Let it be known The Birthday Boys have a couple of reasons to celebrate.
For one, the comedy sketch group is set to secure air time on the Independent Film Channel among the company of cult hits “Portlandia” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!” Furthermore, the boys have “Breaking Bad’s” Saul Goodman and Zoolander on their side as actors and producers.
The Birthday Boys’ self-titled show premieres Friday on IFC, featuring a cast of seven guys, including Jefferson Dutton, Dave Ferguson, Michael Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Matt Kowalick, Mike Mitchell and Chris VanArtsdalen, and the help of executive producers Bob Odenkirk and Ben Stiller.
To distinguish their show from other sketch comedies on IFC like “Portlandia” and “Comedy Bang Bang,” both of which Ferguson described as “fresh alternative voices in comedy,” Ferguson explained The Birthday Boys will stick to their comedic point of view.
Although the cast is a group of men, Hanford insists their comedy is not “lewd or crude.”
“We start with a really fun concept,” Hanford said. “If it goes in an off-color direction, we just pursue whatever makes most sense. We aren’t just trying to be stupid or crass or meatheads.”
In one of The Birthday Boys’ sketches, the comedy group plays an office of businessmen unable to find a way to raise numbers for the next fiscal quarter, Ferguson explained.
“They’re screwed, but one guy has a great idea and just says, ‘You know, the numbers might not be so good, but after all, nothing matters. We are all going to die anyway,’” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said the office erupts in joy and camaraderie by the fact that nothing really matters, celebrating a dark truth.
“We like big, smart, silly sketch ideas,” Hanford said. “So we kind of gravitate to a voice that is sometimes really cinematic and, you know, we’re parodying big movie genres, big stupid stuff. And sometimes, we’ll get kind of oddly emotional or dark in a context you wouldn’t expect it.”
The Birthday Boys originated their sketch group in 2007 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. The group’s name, Ferguson explained, was derived from an effort to create an avenue for the audience to relate to their comedy.
“The things that we (The Birthday Boys) laughed at were a little bit inclusive of each other,” Ferguson said. “We tried to think of a name that showed we had something in common, and we thought it would be funny if the thing we had in common is something that everyone has, like a birthday, or the fact that you are a human.”
Over the course of several years, Hanford explained, producer and actor Odenkirk caught wind of their comedy. Since then, Odenkirk has become “the honorary eighth member” of The Birthday Boys, according to IFC’s press release.
As of late, Odenkirk has been of the “Breaking Bad” fame, known for his character of criminal lawyer Saul Goodman on AMC’s dark comedy and drama.
Ferguson said the biggest perk of working with Odenkirk for the IFC show was knowing all the “Breaking Bad” spoilers before the episodes aired and having his sense of humor complement that of The Birthday Boys.
“Bob’s whole mission in life (is) comedy, especially sketch comedy and characters,” Hanford said. “This chapter of ‘Breaking Bad’ in his life has been this amazing deepening of his career … into this new dramatic avenue. As far as our hope on how people will respond (to Odenkirk on ‘The Birthday Boys’), it’s a return to form for Bob. It’s where he probably feels most comfortable.”
“The Birthday Boys” also serves as a sort of reunion for Odenkirk and Stiller, who worked together on sketch comedy show “The Ben Stiller Show” in the ‘90s.
“I don’t know if you are familiar with the term ‘gaffer.’ It’s kind of a lighting expert, electrical wizard. Turns out Ben Stiller has a way with crimping wires, and, so, we have him in our group,” Hanford joked.
“And also, we found out (Stiller) is a really funny and great performer, so we used him in a couple of sketches. He’ll show up in an episode. It’s great,” Ferguson said.
Jake Fernberg, a second-year in English and member of 8th Floor Improv, is familiar with The Birthday Boys and is planning to tune in and keep up with their new show. Fernberg said he likes the group’s comedy because “they are not very mainstream, but they are doing what they want to do.”
“Based on (The Birthday Boys’) sketches, (their comedy) is … parody. It’s very goofy, and (they are) very self-aware that they are being very goofy,” Fernberg said.
“The Birthday Boys” is scheduled to hold IFC’s 10:30 p.m. time slot on Fridays, where the comedy group is set to air 10 half-hour episodes of their interpretation of the network’s slogan, “Always On. Slightly Off.”
“The way I interpreted (the slogan) was ‘The Birthday Boys’ is always on set where we are filming, and the camera is always slightly off. So, the framing might not be so good or it is focused slightly off screen,” Ferguson joked.
“Or sometimes the camera might be literally turned off,” Hanford added. “But if you watch closely and you continue to hang with it. Eventually it will come back on over the course of the show.”