The Birthday Boys on IFC: How a Cult UCB Sketch Group Became a TV Show

Categories: Film and TV

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The Birthday Boys with executive producer Bob Odenkirk (center)
An actor's unique look can accentuate any comedy performance. On an August Sunday afternoon at a private home in Sherman Oaks, California, Tim Kalpakis, a member of sketch group the Birthday Boys, with a Dick Tracy–square jaw, is prepping a bit as a 60 Minutes–type correspondent lecturing on "the contemporary family" for his gang's new IFC show.

See also: Kevin McDonald on Writing For SNL, His Favorite Characters, and Another Possible Kids in the Hall Tour

Kalpakis stops by a family photo of a group of denim-clad men. "What is family?" he asks. "Why, a family could be 10 fathers." He then proceeds to another photo. "A family can be a father, a mom and a son. But look closer, that man isn't really a man, it's a woman." Eventually, he ends on a photo of fellow performer Mike Mitchell hugging a large piece of fruit. "Or a family can be a man, a watermelon and a stack of magazines."

Part of the money lies in Kalpakis' convincingly Brian Williams–esque demeanor. Mitchell's linebacker physique and cherubic grin are the icing on the cake both in this sketch and the web short "Bad Murderer," in which he plays a clumsy, stocking-masked stalker. A Liverpudlian hairdo serves Mike Hanford well when he plays a busybody neighbor to Kevin McCallister in a Home Alone online spoof, "The Neighbor."

The Birthday Boys' distinguished mugs — and, of course, the brilliance of their vaudevillian high jinks — have solidified the group as one of the ruling sketch teams at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. On October 18, the septet, which also includes Jefferson Dutton, David Ferguson, Matt Kowalick, and Chris VanArtsdalen, moves from stage to tube to join a cable-TV sketch mini-renaissance that includes IFC's Portlandia and Comedy Central's Drunk History and Key & Peele.

Since the Ithaca College friends (and University of Texas alum Kowalick) formed the Birthday Boys in 2007, the group has been a consistent sellout at UCB, often co-billed with its absurdist doppelganger, A Kiss From Daddy. Neil Campbell and Paul Rust from that group gave the Birthday Boys their start by inviting them to perform at the duo's open-mic UCB Friday show Not Too Shabby. (The Boys have since cast members of A Kiss From Daddy as guests on their IFC show.)

"When we signed ourselves up to perform at Shabby, we would write seven names or write 'Those guys from Ithaca,' " Ferguson says. "At the end of the day, we wanted a name that evoked a silly, inclusive element."

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