LOS ANGELES — Owen Benjamin is living his dream.
He alum auditioned and was cast for “Sullivan & Son,” a TBS sitcom that will premiere at 10 p.m. Thursday, July 19.
“This show is pretty much what I want to do,” said the Oswego native, who graduated from Plattsburgh State in 2002 with a degree in history.
The series has been filmed for the past 12 weeks at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif., outside Los Angeles.
Benjamin memorized 58 pages of dialogue for each of those weeks and spent long hours at the studio, rehearsing in the morning and often shooting one episode in the afternoon and another in the evening.
He also performed stand-up comedy some evenings after work, he said.
A close friend, Steve Byrne, wrote the script for the show and also has a role in it.
He and Benjamin play characters given their real-life first names.
“It’s basically me, but less intelligent,” Benjamin said of his character.
Comedy is a part of his personality.
“Life is funny,” he said. “The joke is in the setting.”
The show follows a New York City attorney named Steve, played by Byrne, who returns to his hometown Pittsburgh to find that his parents are selling their bar, Sullivan & Son.
Steve spends his time at the bar with his best friend, played by Benjamin; his younger sister, Susan; his former girlfriend, Melanie; and others who frequent the popular place.
Steve realizes he wants to give up his high-powered career and girlfriend, Ashley (played by Brooke Lyons), and stay with his family and work at the family business.
At Plattsburgh State, Benjamin had two shows on PSTV, but he didn’t start work as a professional comedian until six years ago.
Before that, he did everything from bus tables to janitorial work. He even worked as a heckler at a Renaissance Fair.
He attributes his success to a good upbringing, hard work and some luck.
Aspiring actors should “just work, even if it’s for free,” he said. “Even if you have to do your own shows.”
His parents, Dr. John Kares Smith and Dr. Jean Troy-Smith, both teach at SUNY Oswego. Benjamin’s brother, Jason Smith, is a schoolteacher in Saranac Lake and also graduated from Plattsburgh State.
Benjamin changed his last name when he got into show business to avoid being confused with another comedian.
Since then, he has brushed shoulders with some of Hollywood’s best-known actor/comedians.
Benjamin has appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” at least 10 times, as well as MTV’s “Punk’d,” E!’s “Chelsea Lately,” Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
And after Adam Sandler saw him performing at Melrose Improv in West Hollywood in 2006, he helped him get small parts in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and “Jack and Jill,” both of which Sandler starred in.
“He thought I was funny,” Benjamin said. “He’s been really good to me. He’s a great person.”
Benjamin has performed stand-up comedy in 22 theaters around the country with actor and comedian Vince Vaughn.
And he returned to Plattsburgh in April to perform at his alma mater.
‘HAD A BLAST’
Benjamin isn’t one to be starstruck in the presence of big stars.
“It’s a lot easier, simpler than people would imagine,” he said.
The main difference between famous and regular people, he said, is that famous people “have more stress and money.
“They’re just normal dudes. People who are just having their picture taken a lot.”
Benjamin learned what it was like to be targeted by the paparazzi when he dated and became briefly engaged to actress Christina Ricci, with whom he starred in 2009 romantic comedy “All’s Faire in Love.”
“It was just a basic relationship,” he said. “She’s a cool chick.”
However, Benjamin would prefer his future relationships to be with less high-profile people, he said.
The public has an insatiable appetite for entertainment news and details of the lives of the rich and famous, Benjamin said.
“People are famous for just being famous,” he said, citing reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
But Benjamin said he wouldn’t mind being an A-list star.
“People would just want to high-five you and buy you a drink,” he said.
He is hopeful the show will take off and TBS will approve another season.
“I had a blast,” he said. “It was a great time.”