Finally there’s a new comedy about Irish Americans written by actual Irish Americans. CBS’s new show "The McCarthys," premiering on Thursday, October 30 at 9:30 p.m., was created by the Boston-born Brian Gallivan, and his wicked insider knowledge of Irish American life makes this show that very rare thing indeed, both funny and knowing.
Gallivan, 45, first achieved national recognition for his Sassy Gay Friend comedy shorts, which became a worldwide phenomenon on YouTube. Depicting what would have transpired if famous men and women throughout history had had a sassy gay friend to advise them, Gallivan’s homemade skits led to big league commissions to write major network shows.
By casting "Roseanne" regular Laurie Metcalf and Jack McGee from Denis Leary’s award winning firefighter drama "Rescue Me," CBS has invested major talent into "The McCarthys," a breezily funny tale about a sports mad Irish family.
Ronny McCarthy (played by the prodigiously talented Tyler Ritter of "Modern Family," the cute as a button son of the late John Ritter) lives next door to his fraternal twins Gerard (Joey McIntyre from the nineties teen band New Kids on the Block) and Sean (comedian and actor Jimmy Dunn) and his younger sister Jackie (Kelen Coleman).
Ronny is gay, but that’s not the cause of the blowout disputes with his family. It’s the fact that he doesn’t enjoy sports or know anything about the hometown Boston Celtics that drives them nuts.
Gallivan has an intimate knowledge of working class Irish Catholic life in Boston in other words, and set ups like this prove it.
Like a lot of working class Irish kids with a talent for writing, it looked like Gallivan would eventually become a teacher. After earning a master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire in literature and another from Emmanuel College in secondary education, that’s exactly what he did.
But his writing and performing gene was just too strong to suppress. Taking a leap of faith he moved to Chicago and joined the famous Second City troupe, which lead to his breakout Sassy Gay Friend skits. Those in turn led to work on high profile TV shows, culminating in "The McCarthys," which CBS eventually picked up.
Filmed in front of a live audience, each week the show has more than a few of McIntyre’s diehard New Kids on the Block fans ready to laugh louder and applaud harder at their former teenage idol.
It’s the quality of the writing that makes "The McCarthys" really take flight, though. In that regard Gallivan distinguished himself early on.
Although his relatives say he is too modest to admit it, back at Dedham High School he stood out as the captain of the track team, a fact he keeps to himself they lament. “I was running from my sexuality,” he quipped to the press recently.
But the fact that Ronny is gay is a non-issue for the McCarthy clan. “We don’t care that he’s gay, we’re upset that he wants to move away from us to Rhode Island,” actor and comedian Jimmy Dunn tells the Irish Voice.
“You know Providence is just far enough away that no one in Boston really wants to go there. I’m sure there’s some pretty nice people there. But it’s like when you find out a girl you like is from Providence, you decide I’m not going to call her,” he laughs.
“My character Sean is chubby and dim, the complete opposite of me in real life,” jokes Dunn, who got his start in show business telling jokes at a bar in Gloucester, MA, where he was paid in beer and fried clams.
“They were casting this show and they were looking at all the actors in Hollywood and New York City, and they just couldn’t find someone that had the authentic Boston roots and the real accent.
“Brian Gallivan wanted someone who reminded him of his real brother and when they did a small casting in Boston they flew me out to LA the next day.
“My buddy Joey McIntyre said that casting television shows is pretty easy. You’re either the guy or you’re not the guy. On this one I just happened to be the guy.”
Every stand-up comedian dreams of doing a successful sitcom, and to do one on CBS based on a family in Boston is a dream come true for Dunn.
“I’ve been on the road doing stand-up for 20 years and I’ve auditioned for stuff from time to time but nothing this big. I went into the audition being the big loud guy from Boston and it worked,” he says.
The Boston accent is a notoriously tough one to fake. There have of course been some great movies made in Boston, the majority featuring really bad accent work.
“It’s nice to be authentic for a change. The most authentic part is that my character is a guy who has let himself go a little bit, and I’m good at that,” Dunn laughs. “As I’m talking to you I’m literally standing outside a sandwich shop called Fat Sal’s where I’m going to have lunch in about 10 minutes.”
Sean McCarthy is the kind of gently going to seed character we all know.
“I know him very well myself,” says Dunn. “In my mind he’s my best friend Dave, who was a high school athlete, but never after that. In his mind he was the greatest athlete of all time. And every time he has a couple of beers in him he becomes a better athlete, back in the day, when there was no video tape.”
With the first series under his belt now Dunn thinks that Tyler Ritter is about to become the breakout star of "The McCarthys."
“I think the world is going to fall in love with Tyler Ritter this week. He plays the youngest brother in the show and he’s just so likeable that you’re rooting for him from day one. I think people who know his dad from some of the things he did (most famously "Three’s Company") but don’t know Tyler yet will decide the kid is amazing.”
Meanwhile, working with show writer Gallivan is a reward in itself Dunn says.
“He’s a really funny guy who’s professional on the set and knows how to write a joke. He’s got a vision in his head for what this show should be and he’s just walked in and taken charge. They just keep throwing funny lines at me and the one thing I can do is deliver a joke. When they keep giving me these great lines it’s easy. It’s a dream come true.”
All that they need now is a big Thursday night audience. “I love the pilot and I can honestly say that it gets tighter every week. By episodes three and four it’s flying. It just gets tighter every week, and I can’t wait for people to see three or four of them,” says Dunn.