Oct. 15--The Birthday Boys: Sketch comedy. 10:30 p.m. Friday on IFC.
Sketch comedy has long been a television staple, from "The Carol Burnett Show," to "Saturday Night Live," "In Living Color" and, more recently, "Key & Peele."
There's sketch comedy, though, and there's sketch comedy. The kind of comedy practiced by groups like Upright Citizens Brigade and Killing My Lobster, for example, is a harder fit for TV because it tends to be edgier, less polished and, in a way, more dangerous.
"The Birthday Boys" got their start with Upright Citizens Brigade and now, with the help of executive producers Bob Odenkirk and Ben Stiller, they bring their craziness to the IFC channel on Friday.
Odenkirk, whom a few TV watchers may remember from that vintage series "Breaking Bad" (kidding, of course) is also a participant in some of the sketches, but he mostly leaves the hilarity to the seven aging "Boys," Jefferson Dutton, Matt Kowalick, Mike Mitchell, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Dave Ferguson and Chris VanArtsdalen. They've done guest shots on shows like "Parks & Recreation" and "Conan," but their particular brand of comic alchemy is best appreciated in their sketches.
Friday's premiere episode is titled "Paychecks," but that only references one small joke at the end of the half hour. Before then, the boys portray the pioneers of Silicon Valley -- sort of.
Like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, they unleash their genius in a garage. It wasn't in Palo Alto, but in Los Gatos. And they didn't invent the computer: They invented the garage. Seriously. OK, well, not seriously, but they did invent a keyboard: a board where they all could hang their keys. And they also invented the tennis ball on the string that hangs down from the ceiling to tell you when to hit the brakes going into the garage.
The episodes are anything but episodic. The garage bit runs in and out of the premiere show, but there are other bits as well, including Odenkirk impersonating a tech god, a la the late Steve Jobs, and unveiling his company's latest must-have gizmo.
I won't give away the punch line, but the sketch brilliantly skewers the salivating acquisitiveness of techies. Television gets it right between its crossed eyes in the second episode, titled "Goofy Roofers," featuring Odenkirk as a typical TV watcher who's sick to death of the usual fare and calls the network ("Hello, network?") and suggests his goofy roofers would make a good show.
And they really are just goofy roofers, a kind of Three Stooges plus Four More Stooges who accidentally staple themselves, throw tar on each other and make inside jokes about the pitch of a roof that real roofers wouldn't find funny. The rest of us find it funny because it makes absolutely no sense.
Of course, they are an immediate TV hit.
This is not sophisticated, drawing-room humor. It's closest to what they used to call college humor, and what is now considered stoned humor. But beneath the silliness is gentle but still dead-on satire that makes "The Birthday Boys" worth a look and a laugh.
David Wiegand is The San Francisco Chronicle's executive features editor and TV critic. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WaitWhat_TV
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