Pittsburgh native and professional comedian Steve Byrne still remembers the day he met Penguins owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in 1986.
“I remember going up to Mt. Lebanon in those days and the players were taking pictures in some shanty locker room and I was just a kid,” Byrne said. “I didn’t know any of the players. I just knew they were the Penguins, the professional team.
“This one woman kept saying, ‘Are you here to see Mario?’ I kept wondering who is Mario? Who is this guy? I thought, maybe I should pay attention to this guy. Then I got his autograph. I was maybe 11 or 12. That was the first time I heard of him and then I found out this guy is unbelievable.”
Byrne became a die hard Penguins fan, which was exacerbated when the team won back-to-back Stanley Cups during his junior and senior years at Hampton High School, and he is thrilled with the current team’s second consecutive berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
“I’m so excited for (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin,” Byrne said. “They keep bringing up the references to the early Edmonton Oilers. I have no idea if that will happen. That would be amazing if it did. Even still it’s a huge feat for them to get to the Final back-to-back like that.”
Byrne, who was born to a Korean mother and an Irish father – a factoid that makes good fodder for his act – has launched a successful career in comedy. His hour special “Happy Hour” premiered to rave reviews, and his standup routine has been featured on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and CBS’s “The Late Late Show.” He has appeared in films with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon in “Four Christmases” and with Jeremy Piven and Will Ferrell in “The Goods: The Don Ready Story.” Byrne is currently working on his new hour special called “The Byrne Identity.”
But Byrne hasn’t forgotten his roots – he can be seen donning an old-school Lemieux jersey on his official website (http://www.stevebyrnelive.com). He is back in his hometown of Pittsburgh this weekend, performing his standup act at the Waterfront Improv in Homestead, and has enjoyed the Stanley Cup buzz around the Steel City.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s so great for the city and it’s great for the fans. Pittsburgh is such a huge sports town.”
But Byrne is most excited for the man who saved hockey in Pittsburgh twice, that Mario guy that he met over 20 years ago.
“I’m more elated for Mario and the success that he’s gotten the last few years,” Byrne said. “I remember hearing they were going to move to Kansas City, the Casino deal wasn’t going through. My heart was breaking with this great franchise that won two Cups. Lemieux did so much for that city and for hockey in the states. It just broke my heart to think a great franchise like that would move. Then he got ownership and turned the whole thing around.
“As a Penguins fan and a kid that grew up in the Lemieux era, I’m just completely overjoyed for that guy.”
(Photo provided by Steve Byrne)