.”
Being funny was Byrne’s passport to the adult world, including finding friends and romance.
“When I moved from New Jersey to Pittsburgh I attended Hampton High School and that’s when my sense of humor developed because I wasn’t good looking, I was really skinny, I was awkward, I had zits,” he recalls.
“But I learned that I could make people laugh, and that’s what I did when I was in junior high school. I had a good sense of humor. That was my passport to meet people.”
In Sullivan & Son Byrne is clear about his mission. He just wants to make people laugh. That’s why his mom and dad in the show are broadly drawn caricatures of his actual parents, he says.
“My Irish American father is that laid back, easy going unofficial town mayor, and in any situation he’s always there to help people out and just loves kicking back and having a beer. He’s happiest telling stories and making people laugh.”
In contrast his mom is one of the tiger moms you read about in the news, Byrne says.
“My mom really is a hardened kind of woman from Korea. She came over here and was very poor, she understands the value of even a quarter. She’s penny pinching and she’s a little rough around the edges,” he says.
“She instilled in me the need to set goals and strive for achievement, and all these things that you would stereotypically association with a tiger mom or an Asian mom, but it’s true. Those stereotypes exist for a reason. That was my mom.”
Those stereotypes are also funny as hell to play on television and Sullivan & Son excels at it.
“We’re not trying to be clever, we’re just trying to make people laugh. There is a real warmth to these characters that is very attractive,” says Byrne.
“The whole basis of the show is this is a guy who wants to come back to his old haunts and find a more meaningful life, one that matters.”
Sullivan & Son broadcasts Thursdays at 10 p.m. on TBS.