This month, sketch comedy group, The Birthday Boys, will premiere their new IFC TV show, which features the legendary Bob Odenkirk. With many years at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles and many years making video sketches online, the troupe will see their television debut with one of sketch comedy’s best. We were able to catch up with two of the Boys, Mike “Mitch” Mitchell and Chris VanArtsdalen, talk about getting their toe hold into sketch comedy, meeting and working with Bob Odenkirk, and the work that has gone into creating their show.
Congratulations on the new show you guys! How have you been celebrating?
Mitch: We’ve been celebrating with a lot of long days of work.
Chris: We had a few days of partying, and then we went right back to work on editing all these episodes. We’re just working long hours to get them to where we want them.
Mitch: Yeah, the night when we heard the show was picked up, we had a night where we went out and had drinks, got a little bit sloppy, and then immediately we were back to writing. Then we shot, and there was a little bit of a celebration after we wrapped. Then it was right back into editing. We had no idea a sketch show would be so much work. We never would have done it if we had done it.
That’s totally fair. You guys have been together for a while; you came together at UCB in Los Angeles. How did you guys all meet?
Mitch: Most of us met at Ithaca College. We were all in the communications school over there. We all came together when we got to Los Angeles. There’s one guy who wasn’t really in the Ithaca crew and that’s Matt Kowalick. We definitely got to know him more when we were out here. The first time where we all did something together was way early on in a UCB class when we were first out here. That’s how we met Matt, and how we started really hanging out together.
Chris: We stated doing these open mic nights. There was one at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater that was called Not Too Shabby. That was a great show, still is a great show. Young groups can go up and test out sketches. So, we did that for a lot of years. We were under the tutelage of the guys doing that show at the time; they took us under their wing.
Mitch: They really helped us out; they directed our first show. That was what really got us going.
Chris: We eventually got a monthly show at UCB Theater, and went from there.
Mitch: We’ve been performing there ever since. Actually, now, a few of us host Not Too Shabby. Dave Ferguson, Michael Hanford, and myself. It’s still an open mic at that show.
Oh, wow! So, then, how did you guys get connected to Bob Odenkirk? How did you meet him?
Chris: Well, his wife is a manager. She saw us perform a couple times, and she asked us to do a show that she and Bob put on. It’s called The Not Inappropriate Show; it’s a sketch show for kids. We did that; it was great. Bob kind of noticed there, and we started doing some live shows with him. We did a show called Heroic Man and another show called Seven Man Sweater that we co-wrote with Bob. After that we started pitching a sketch show around town. Eventually, we took it to Red Hour, and from there, IFC. And they bought it.
Mitch: Chris makes it sounds so easy.
Chris: That’s like years of work condensed.
Mitch: We spent a couple years working with Bob. I remember specifically, I think we performed a Not Inappropriate sketch, Bob kind of made a comment to Tim like, “You know, it’s funny how you just kind of went with it.” And this is to Tim Kalpakis, who wrote the sketch, and Tim was like, “What do you mean by that?” afterwards. As a sketch writer, somebody says something about your sketch, and he was trying to figure out what it meant. Tim really wanted to know what he meant, so he emailed Bob. Bob was like, “Come in and I’ll talk to you.” And Tim and one of our guys went in there. Then eventually Bob was like, “You know, we should work on a show together.”
He had seen our group a few times, and he liked our sensibility. Of course we were like, Oh my God, awesome. We’re going to jump on the chance to work with Bob Odenkirk, you know? It was amazing. We worked with him on those two shows, and Bob said he was going to try and get some industry out to those shows. I feel like we were yokels, like, “Oh, industry!” We had no idea what that even meant. We were really excited to have people out there. So we pitched it to a few places, and IFC is just awesome. They matched our sensibility and Bob’s too. We were surprised and excited and thrilled.