I’ve got a new love, and yes, my husband knows about it, and no, it isn’t a new man…not exactly…it’s seven of them, who together are the comedy troupe, The Birthday Boys: Mike Hanford, Matt Kowalick, Jefferson Dutton, Tim Kalpakis, Chris VanArtsdalen, Mike Mitchell, and Dave Ferguson. And executive producer of their sketch comedy show of the same name, Bob Odenkirk, most recently known as Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad.
In 2007, The Birthday Boys, who were all staging monthly sketch shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles, officially combined their talents as a group. They’ve performed at the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, as well as several other festivals. A variety of live shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco were the result of recently collaborating with Odenkirk. Together, the group has acquired writing credits for IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! and the MTV Movie Awards, and have been involved with projects for Comedy Central, Fox, and Funny or Die. In addition, shows such as The Office, Parks and Recreation, Childrens Hospital, Conan, NTSF:SD:SUV:: and Portlandia have featured appearances by group members. Their most crowd-pleasing online work includes the videos “Ham Hat” and “Pooljumpers.” (source: The Birthday Boys IFC page)
When I decided to write about The Birthday Boys this week, and began to pull some research together, I kept wondering how the comedy troupe arrived at the name The Birthday Boys. Surely, I thought, someone else had wondered this, too. That I would eventually stumble upon that nugget of information. I didn’t. Dare I attempt to reach them via the wonders of social networking? Would they continue their pattern of awesomeness by responding? Or would they be aloof and ignore my inquiry?
Well, they (or someone who works for them) wrote brief, but friendly correspondence back. Of course. What else?
Now, in my scouring of the Internet, I had also come across mention of a novel called The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge, but immediately dismissed any connection to our charming IFC Birthday Boys. We all know the Internet can sometimes seem to have a sense of humor with the occasional presentation of red herrings. Alas! The response I received was mainly a mention of said novel, which according to Amazon.com, published in 1995, the English, award-winning Ms. Bainbridge had created a fictionalized account set in 1912 of Captain Scott, the leader of a “doomed” expedition to Antarctica and one of the five Birthday Boys (the other four being his team members). This tale of “misguided courage and human endurance” is narrated by each of The Birthday Boys, but the hint that not one of these men are “reliable reporters” is revealed as the story unfolds. Possessing a “cocky optimism” that is “both ghastly and dangerous,” the five “lunatic, amateur and gentlemanly” gentlemen though brave, find themselves in a fatal situation.
“Ominous stuff, huh?” ended the email. Indeed, but certainly not the awaiting fate for these Birthday Boys. (Later, a follow-up email read: “As far as the lore of the name, it changes with the wind! But glad this intrigues you…” Ha! Ok, not sure if they were messing with me or not, but I like the Bainbridge explanation.)
Ok, I’ll just admit it outright: I’ve got a crush on Kalpakis. I mean, seriously. Look at the photo below and tell me that isn’t one of the most charming smiles you’ve ever seen. I’ll wait while you scroll down…Oh, you can’t say his smile isn’t charming? That’s because I’m correct.
But that’s not why I was drawn to and have been watching the new IFC sketch comedy every Friday since the pilot on October 18th (even though it is the best 30 minutes of my week!). It is because of my general love of comedy, and my respect for Odenkirk, love of his work and fandom of him ever since his Breaking Bad role (which, yes, I am still mourning over the conclusion of the series, as many of the other fans have been). Coming to understand, appreciate, and adore the genius of The Birthday Boys has just been a pleasant bonus.
The Birthday Boys specialize in satirical comedy and commentary, both of which they do well and intelligently; most of which I agree with and have thought about myself. Two examples of my favorite sketches, which display my previous statement incidentally both feature Kalpakis, my favorite Birthday Boy. The first example of this is the sketch, “Catching Up On Shows,” where, as variety.com TV reporter AJ Marechal noted, the guys detail “the kind of trauma that can result from cleaning out your DVR each weekend.” It begins with Kalpakis leaving behind a week of work and walking home, all the while turning down dates from pretty ladies and invites out with his buddies to…you got it, go catch up on shows. In his attempt to do this, Kalpakis ends up “with a bloodied, bandaged thumb” and a meltdown that leads to his exclamation: “‘There are too many shows!'” Definitely a sketch that elicits chuckles and commiseration.
In the second example, Kalpakis plays a drummer named Skip Dickey in “Keepin’ the Beat,” who even though is in the background of a music video with his band, Ghosts and Harvests, does what I have always felt drummers are either really trying to do, or fantasize about doing — grabs the full attention of the camera and does so in a very cutesy, playful way. Not only that, but in spite of the somewhat emo track that is being performed, “Struggling Hearts,” Dickey’s solo cutout is upbeat and cheerful. Even though I have watched this sketch at least half a dozen times, I can’t seem to tire of it, hence the inclusion of it here (oh, you’re welcome!):
One other favorite moment of mine thus far, has been when Ben Stiller — who, with Odenkirk created previous scintillating sketch shows in the 1990s, such as The Ben Stiller Show — guest starred in episode 4: Rock and Roll. Oh, yeah. Stiller is also an executive producer. (source: Dan Snierson of Entertainment Weekly). Of this connection, Matt Zoller Seitz of vulture.com says: “… the troupe takes its structural cues from Monty Python’s Flying Circus rather than Saturday Night Live — by which I mean the sketches aren’t neat and self-contained, with easily delineated beginnings, middles, and ends. One bit will just sort of bleed into another, and you’re not always entirely sure where one ended and another picked up.” But, this is part of the fun, as it gives the parts of their audience that are already loyal a sense of being in on things, and a ready understanding of just what exactly is going on.
Even though the first season is only comprised of 10 episodes, two weeks remain, and when it comes to The Birthday Boys, that is far better than no weeks! (Where have they been all my life? How did I ever enjoy television without them?) This week is the premiere of the eighth episode, entitled All Your Favorites Are Back, where The Birthday Boys find themselves sidelined in a green room after being booked as part of a comedy event where the line-up is endless. That straight-forward description is directly from their page on IFC, but I know without question that hilarity will ensue.
The last time I had such fond feelings for a sketch show was during the early 1990s back in high school when Canadian-produced Kids In The Hall was still on air …wait, hang tight. Deon Cole’s Blackbox, which aired for six weeks this summer on TBS from June 10th forward, also entertained me highly. Of course, his was of a different format — comedy news talk show, as classified by IMDb, but for me, solid comedy is solid comedy. (I personally think Mr. Cole would fit in just fine with the IFC family…has anyone else had this thought?…Just sayin’…)
The Birthday Boys are on Fridays at 10:30 on IFC (as well as whenever the network does additional airing of episodes), or catch up on this show (see what I did there?..It’s a Birthday Boys reference..) here: http://www.ifc.com/full-episodes/the-birthday-boys. You can also download a majority of Season 1 from amazon.com, iTunes, or Xbox for your viewing pleasure.